LMA National Conference: “Recapping the Roadmap”

Kate Harry ShiphamMarketing to Marketers

By: Kate Harry Shipham

The 2015 Legal Marketing Association National Conference took place from April 13 to April 15.  I was honored to have had the opportunity to present on a panel focusing on professional development, which as you know, we are very passionate about and could talk about for days.  My panel was titled “The Roadmap For Your Future: Navigating and Accelerating Your Career in Legal Marketing”.

The theme of the panel discussion was centered around career development for both junior and senior level marketers.  My fellow panelists were Heather McCullough, Director of Business and Practice Development at Nexsen Pruet, Nancy Linder, Director of Marketing at Chapman & Cutler, and Charlotte Wager, Chief Talent Officer at Jenner Block.  The moderator was Ian Turvill, Chief Marketing Officer at Freeborn & Peters.

For the more junior marketers, we discussed how to start out in their careers and to give them guidance on the most important stages on their roadmap to success, including how to take big leaps forward.  We then discussed how senior marketers stay relevant in today’s market in their firms, and what the future holds for them, and for the legal marketing industry more generally.

For my part in the discussion, I focused on providing practical guidance to juniors and seniors alike to progress their careers, enhance their firm experience and stay relevant and on-point in order to be a resource that is continually adding value to their firms.  Here were my key takeaways:

As a junior marketer, what stages of your career do you need to proactively think and plan for?  What does the ‘roadmap’ entail? 

  • Junior marketers typically take very deliberate steps through the Assistant, Coordinator, Senior Coordinator / Specialist (in some firms), and then onto Manager roles.  Focusing on being the best you can be in each of these roles is the only way to gain the experience needed to make it successfully at each step up.  Being patient and not rushing this process, being helpful to all of those around you, becoming resourceful, and getting to know all components of the firm’s business so you can take that more general knowledge forward with you into each step, is critical.
  • This is also the time to think about what you enjoy doing the most, and where your top strengths lie.  Marrying each of these components as you progress will ensure that you continue to enjoy your career, whilst showcasing what you can bring to your team and firm.  And, this gives you the best shot at staying happy and being the best version of yourself.  Try not to become too specialized too early, as absorbing every part of the marketing and business development function is critical to development and learning to become a Manager with the best experience and skill set.
  • As a junior marketer, now is also a great time to identify and seek out mentors inside and outside of your immediate group to help guide you along your path.

For junior to mid level marketers, what are the biggest leaps forward you can take?  How do you gain that experience? 

  • The biggest leap forward at the mid level is the progression into a strategic, managerial position.  The strategic element comes from watching and learning, and then practicing. This evolution involves taking a very deliberate step out of “the doing” and into “the developing and planning”.  This is one of the hardest steps and, without the right people above and below you, this can be tricky.  Further, without the right opportunity to manage people and projects in your current teams, you should look elsewhere to professional or community organizations (the LMA is a great one!) to be able to say you have that management experience.
  • One question we get a lot is whether mid level marketers should seek out additional qualifications to make themselves stand out from the crowd.  A JD or an MBA are the obvious ones, and in time, project management qualifications will join these.  Interestingly, we don’t see our clients seeing these as a “must have”, although they always welcome a highly educated candidate.

Senior marketers face the challenge of staying relevant.  What is the source of staying power at the very top of the profession? 

  • Senior marketers face a completely different set of challenges.  First and foremost, their roles are fewer and far between, and, unfortunately, everybody—even at the very senior end—is replaceable.
  • The more senior you progress the more politically savvy you must become about the organization and its evolution.  For example, know what everyone in the firm is up to and what drives their daily decision-making in addition to the most obvious, partner satisfaction.  Know what initiatives are being advanced by other departments, from technology, finance and HR.  If there are people in the firm you don’t know as well, make it a goal to get to know them.  You must be “in the know” about both the legal and administrative sides of the organization to survive for the long haul in law firms.
  • Continuously “play up” and surround yourself with people who you will learn from.  Regardless of how far you progress in your career, surround yourself by smarter, savvier and strategic visionaries who offer perspectives that you know you wouldn’t have thought of.  The very best people in corporate America know they need people smarter than themselves to keep learning and reinventing themselves year after year.
  • Learn about trends outside of the legal industry and bring these ideas back into your firm.  We all know the pressures law firms are under, and showing a willingness to engage in the difficult discussions through new ideas which are in line with corporate America will be impressive to your firms.  Similarly, join CMO groups that have a client focus and bring those concepts back into your legal world.
  • Lastly, know the financial status of the firm.  Report into management on these metrics and tell them what you and your team are doing.  This is true accountability, and the best senior marketers show these results to demonstrate their worth.

What does the future bring?  What will you need to know in five and 10 years time to thrive in the legal marketing space?

  •  The law firm space will need to keep staying fresh and looking outside of legal for new ideas.  Many of our clients in recent searches have reiterated that the “fresh perspective” is what they’re after from their senior marketers; and they are getting creative about where they find these fresh perspectives.
  • The next 5 to 10 years are sure to be filled with more and more law firm mergers.  In the midst of these mergers, there will be many opportunities for legal marketers to raise their hands and get involved.  View mergers as an opportunity to become involved in high-stakes projects and to take on additional project management responsibilities to add to your experience.
  • Marketing technology roles were discussed at many sessions throughout the LMA conference.  These roles will demand professionals who have a deep understanding of the marketing needs of a firm, but also who have honed their skills on various technology platforms.  These marketing technology professionals will be in high demand in the coming years, so take this time to be open to and to explore various marketing technologies, and begin to think about how your firm could be leveraging technology to further your marketing goals.

Thank you to Heather, Nancy and Charlotte for their thoughtful contributions on the panel; a very insightful and knowledgeable group of women.  And, a massive thanks to Ian who kept us all in line and structured a great conversation to really pull out all our various experience and perspectives! We’re already looking forward to LMA 2016.

If we missed you at the LMA National Conference, please let us know and we would be happy to connect.  As most of you know, all of our searches are exclusive to JJES, and we do reach out to the people we know first; so please connect with us if you didn’t get a chance to speak to us in San Diego.