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Chart: Legal Marketing Salaries In the 16 months that Mehul Patel has overseen marketing for San Francisco’s Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, he has managed to overhaul the way the 125-lawyer firm presents itself to the outside world. The first thing Patel did as Howard, Rice’s chief marketing officer? He wrote a 120-day plan. With his road map in hand, he turned a useless database of firm clients into an up-to-date tracker that slices and dices current and prospective clients, their industries and their legal needs in myriad ways. He’s set up “SWAT teams” of lawyers who brainstorm regularly about bringing in more business. He makes sure that news alerts about key court cases and new laws get to clients within days, not months. Patel says press mentions of Howard, Rice in the local and national press have increased five-fold since he came on board. “The quality of the press mentions have gone up, too,” says Patel, a former Cooley Godward associate and vice president of strategic planning for CNET Networks Inc. It all sounds promising. But the odds are that Patel won’t last long. The reasons have less to do with Howard, Rice � which spent two years hunting for a replacement after its first marketing director left � and more to do with a simple reality: The job expectancy for senior law firm marketers tops out at a dismal 24 months, a slight improvement from 18 months just five years ago, says Newport Beach-based law firm management consultant Peter Zeughauser. Patel, for one, thinks he’s got a good shot at surviving past the 24-month mark next June. He cites his former life as a lawyer and the broad authority he’s been given to do his job � and do it well. If so, he’ll be in the minority. It’s one of many law firm paradoxes. From Latham & Watkins’ 70-employee staff to Munger, Tolles & Olson’s one-person operation, just about every major law firm in the state has a marketing arm these days. Salaries for the top posts are soaring and, according to several recruiters and marketing veterans, now start at $400,000 (not including bonuses) at large California firms. That’s at least $100,000 less than what the New York elite firms are paying, but double what a Legal Marketing Association survey recently identified as the national average. Titles are changing, too. Heads of marketing are no longer just “directors.” They’re now called “chief marketing officers” or “vice presidents of business development.” Senior marketers, including Patel, are serving on firm management committees. And budgets, while still a paltry 1.5 percent to 3 percent of firm revenue, are growing. Yet, for all the increased demand, law firm marketing departments have always been revolving doors. The turnover is explained in part by the competition for talent. Kathleen Flynn, who’s been in the business for more than a decade and is now director of client relations and marketing at Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold in San Francisco, says people in her position don’t worry about landing in the unemployment lines. “It’s a hot market,” she says, echoing many peers who say they get calls regularly about jobs. There’s another explanation. Law firms are tough places to work, where every firm partner thinks of himself as the marketer’s boss. And that can mean a hundred bosses pulling a marketer in a hundred different directions. To many law firm partners, marketing “is a necessary evil,” says Barbara Finley, a former practicing lawyer who is now the marketing and business development manager at Bingham McCutchen in Los Angeles. Partnerships are “caste systems,” agreed Robert Fortunato, a marketing consultant and president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Legal Marketing Association. “It’s funny to me,” he continues, “but some still call [their marketing staff] ‘non-professionals.’” Too often, law firms invest in marketing for all the wrong reasons. Their competitors are doing it and they worry about being left behind. But they never get over the feeling, right or wrong, that marketing is unseemly, costly and ultimately pointless. “Generally speaking,” says Zeughauser, “there are few firms that are marketing-friendly environments.” So what’s a law firm marketer with a nice salary, good perks and an office with a view to do? Below, industry veterans offer survival tips. They know what they’re talking about � they’ve got the war wounds to prove it. Steer Clear of the First-Timers.“Never be the first marketing director,” warns Larry Bodine, a consultant and former head of marketing at what was then Sidley & Austin for almost 10 years. It takes awhile for firms to know what to expect and for the internal dissension over the need for marketing to abate. “Law firms that are [serious about] marketing are probably on their third or fourth marketing director,” says Steve Barrett, who’s held five law firm marketing jobs in his 21 years in the industry, including a stint at Los Angeles’ Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. Looks can be deceiving.Two firms of similar size, practice and location can be night-and-day different when it comes to attitudes about marketing. Veterans of the industry will know which firms churn-and-burn through marketing staffs and which ones inspire loyalty. Do some networking. Sweat the small stuff to Diane Hamlin, a former marketing chief at Palo Alto’s Fenwick & West who serves as president of the Legal Marketing Association, says the interview process can reveal how marketers are treated at a particular firm. “I once interviewed for months at a firm and not once did the managing partner call me up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a few minutes. Why don’t we get together for a cup of coffee?’ To me, that was a sign that the firm wasn’t ready to walk the walk.” Know Thy Customer.Last year Heller Ehrman tapped a former Microsoft Corp. manager to oversee marketing. Sedgwick’s Flynn, while not speaking directly about Heller, thinks firms that tap marketing pros who have never spent time inside a law firm or another partnership setting are making “a mistake.” And Bodine points out that lawyers and marketers by nature are bound to clash. Understanding the differences is key, he says. “Lawyers are risk-averse. Marketers are risk-takers. Lawyers are driven by precedent. Marketers are driven by innovation. Lawyers look at the downside. Marketers look at the upside.” Master the Expectation Game.Law firm survival requires respect. To get it, set expectations low. “Don’t go in with a bunch of high-cost solutions,” says Paul Ward, a veteran of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe who now handles marketing for Newport Beach-based Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Eventually you’ll have to answer for the spending. Instead, “aim for low-hanging fruit,” says Ward. Hamlin agrees. “Think of something the firm is doing that nobody else is doing and they haven’t gotten press attention for. You don’t want to go in and announce you’re the great marketing savior,” she says. “During the interview process I try to ascertain what’s bleeding [at the firm] and what’s on fire, and I really under-claim. Then when it’s done and done well, there’s amazement and word spreads.” It’s Not Always About You.To survive in a law firm, “you’ve got to have the skin of a rhinoceros,” notes Jennifer Johnson, a former marketer and recruiter at Texas-based Locke Liddell & Sapp. Lawyers like to be in control and they’re quick to find fault. Get used to it. “Whenever I got something back that I had written, it looked like it had blood all over it,” says Johnson, referring to the red ink that lawyers use to mark up documents. Follow the Money.Now for the toughest part. Every partner is a boss and “often acts like it,” says a marketer at one San Francisco firm who did not want to be identified. “It can be very hard to determine who the decision makers are.” Firm leaders are the obvious � but by no means the only � ones. “All partners are not created equal,” says Patel. “You’ve got to understand the politics.” Find the rainmakers. But also figure out who the rising stars are. Think Exit Strategy.Look on the bright side: There is life after law firms. Consider Phyllis Gillis, a former marketing chief at Farella Braun & Martel and Heller Ehrman. Earlier this year Gillis became the executive director of the Carneros Quality Alliance, a trade association for 90 wineries and grape growers in Napa County. Farella’s strong wine industry practice combined with a degree in hospitality and management from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco helped Gillis land her dream job. Gillis says she wasn’t unhappy at Farella. But after 17 years of law firm marketing, “I was horribly burned out,” she said. “I’m not making anywhere near what I made before. But I’m living in a cottage in the middle of a vineyard in Napa. I absolutely love it.” Krysten Crawfordis a freelance writer based in San Francisco..

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