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Industry Insights Blog

MPF 2017: Specialization and Collaboration in the New Age of Legal

Kate Harry Shipham

By: Kate Harry Shipham, Senior Recruiting Manager, JJES

This year’s Marketing Partner Forum (MPF) corroborated many of the themes that have permeated our thoughts, projections and placements over the past few years. It was refreshing to see and hear that the same industry challenges once quietly discussed are now at the forefront of conferences and the minds of senior industry leaders. With increased exposure to topics like those summarized below, and growing buy-in from decision-makers and their teams, we can help to position our law firm clients at the forefront of the next era of the legal industry.

Specialization = firms of the future

  • We have seen, and will continue to see, law firms restructuring their traditional practice group models to mirror their clients’ industry or sector needs (i.e. adding subject matter experts from industry – for example, healthcare, financial services, energy and government – who proactively advise the partners based on their subject matter expertise).
  • Heidi Gardner, MPF’s keynote speaker and a Distinguished Fellow & Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, spoke on the critical importance of clients having a team of people who collaborate on their business solutions.
  • Going one step further, I would offer that the law firm of the future will have a team of experts comprised of “technicians” (i.e. attorneys) and revenue enablers (i.e. business development, marketing, professional development, human resources and recruiting professionals) who together focus solely on the client’s business. Their job will be to anticipate challenges and opportunities, problem-solve, and advise based on changing trends in their industry.  

Prediction: This client-centric approach is the future of law firms and those who do not realign in this way, will not be competitive and many will simply not survive in years to come.

True sales professionals working in partnership with attorneys

  • Numerous law firms have dedicated sales people to generate leads and bring in business to attorneys and partners. The comfort level around these roles is still very mixed, as are the results. While many doubt the return on the human capital investment, there are proven success stories surrounding these roles in other professional service firms (think the Big 4 accounting firms in particular), proving they can and do generate growth in partnership environments when thoughtfully executed.
  • From MPF: some firms are hiring senior leaders to instill a sales culture and hire true sales people. But connecting this strategy to the partners businesses and their goals is the biggest challenge. The conversation is not around the existence of the sales role, but around the culture that may or may not support it.  Many firms fall at the first hurdle if the foundation is not right, while others stumble through it hoping to rectify the cultural issues along the way (unsuccessfully).

Prediction: The law firm of the future will have sales people that are partners to the partners and in five years time these roles will have gained significant traction.

Insights from the Am Law 200

  • We have consistently seen creative success stories coming out of the Am Law 200 in terms of how they staff and structure their marketing/BD teams, not to mention the effectiveness of these traditionally smaller teams and how they use their resourcefulness to leverage tight budgets to generate meaningful traction. 
  • Some Am Law 200 firms are still battling with the internal marketing/BD culture and how to actually use their BD resources successfully. Instead of serving as reactive, administrative support, many professionals seek to impact their firms as proactive, specialized partners who are a part of the conversation, not just the one to fulfill it.
  • Of course, the Am Law 100 are also not exempt from their own challenges, including overall attorney engagement in Marketing/BD, which I think you can expect for another 5-10 years.  

Prediction: Over time, engagement and collaboration should only become more fluid as law schools are incorporating Marketing/BD into their curricula and law firms have begun building cultures that view Marketing/BD as vital to the future success of their firms.

Kate Harry Shipham is a Senior Recruiting Manager at JJES.  She is known for placing middle and senior-level talent markets across the U.S., as well as providing timely guidance and market intelligence to both clients and candidates.  

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