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The title of chief marketing officer used to be found at only the very largest of law firms, but now the trend is really catching on. Last year, the 138-lawyer Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin launched a national search for its first CMO. Six months later, the firm found Mehul Patel, 34, a former Cooley Godward associate who had previously worked as in-house counsel for PeopleSoft Inc. But it wasn’t Patel’s legal background that attracted Howard Rice, according to partner Lawrence Rabkin. It was the candidate’s five-year stint doing business development and strategic marketing for the Internet media company CNET Networks Inc. “We didn’t want to take a classical approach,” Rabkin said. “We wanted somebody who also had a lot of industry experience outside of law firms.” Increasingly, firms are looking for marketing talent beyond the legal world — to industries like consulting, investment banking and financial services. The trend is driving the stakes in the war for talent as competition intensifies over a small pool of qualified candidates. The search period for CMOs has doubled in the last year, according to Mozhgan Mizban, a partner with the Zeughauser Group, a legal consulting firm. “What used to take two to three months is now taking six to nine,” she said. Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, which has been without a CMO since May, has been searching for a candidate with a full range of skills — from management to strategic marketing to communications, according to Barry Levin, chairman of the 571-lawyer firm. The right person will shoulder hefty responsibility: helping the firm as it is configured today, but also determining where Heller will be in five years. The demands of the job have evolved to require director-level talent, says Jim Cochran, of the Texas-based consulting firm ClearLeverage. “Business development professionals have not traditionally resided in law firms,” he said. A prime example of the “modern CMO” is Amanda Duckworth, who joined Morrison & Foerster a year ago. The former partner and director of marketing at Thomas Weisel Partners, a San Francisco-based investment banking firm, has an elaborate resume. She spent 13 years in corporate relations with Edelman Public Relations. And she has a legal background: an LL.B. from the University of Wales and a solicitors diploma from The College of Law in London. Another example is Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s Courtney Dorman, who, like Duckworth, spent many years at Edelman. Dorman also worked at Robertson Stephens & Co., a San Francisco-based growth investment bank. Such senior executives command hefty salaries — further driving competition. CMOs at AmLaw 100 firms earned between $200,000 and $300,000 two years ago, Mizban said. Now salaries are edging up to $400,000 a year, with a small subset earning as much as $500,000. “It is a pretty limited pool if they are truly operating at that level,” said Sally Schmidt, a Minnesota-based recruiter who is also compiling a salary survey for the Legal Marketing Association. Turnover is high — CMOs stick around an average of two years — in part because making the jump from industry to law firm can be difficult. “They rarely can walk on water, which is what is expected when they are paid that much,” said Schmidt. Those that succeed can get poached. Last year, veteran Deborah Farone left the job at Debevoise & Plimpton for one of New York’s last marketing holdouts — Cravath, Swaine & Moore. And in March, Jolene Overbeck left Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins after 12 years and went to New York’s Shearman & Sterling. To ensure their success — and their status — candidates are asking for a “seat at the table.” That might take the form of reporting to a managing partner or being a non-voting member of the firm’s administrative committee. But most agree respect needs to be earned. “Partnerships are forged on building consensus,” said Duckworth. “There is need to get widespread buy-in.” Much of that will depend on an individual’s personality, says MoFo Chairman Keith Wetmore. Also reflecting the raised stakes — and the expectations of those coming from professional service industries — are changes in compensation structure. “It is unlikely that CMOs will ever be equity partners given ethics rules regarding fee sharing [with non-attorneys],” said Patel. “But more and more, compensation is based on how a firm is doing.” For instance, bonuses might be tied to such data points as profits per partner and revenue per lawyer. Mizban said CMO compensation is increasingly pegged to the partner point system. “This speaks to the perceived value of the CMO role within the firm,” she said. How firms continue to place that value may depend on the success of future marketing initiatives. “Law firms have traditionally viewed marketing as a cost center,” said Patel. “It is hard to track those revenues, and it takes a long time to see a return on investment.” Nor do firms always understand all that is involved in hiring a CMO. Consultant Schmidt reminds law firms hiring first-time CMOs that they must also budget to provide their new marketers with the staff and resources to do the job. But the right CMO can ultimately increase the value of existing marketing dollars and staff by providing direction and training, proponents say. “It is not like we weren’t spending a whole lot of money on marketing before,” Wetmore said.

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