By Annie Berger
As I’ve transitioned from a legal marketer who “grew up” in the industry, to a recruiter now placing legal marketers into law firms, I’ve been reflecting on the differentiators that I have seen in those who are able to quickly progress and develop in their careers. No doubt, this industry is booming and there is strong talent among today’s junior legal marketers who are ready to make an impact and bring new ideas to their firms. For those of you who are relatively junior in your legal marketing career, below are some tips gathered from my experience as well as through conversations with colleagues who are senior legal marketers at Am Law 200 law firms on how you can be seen not just as a strong performer, but also recognized as a rising star.
1. Do Great Work
Those in business development roles know that one of the first business development tips given to young lawyers is to first concentrate on doing great work for clients. This advice applies to legal marketers too. Begin your career by doing strong work on all tasks—from the most menial administrative tasks to the most exciting firm-wide projects. When you consistently turn in work that is mistake-free, polished, and never late, you will earn the trust of your managers and internal clients (the lawyers). Once you build a reputation as a high performer, you will be sought after to participate in more high-stakes projects that are more challenging and rewarding.
2. Cultivate Relationships
Law firms can be hard to maneuver given the nature of a partnership environment where everyone is the boss. In such an environment, building political capital can be a huge advantage as you progress in your career. Take the time to build authentic and strong relationships with everyone around you, including not just your direct managers and partners, but also the legal assistants, people in the copy center and mail rooms, other administrative professionals, vendors, and anyone else with whom you regularly interact. When building these relationships, don’t hesitate to find a personal connection with your contacts—after all, it is usually more fun to work with people that you care about personally.
3. Study Your Trade
Many junior legal marketers support practice groups with which they may not be familiar. For example, there are economics majors supporting litigation practices and political science majors working at intellectual property firms. Regardless of your formal education, become a student of the practice(s) you support. If you hear terms you don’t know, look them up or ask someone what they mean. If you are assigned a new task and don’t understand the context of your piece of the project, ask. Take an online tutorial and find resources you can consult as you continue to learn (as an English major who supported a corporate practice for many years, I was a frequent user of investopedia.com!). Bookmark online resources such as these that you will return to often and sign up for Google alerts on key clients/industry groups to stay abreast of the latest trends. By demonstrating intellectual curiosity—and by learning to “talk the talk”—you will garner significant respect from the firm’s lawyers and more senior marketing team members, who will see that you are invested in your work.
4. Be a Strong Resource and Department Ambassador
Build a reputation as someone who is eager to proactively solve problems and get things done. Become the “go-to” person on your team who can point people in the right direction, even if something is not technically your job. Many in legal marketing envision marketing departments as the “hub” of the firm, connecting the dots when others may not know where to turn. If others in the firm—from lawyers to other administrative staff—come to see you as a valuable resource who is eager and willing to help, the more valuable you will be to the firm.
Legal marketers often advise lawyers to network yet they don’t do any networking themselves. Early on in your career, find peers at other firms who are in similar roles and try to find a mentor who can guide you as you mature in your career. If you are struggling to do this on your own, consider joining an industry association, such as the Legal Marketing Association, which offers mentorship programs or special interest groups for junior marketers. Legal marketing is a small world and there are many in the industry that are eager to share their experiences, so engage with the community and learn all you can. Someday you will be in a position to give back and teach the next generation all that you’ve learned!
Finally, one of the biggest challenges we see junior legal marketers face is how to balance a strong sense of ambition with the need to take the time to learn the complex skills required to progress to a specialist or manager role. The best tip from senior legal marketers who have also had to put in their time, is to view each opportunity as a learning experience, rather than something to tick off your list. Spend your energy perfecting your craft and being the best team player you can. As you think you’re ready to make the next step in your career, be certain that you are correctly assessing your skills and your experience. When assessing your skills, think not just of your work product, but also your communication skills, command of the practice area(s) you support, ability to navigate internal politics and handle conflict, ability to solve problems on your own, and others. If you follow the tips above, you will be building a strong foundation for a successful legal marketing career.
Annie Berger is a Recruiting Manager with J. Johnson Executive Search, Inc. (JJES) who specializes in placing marketing and business development talent into law firms across the U.S. She can be reached at email@example.com.