With Am Law 200 firm Thompson & Knight announcing it would be handing off various elements of its marketing department’s responsibilities to third-party vendor Williams Lea, the question has been raised as to whether this is another domino in the process leading to the eventual outsourcing of legal marketing on a more grand scale. Experts say that is unlikely at this moment, but that options are on the table. 

While law firms have for many years looked to take in-house capabilities and move them to lower-cost, higher-flexibility alternatives, the base work that most major law firm marketing departments do is not in peril. At least not yet. 

“There is the model for the ‘outsourced CMO,’ and that might be a more viable option for firms that are 100 attorneys or fewer,” said Trish Lilley, CMO and chief business development officer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. “When you get into larger firms, it doesn’t scale as well. Part of the challenge is that quality can diminish without the institutional knowledge and integrated services that an in-house team offers. Outsourcing all functions means getting a lot of outside folks up to speed, and that takes time and resources, which defeats some of the benefit of outsourcing.”

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an argument to be made for a more robust vendor presence when it comes to certain responsibilities of the marketing department.

Lilley said that in her time at both Stroock and previously at Fox Rothschild, she has leveraged vendors for acute and specific needs, such as certain PR-related matters, data collection or to bulk up staff for a particular marketing push.

She also said she appreciates the cost savings, flexibility and subject matter expertise that specialists can bring to the equation, and those elements have value.

Through the course of the pandemic, which has seen business professional staff, including marketing and business development, get hit by furloughs and layoffs, Lilley said she knows that many firms have needed to buttress their marketing departments with outside personnel due to the increased needs of attorneys to stay in touch with their existing clients in a time where it has become difficult to onboard new clients.

“We are all seeing stepped-up marketing activity because lawyers are doing more than they normally would to stay in touch with clients, and there are generally fewer of us doing it,” she said. “There is an ability to sell that internally.”

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