Positioning Yourself for Success - Leadership and Management Advice from Top Law Firm CMOs

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Who doesn’t want to become a stronger leader, or more efficient or a better manager, or progress to the next level of their career?

A recent Legal Marketing Association webinar on being a successful firm leader, featuring the perspectives of three CMOs, caught my attention - and, because webinars require the least time commitment of any other networking/educational event (you can particpate right from your very own desk), I signed up for it.

The webinar, moderated by Amanda Loesch, Chief Marketing Officer at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman, included speakers Diana Courson, Chief Marketing Officer at Zuckerman Spaeder; Kathryn Whitaker, Director of Marketing & Business Development at McNair Law Firm; and Michael Coston, Director of Business Development and Marketing at McKool Smith. Their topics (many of them submitted beforehand by LMA members), including staffing, hiring, delegating, maximizing time, and best tips for setting yourself up to be a successful leader in your firm.

I didn't set out to write an article about this program - and I admit that at first I was only half listening to it while multitasking, but the presenters quickly got my full attention, and I found myself taking copious notes on their insights.

I soon realized that I had the bones of an article and that others who missed the webinar might also gain value from the presenters’ helpful advice, which is relevant to legal marketers at all levels and at any size firm, but especially for senior marketers. So here goes!

Project and Resource Management, and Prioritization Tips

  • Learning to say no is one of the most important things that you can do to be successful said Diana Courson, especially if you work at a smaller firm. It's key to prioritizing projects and meeting expectations.
  • We all have a wish list and a must-do list, and sadly many of us never get around to that wish list because we are so busy putting out fires elsewhere or making sure things don't go sideways. Find ways to delegate things on your must-do list so that you can focus on more strategic projects. Also, one of the worst things you can do to undermine your success is to over-promise and under-deliver. You will severely hurt your credibility if you do this, and we all do it because we hate to disappoint people and to say no. Here’s the thing though –  you want to be known as the go-to person who does what they say they're going to do and does it well even if it means that you are doing a little bit less. Don’t stretch yourself too thinly.
  • Sometimes you just need to think more creatively about how to do things when you have fewer resources. (Note - check out my JD Supra on 17 Low Cost (or Free!) Social Media MarTech Tools to Try For Your Law Firm Today for some ideas in the MarTech area on how you can do this at your firm.)
  • To be successful, especially as a senior marketer, Kathryn Whitaker suggested giving yourself time in the morning to plan out what you want to accomplish for the day instead of immediately jumping right into work.
  • Another terrific point from Kathryn: At the CMO/senior marketer level, you should be prioritizing your work based on urgency and importance – so your time is best spent on tasks that are important (strategic) but not urgent. Instead, delegate the ones that are important to your team members and oversee them on these projects.
  • One side product of delegating projects noted by the panelists is that you also have to be okay with the fact that things may not always be perfect or be done as you would have done them. Give your team the space to make mistakes – and learn to be okay with them making mistakes. 
  • Something I thought was interesting is the idea of tracking your time each day for a month as lawyers do. Kathryn noted that, among other things, it will help you figure out where you are spending the bulk of your time, and help you become more efficient. It can help you understand the pressures that lawyers are under as well.

Management Success Tools

  • Be available and visible to your team members, even if you are busy. Visit them in person and ask them how they are doing. Face time is important. Remember that everyone is busy – we make time for the things that are important – your team is important.
  • Michael Coston said something that resonated with me about always having your team members’ backs and to keep in mind how you wanted to be treated back when you were a junior marketer. Always treat your employees with that in mind.
  • One more good point made by the panel on managing teams: as a leader, one of your most important responsibilities is to do as much as you can to build up the credibility of your employees with the lawyers at your firm and to demonstrate their value. Never throw anyone under the bus. Give them opportunities to shine and to work directly with lawyers. 

