When researching the services that would be valuable for Lextel to offer to the legal market I came across an excellent book Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing (PLI 2019) by Deborah Farone, the former Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Cravath Swaine & Moore.

I first read this book pre-pandemic when it came out in 2019, but I have had the pleasure of rereading it a couple of times during these long months and there are some powerful observations which firms would be wise to follow given the upheaval caused by Covid-19.

Deborah began her legal marketing career at Debevoise & Plimpton, which is where I first got to know her when I was managing the Legal Media Group at Euromoney. Back then, legal marketing was in its infancy­ and Deborah was the first ever marketing employee at Debevoise. Her chairman Bill Matteson had always believed in the power of applying corporate thinking to legal services, hence his drive to bring in a professional to drive that function within the firm (even if Deborah’s first office was a converted storage cupboard).

As Deborah acknowledges, no one has all the answers for professional services marketing but what the corporate world does show is:

  • the benefits of offering Chief Marketing Officers a role in executive decision-making;
  • the value of making your business development teams more client facing;
  • the positive impact of bringing a diversity of views into the marketing and business development (BD) function; and
  • how technology can make the marketing and BD function more efficient and profitable.

In setting out what best practices are, the author has an engaging style for letting the reader decide themselves based on a presentation of different views and, best of all, real-life examples, which is refreshing and far more impactful than a ‘follow-me-I-am-a guru’ style book. So the author will present one view— often from law firm partners— which is then developed, countered or challenged by others such as consultants, legal publishers, academics or in-house counsel. This is done through commentary in the chapters but also through dedicated think-pieces which appear throughout the book.

Commercial law firms come in different shapes and sizes with different cultures, compensation schemes and clients, but this style of presentation makes the book very accessible and relevant to anyone whose interest lies in law firm development.

Following her departure from Cravath to set up her own consultancy, Farone Advisors LLC, Deborah interviewed more than 60 people globally and the project took one year to complete.

“I thought doing research and writing a book could not be harder than producing a law firm website. It may be easier as I won’t have hundreds of lawyers to keep happy,” joked Deborah when we caught up for an interview about the book, which was commissioned by the Practising Law Institute.

In terms of the role of the CMO and the BD team, Deborah believes the corporate model has shown the importance of making these functions exercisable at management level.

“One of the things I push with my clients is to take advantage of the resources in-house so to get the CMO involved in recruitment strategy, or as part of the executive decision-making before a merger is considered. CMOs should be respected enough to be part of the firm management. I was lucky to have wonderful leaders at Debevoise and Cravath so I generally was involved in that sort of decision-making before it happened.”

Only 28% of chief marketing and business development officers/director roles are held by men yet they earn approximately $75,000 more than their female counterparts according to a 2020 survey of 408 professionals in North American law firms (Source: ALM Intelligence and Calibrate Legal Revenue Enabler Compensation Report, 2020).

Given that there is a need for a more diverse selection of views within firms, and that the majority of senior marketing professionals are women, adding such officers to the management tier should be a no-brainer for law firms. As should be the need to offer business development training to a wider group of staff.

“I think it is very important to train minority groups in business development,” says Deborah. “Traditionally, senior lawyers would train lawyers who were like them and bring those colleagues in on new business pitches. So that led to a lot of men-to-men training. Because that went on for some time, there has been a whole scenario where people have been overlooked for skills development.”

As well as better targeted skills development for business development, firms are also taking a lead from the private sector in looking at how to develop their different functions using experienced non-lawyers.

“With the pandemic, I see firms being forced into having better systems and a more organised and thoughtful structure. Part of that change requires relying on experts in certain non-legal areas such as technology, marketing, people and sales. You cannot expect a generalist or corporate lawyer to know how to devise a go-to-market business development strategy, or even what a best-practice Chambers submission looks like.”

While firms have jumped into virtual meetings to carry on business, the digitalisation of legal marketing is still at a very early stage compared to corporate practice. The final chapter of the book is devoted to the future of law firm marketing and covers the use of CRMs and marketing automation software. When we launched Lextel, this was an area where we hired in specialist experience from the corporate sector because, as the book makes clear, firms will increasingly use data analytics to drive their marketing campaigns and spend.

“Firms are getting better at it. They are looking at Google analytics, using Passle [a software to assist lawyers to post content] and analysing open rates [for emails], “ says Deborah. “What I would like to see is a good system to track where business is coming from. It is something I used to track: is it an alumni relation or a referral from a foreign firm? What made it happen? Firms are getting more sophisticated at finding answers to those questions.”

The book covers a variety of key topics which impact successful business development including culture, hiring the right team, incentives, coaching, diversity and technology. Deborah may have been chief of marketing at two US-based heavyweight firms but she showcases a broad range of opinions by including interviews with boutiques, non-US firms and alternative service providers.

Deborah is optimistic that the pandemic offers the ideal time to review the marketing and BD function within the bigger picture of how law firms must adapt to competition, technology and client demand.

“Smart marketers are staying ahead of the game and starting to ask what can a firm do to differentiate themselves. Are there particular areas that we can push into? How do we deal with the fact that partners cannot lunch with clients? How can technology help? For some this is nerve racking, for others it is an opportunity to think creatively.”