Credit: Mooshny/

Women may continue to be underrepresented in law firm leadership, but there’s one area where they are more than likely to hold the top position: the marketing department.

A new report from ALM Intelligence looking at firms in North America found that 71 percent of chief marketing and business development roles are held by women. In comparison, just 25 percent of the U.S.’s 200 largest law firms have a female managing partner, according to a January study by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.

The compensation for these top marketing jobs might not hold a candle to what managing partners bring in, but by any other measure they are quite lucrative: The average marketing chief earns $400,000, with $350,000 in salary and another $50,000 in bonuses.

“The legal industry tends to not be a female-driven business—for better or for worse, and mostly for worse—so it is shocking to see that there is a part of the law firm that is dominated by women,” said study author Nicholas Bruch, the director of legal market intelligence at ALM Intelligence. 

A closer look at the data shows limits to women’s domination of role: the larger a law firm is, the more likely a man is to hold the top marketing position. In 94 percent of firms with fewer than 250 attorneys, the chief marketing role is held by a woman. By contrast, women serve as marketing chiefs in 53 percent of the firms between 500 and 1,000 attorneys, and 54 percent of the firms with over 1,000 attorneys.

This also has an impact on compensation: because these bigger firms tend to pay larger salaries, the average woman in the role earns $307,000 in salary, while the average man earns $430,000.

That gap speaks to the wider range of salaries for marketing chiefs in the 880 responses captured by the survey. The lowest-paid chief among respondents—a woman—earned just over $100,000, while the highest-paid—a man—earned $800,000.

Those are big differences for what, at least in the job title, are the same job,” Bruch said. “What that tells you is that these aren’t the same job.”

And that top salary of $800,000 is striking in its own right, likely exceeding the compensation of most non-equity partners in a law firm.

These people are being valued at or more than above what a partner might be valued at,” Bruch added. 

Firms of all sizes are devoting more resources toward marketing activities, with 49 percent reporting growing marketing budgets, compared to just 15 percent who acknowledged a decline. On the personnel side, the biggest growth is in “managers, directors and coordinators,” with 44 percent of firms increasing their head count in this category. External client executives and marketing technologists also have good prospects, as firms have added head count in these areas by 40 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

Now, the median firm spends 2.1 percent of its total revenues on marketing activities. But each million dollars invested in marketing and business development is expected to yield a total of $47 million, according to the report.

Bruch pegs the increased attention on marketing and business development to the growing complexity of law firms and to the increasing competitiveness of the legal marketplace. As  annual growth rates have dropped from a high of 14 percent to a new normal of closer to 3 percent, firms are looking to both partners and marketing professionals to make a difference.

“If the average is 3 percent, you want to be growing at 5 percent, and the marketing and business development people are seen as being able to get you there,” Bruch said. 

Meanwhile, clients are becoming more demanding and discerning in evaluating firms, making the people in these roles even more essential to long-term success.

“They can help in managing how pitches are done and how branding is done, so that when you go to talk to a client, you are putting your best foot forward,” Bruch said. “All of that is crescendoing in firms turning to marketing and business development professionals and saying, ‘Look, we need your help.’”

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