On Working with Consultants

  • In terms of the kinds of projects these CMOs outsource to outside business partners, the panelists said that it's mostly public relations, technology and some BD coaching work for key lawyers. 
  • Kathryn made an interesting point that CMOs should consider keeping high-value, client-facing activities in-house for the marketing team versus consultants to do. They have terrific institutional knowledge, the trust of the lawyers, and you can often do it cheaper and faster this way.
  • The group agreed that consultants are very valuable because they have outside perspectives from a variety of other firms and industries (along with best practices) to share with firms. Also, some lawyers will only listen to their POV (even if they’re saying the same thing that you are) just because they’re a consultant. This point hit home for me - no matter how many times you can tell lawyers something (even with data!) sometimes, they just want to hear it from a third-party expert.

Showing Value to the Naysayers

  • Remember to "work with the willing" – so don’t spend too much time and energy on the lawyers who don’t value marketing. You'll always have the Debbie Downers and Scrooges who don't think they need marketing help or who don't see why your firm even has marketing professionals – put those people in a box and don't let them negatively affect you. Instead focus on the lawyers who see how marketing can truly support their branding and business development efforts.
  • That being said, Kathryn noted that we as marketers should be highly responsive to the lawyers who are naysayers of marketing and go out of our way to show our value to them. Why? Because you can change their minds and chip away at their views if you knock it out of the park for them. You may even turn them into one of those willing lawyers! There’s nothing more satisfying than turning someone into a believer of marketing.

Progressing to the Next Level of Your Career

  • Promote your successes and show your value (but in a humble way) to move to the next level. Don’t wait until your year-end performance review to tout your successes – make sure they are known throughout the year. Taking the time to market ourselves is something that we often forget to do while we are marketing our firms.
  • That being said, some people can go overboard on marketing themselves. There is a fine line between taking all of the credit for things and being too humble. When in doubt, ask a trusted advisor, such as a former boss or a mentor for how you can position a success. Sometimes it’s all about the wording and the way in which you communicate something. It’s also a nice idea to give credit to others who also helped you on a project or went out of their way for you.
  • In order to progress in your career, some tips from the panelists included: always be open to feedback and learning; take the time to really understand what the lawyers do (practice knowledge); cultivate a strong professional network throughout your career; maintain a roll-up-your-sleeves mentality and be a team player no matter what your title is. Also be invaluable to the person to whom you report – honing your "managing up" skills will always serve you well.
  • On advice for how diverse legal marketers can succeed in our industry, Michael noted that communicating with confidence, knowing your stuff inside and out, finding a mentor who you can lean on for support and guidance, and building a strong professional network have been among his keys for success.

A Few Closing Thoughts

  • The panelists stressed the importance of cultivating relationships with various support departments across your firm in order to be successful. Spend the time to build relationships with paralegals, finance, secretaries, office services, the library, etc. And be kind to everyone and remember to say “thank you.” You will need help and information from them. Also, Kathryn mentioned that it’s important to report back to other departments on what happens with the information they give you – it’s always nice to hear the “why.”
  • The panelists all agreed that the Legal Marketing Association is a terrific way to hone your leadership skills and move up in your career, and open up doors to new opportunities. Consider getting involved on the local, regional or international levels – there are many types of volunteer roles and something for everyone.
  • And maybe the most important piece of advice from the panelists from the webinar – adding value at all times should be at the core of everything that you do as a legal marketer – if you can’t answer “why am I doing this” and “what’s the value to the firm?,” then stop doing it!

Thank you to Amanda, Diana, Kathryn and Michael for taking the time to share your helpful advice and collective experiences. If you’re an LMA member, you can listen to the webinar here.

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[Stefanie Marrone helps law firms effectively tell their stories and find their unique voices. Over the last 16 years, she has been working with some of the most prominent law firms in the world, developing and executing global revenue generating, business development, internal and external communications strategies, including media relations, branding, and multi-channel content marketing and social media campaigns. She has a diverse range of experience in both Big Law and mid-size/small-law firms. Connect with her on LinkedIn and read more of her work on JD Supra.]

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