Unlocking Success in Legal Marketing: Key Lessons From a Law Firm CMO
By Sheenika Gandhi
July 25, 2023 | 7-minute read
Marketing Management and Leadership Department Management and Motivation Content Type Article
I recently had the privilege of participating in the LMA Los Angeles 6th Annual CMO Forum, a prestigious panel where chief marketing officers (CMOs) from top law firms in the region come together to share their expertise. Preparing for the panel allowed me to do some self-reflection, delving into my journey, identifying key success factors and reflecting on the valuable lessons I've learned along the way. I hope this article provides fellow legal marketing professionals with valuable takeaways to thrive in our ever-evolving industry.
My Path to Legal Marketing
My legal marketing journey began in law school where I realized my passion for the legal profession extended beyond traditional practice. Determined to find a career that fused law and marketing, I joined a top intellectual property boutique. Starting as a website coordinator, I seized every opportunity to expand my knowledge. Over five years, I transformed into a key team member responsible for the firm's digital marketing strategy, overseeing websites, email marketing, blogs, newsletters and customer relationship management.
Seeking growth, I embraced a director role at a 50-attorney employment litigation boutique. This transition allowed me to broaden my expertise from digital marketing to a more holistic marketing role. I mastered event planning, sponsorships, budgeting, staff management and business development. It was a pivotal experience that prepared me for my next challenge at Greenberg Glusker. In managing a bigger team and diversifying marketing efforts across multiple practice areas and industries, I quickly honed my skills in public relations and business development coaching.
Key Characteristics for Success
There are several foundational aspects that have contributed to my success in these roles:
Always learning: A commitment to continuous growth is vital in our field. I immerse myself in educational events, whether hosted by LMA, industry partners or beyond the legal sphere. Attending workshops, reading articles and listening to podcasts during my daily commute keeps me abreast of the latest trends and empowers me to innovate and bring fresh ideas to the table.
Raising my hand: Embracing new challenges and volunteering for additional responsibilities allows for personal and professional development. By proactively offering support to colleagues overwhelmed with tasks or seeking opportunities to proofread documents, I gain insights into various facets of marketing including budgeting, advertising and strategy. This multifaceted experience enhances my understanding of how all the pieces fit together within the larger marketing framework.
Trusting my intuition: While data, analytics and metrics are crucial in making informed decisions, I also place trust in my intuition. Listening to that inner voice and relying on gut feelings can provide valuable guidance when faced with ambiguity or complex choices. Balancing analytical reasoning with intuitive insights enables me to make confident decisions that align with both strategic objectives and the overall vision.
It's important to note that negative thoughts, such as feelings of inadequacy or inexperience, may occasionally arise. However, I take pride in acknowledging these thoughts while maintaining a focus on my expertise and capabilities. By harnessing confidence in my experience, I navigate uncertainty and trust in my ability to make the right decisions in the moment.
Viewing the firm as my client: I treat everyone at the firm as if they are my clients, regardless of their position. Providing personalized attention fosters a collaborative and inclusive environment. While not every idea may be feasible, it is essential to lend a listening ear, understand an attorney's overarching goals and offer solutions that align with the firm's available resources.
Our roles as legal marketers are overwhelming. That is the reality. However, I found identifying three to five goals for the year helps me identify focus areas and allows me to drive my decision-making accordingly.
This year, my team and I have set three key priorities that align with our firm's vision:
1. Integrating business development: We are infusing business development initiatives into all of our events and sponsorships, aiming to maximize their impact. To further enhance our efforts, I have restructured our team by assigning a dedicated member to focus solely on business development, ensuring a more focused and strategic approach.
2. Expanding client relationships: Nurturing existing client relationships is paramount. We are actively engaging with clients by nominating them for awards, organizing client entertainment opportunities and actively seeking their feedback. These initiatives solidify our connections and foster long-term partnerships.
3. Streamlining operations and processes: Operational excellence is a never-ending journey. This year, we are committed to improving response times, setting clear expectations, optimizing new hire onboarding and tracking return on investment (ROI). To streamline our operations, we leverage technology to optimize efficiency. Airtable, a project management tool, helps our team track sponsorships, firm-hosted events, rankings, pitches ROI and new hire onboarding tasks. Additionally, we rely on ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered writing tool, to create drafts for nominations, requests for proposals (RFPs), target prospect lists and other writing tasks, enhancing productivity and accuracy.
While there are many challenging aspects of a legal marketing professional's job, the following are ones that could leave you feeling lost if not addressed.
Crafting a plan where none exists: Whether you’re a CMO responsible for the year’s strategic plan or a marketing assistant where there are no processes in place, creating a plan requires astute observation and proactive thinking. When attorneys submit a business development plan, you can collate the responses to identify similar industries, create a list of target clients and coordinate marketing activities to execute. If you are in any meetings — with partners, team members or staff — actively listen for firm-wide priorities, reoccurring themes and connecting the dots across practice areas. You can use these insights to strategically allocate time and resources. If you see that deadlines are missed, offer to create a timeline to ensure on-time deliverables.
Effective change management: Recognizing what works and what doesn't is essential. When introducing new ideas, embrace shifts in messaging, such as positioning a technology tool as an integral part of the process rather than a standalone tool. Instead of launching a large project that could signal a large investment of time and money, break up the initiative into smaller phases so that it becomes palatable.
Demonstrating ROI: Tracking return on investment is crucial in legal marketing, especially if you want to show value of your role and your team. However, it is also the most difficult to accomplish. One example many legal marketers struggle with is the ability to gauge the impact of sponsorships. I now actively seek feedback from attorneys, collecting their experiences and tangible outcomes, immediately following the event. This helps us to track ROI in real time, as opposed to at the end of the year when trying to determine what we should continue or strike. Demonstrating ROI also means I am visible in as many ways as I can be. I present monthly reports at partner meetings, attend practice group meetings, have lunch with the firm’s marketing partners and managing partner and discuss ongoing initiatives across the office.
Some Final Thoughts
Navigating the ever-evolving landscape of legal marketing requires adaptability, strategic thinking and often following your intuition. Looking back on my journey, I would offer the following advice to my younger self:
- Networking is key. Networking has played a significant role in landing my roles. Embrace networking opportunities, volunteer for leadership positions and build meaningful connections.
- Embrace teamwork. Identifying each team member's strengths fosters a collaborative environment and prepares you for future managerial roles.
- Rise to the occasion. No matter the challenge, trust in your abilities and seize opportunities to grow.
- Embrace mistakes. Learn from them and seek feedback to continually improve.
I am always happy to speak about my journey with those starting out in the industry, and of course those who have been in it for a while. Please don’t hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn or email me directly.