Looking Back to Look Ahead: Trends From 2016 to Guide Your 2017 Planning

Kate Harry ShiphamBuilding a Team

The assignments we’ve placed with our clients over the last twelve months have provided a wealth of knowledge that could help inform hiring decisions as you plan for 2017. This year’s analysis summarizes trends, statistics, and data that we’ve tracked from our assignments from June 2015 through July 2016.  (See last year’s analysis here.)


Other major legal markets, such as the West (LA and San Francisco) and the South (Houston and Dallas in particular) also saw typical growth and movement. These markets are continuing to grow by adding more junior and mid-level professionals, and we are seeing more legal marketers interested in relocating to these regions for a different type of role or work/life balance.Other major legal markets, such as the West (LA and San Francisco) and the South (Houston and Dallas in particular) also saw typical growth and movement. These markets are continuing to grow by adding more junior and mid-level professionals, and we are seeing more legal marketers interested in relocating to these regions for a different type of role or work/life balance.


This year saw an uptick in recruiting at the Screen Shot 2016-10-05 at 11.02.14 AM.pngsenior levels. Director, Senior Manager and Manager positions were a focus for many of our clients. They added these positions to manage and develop large teams and be instrumental in developing and implementing strategy.

Not far behind were the mid-level professionals. The titles varied greatly at this level (Coordinator, Senior Coordinator, Analyst, Specialist or Senior Specialist), and different firms have different interpretations of each of these titles. Regardless, these team members were added, mostly as a regional or office resource, to provide boots-on-the ground project management of all local BD and marketing initiatives.


More so than in previous years, our candidates of late often had a “life before law.” Common backgrounds prior to stepping into the legal world included:

  • sales
  • marketing or admin/managerial role for a different type of professional service firm
  • writing
  • journalism
  • agency work
  • event planning
  • association work

While a “life before law” is not a requirement that our clients are seeking, we’re seeing this development because of the low supply of talent with strictly law firm experience. Fortunately, firms are recognizing that this additional experience can bolster their teams with fresh perspective and creative thinking.


This year saw a larger number of our candidates interested in other markets and willing to move where the good opportunities matched their career aspirations. Over the last 12 months, 20% of our assignments relocated to seek out these opportunities.

At the more junior levels, this was typically moving from a smaller market into a larger market, acknowledging that career growth was going to be more satisfactory for some in the larger markets. While firms are not able to offer a relocation package for junior talent, they are typically willing to be very flexible to accommodate the logistics involved and how that can affect their start date.

At the senior level, there was definitely a tendency to listen to the type of opportunity first, and consider the market it was in as secondary. This is a good sign of how senior-level legal marketing professionals are open to different firms and opportunities.  And, at this level, firms have more leeway to offer a whole compensation package that is suited to move this senior candidate (and even their family).


A Bachelors Degree is, of course, an essential prerequisite for our clients. Beyond that, additional qualifications are being more commonly requested by our clients as “preferred”, but definitely not a necessity. In additional to education, during the interview stage clients were heavily influenced by the softer skills and cultural fit, seeking these qualities first and foremost for a longer term fit for their teams and firms. A candidate’s relevant experience, personal approach and their management style and experience managing both local and virtual teams were critical to their decision-making process as well. This is consistent with the holistic view firms are currently taking when adding legal marketing professionals to their teams.

Type of Role:

Roles that were pure business development (as opposed to marketing or communications) were the overwhelming focus this year for our clients, more so than previous years. This year 66% of our placements were strategic BD roles to help increase revenue and drive their partner’s focus forward to obtain a larger market share. Proven BD and sales experience in prior firms and value-added coaching were the common elements of these pure BD roles.

Despite the fact that they are currently fewer in numbers, high quality media and communications professionals (who work very closely with the BD professionals) are a necessary supplement to achieve the increased revenue targets.

Industry Experience:

Continuing on from last year’s theme, many clients kept adding to their teams in a particular subject matter area. Healthcare, financial services, energy and government were the main sectors where they were seeking someone from within that industry who could come into their team to advise and lead based on that specific subject matter knowledge; knowing as much (and preferably more) than the partners in these areas was a key criteria.

Externally-facing sales roles were on the rise and were being added slowly but surely, and our clients were seeking talent who were typically ex-attorneys who have then had a subsequent life in a business development or client relationship role. “Schmoozy” or “slick” sales people who come from corporate sales roles or overly target-driven environments were not as welcome in these roles. Clients have found more success and prefer a softer approach based on the individual’s credibility as a former practicing attorney.

Proposal-focused roles were also on the increase over this past year.  While there can be negative perceptions of these types of roles, for many of our global clients they are highly sophisticated and very visible roles, and they give the candidate a platform to showcase many different skills. At the more junior level, our clients realize that after a few years in these roles they need to change the scope to offer more career advancement. (To keep up with the increased roles we are seeing around proposals, we recently published the results of our latest RFP survey, conducted with our U.K. alliance partner Totum Partners, to highlight the meaningful trends we identified. Additionally, we have addressed how law firms can get smarter about dealing with RFPs.)


As many of you know, we have real time knowledge of the salaries within legal marketing at all levels in all cities and regions. This year, for the first time, we partnered with ALM to conduct an extensiveCompensation Report across all of the U.S. This report addresses both base salary and bonus figures in all markets and at all levels.

Common Themes:

Legal marketing roles are far outweighing the amount of quality legal marketing professionals. This has been a common theme over the last year.  What does this mean for our industry?

Firms will want to ensure the candidate experience is enhanced so that they are distinguishing themselves in a market where there is so much choice. Our recent article addresses the candidate experience and how firms can have a competitive edge during the interview process by treating their candidates like they would a client of the firm.

Given these market challenges, it also means firms are looking to find talent from different professional service firms.  Others are looking inside their own four walls for professionals who can and want to make the transition; particularly administrative assistants, analysts, or even attorneys (who show an aptitude and inclination in this area).

The categories above represent concise summaries of topics that we could easily have much larger conversations about, and we welcome the opportunity to do just that.  For questions, comments or feedback, you can reach us at: kate@jjohnsonexecsearch.com.