YOUR LEGAL WRITES: Law firms and title work

On the front page of a service marketing Web site, the headline states that the industry's current business developer of the year is generating big results in her accounting firm.

In fact, her strategies have spawned a 28 percent increase in net revenue, and the firm is nearing a record-breaking $51 million year.

How did she do it? She grew the firm and built the brand, insiders say, with the controversial idea of using telemarketing as a tactic for improving client relations.

The success of this maverick rainmaker from Texas should not cause executive committees to fire everyone in their own marketing departments because they have not proven their worth in an equally remarkable way. If anything, managing partners or members need to evaluate how their communication teams are labeled, to protect their creative people from being held responsible for outcomes that are not part of their job descriptions.

The timeless question of "What came first –- the chicken or the egg?" can be translated into legalese by asking, "Who brings in business -– the lawyer or the publicist?". Who is ultimately responsible for opening new matters or retaining clients in a single bound? In many law firms, marketers are happy to reply, "Not me."

The accounting firm's marketing director reported that her primary responsibilities include strategic planning and budgeting, direct campaigns, public relations, sales support, and electronic media.

Referred to as the one person in the firm who does everything "from soup to nuts," this particular director sits on committees related to the executive state of the firm, employee relations, and women's leadership. Given the nature of her daily duties, it is apparent that she earns the title of "director of marketing," not to mention an attractive salary.

Some firms, however, tag their marketing teams as business development, when in fact, those individuals never see a client (nor are they supposed to). While the development directors provide tools to the lawyers so they can drum up business, these people remain an internal division of the firm and tucked away from public view.

After all, some old-school firms still believe that terms such as business development and marketing communicate a weakness among legal talent, suggesting the firm needs a specialist to help keep it afloat. Such insecurity has made work life particularly difficult for business development directors, as they are among some of the most misunderstood professionals in law firm settings.

The Legal Marketing Association's Job Bank lists numerous positions in law firm fields, each one bearing a slightly different title. A marketing assistant is purely supportive in nature, bringing an extra set of hands to the coordination of programs as well as an extra set of eyes to the proofreading of materials. Marketing managers serve as the creative liaison between the firm and an outside agency, ensuring that the lawyers' identities are communicated in proper ways and to the correct constituencies.

Practice directors are purebred strategists, many of whom specialize in industries such as labor and employment. These forecasters observe trends and analyze the marketplace, coaching the actual legal practitioners in the areas of client development and retention. Communications managers typically handle external media, focusing on public and press relations as opposed to paid marketing.

In most firms, communications managers report to a marketing director, as they only handle the outside impression of the firm's identity. Research specialists serve as knowledge miners, digging into reports and stock market profiles, and other intelligence to help build stronger RFPs and presentation packets. Chief development officers align the marketing, training, and client service functions of a firm to shadow the overall strategic plan, which entails long-term foresight as opposed to short-term action.

As for the firm's chosen one who handles everything from soup to nuts, he or she may find themselves in a financial funk if they are not as triumphant as the 2008 Marketer of the Year. According to the Legal Marketing Association's Roles and Compensation Survey, 30 percent of all law firm marketers are labeled as directors, a title that reportedly pays $70,000 less than "chiefs".

Brown is the managing member of The Write Word LLC, a professional writing and editing agency based in Charleston.

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