Revolving door/courtesy of Paul Dilakian Revolving door/courtesy of Paul Dilakian

In a burst of hiring activity, several major law firms have named new chief marketing officers in recent weeks. While CMO hires and departures are constant in Big Law, observers point to an unusual level of turnover.

In just the last two months, Hogan Lovells; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Stroock Stroock & Lavan; and Akerman have all added new chief marketing officers, after chief marketers left Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Shearman & Sterling; Fox Rothschild; and Williams & Connolly.

While the CMO search market has been relatively quiet the last couple of years, “it has definitely picked up in the last nine months,” said Amanda Brady, a Major, Lindsey & Africa recruiter for law firm executives and business directors. She said the activity may be due to firms rethinking their business and market strategies as well as new law firm leaders looking for CMOs to implement their plans.

David McClune, who was chief marketing officer at Shearman & Sterling for about four years before moving to Hogan Lovells in late May, pointed to a regular cycle in CMO moves. “This tends to happen cyclically. Every four to five years, suddenly there will be a number of vacancies and roles in the market,” said McClune. He succeeds London-based global CMO Serena Simmons, who retired in mid-June.

McClune joined Hogan Lovells after helping to complete a major branding effort at Shearman, complete with a new website. McClune said he was attracted to Hogan Lovells for the opportunity to work for a firm of larger size and global scale.

A Shearman spokesman said the firm hasn’t hired a new CMO yet, but noted the recent addition of Meredith Williams-Range, formerly of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, as chief knowledge and client value officer.

Meanwhile, Paul Weiss has hired New York-based Luke Ferrandino in a chief marketing officer role, chairman Brad Karp confirmed, after the departure of chief strategy officer Mozhgan Mizban. For Ferrandino, it’s a return to Paul Weiss. He previously worked there for several years in business and practice development positions.

Ferrandino most recently had been marketing director at Fried Frank, which said it’s now searching for another marketing officer. “We are actively interviewing candidates to fill the role of global director of marketing and business development. The marketing department’s senior management team continues to work closely with firm leadership,” Fried Frank said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Trish Lilley, longtime chief marketing and business development officer at Fox Rothschild, joined Stroock in early June. Ellen Musante, who was the chief marketing officer at Stroock since 2016, left earlier this year.

Lilley, who has a home in southern New Jersey and lives in New York during the workweek, said she was very happy at Fox Rothschild but was attracted to Stroock’s strategic planning initiative and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “It’s really done what a lot of firms haven’t done,” she said.

Also within the last two months, Akerman announced it had hired P. Jeanne Brown as chief client development and marketing officer in Washington, D.C. She had recently served as Williams & Connolly’s director of business development, marketing and client relations.

Great Expectations

While Lilley and some others making CMO moves had long tenures at their prior firms, it’s also common to see chief marketing officers last just one or two years in the position, leading to a constant revolving door in law firm marketing departments.

Lilley, president-elect for the Northeast region of the Legal Marketing Association, said some CMO moves could be occurring as a result of law firm personnel feeling more secure while the economy is still prospering.

But several law firm marketers also say mismatched expectations are behind some of the turnover.

“There is often a disconnect between what firms believe they want in a CMO and what they really need,” said Deborah Farone of Farone Advisors LLC, a consultant to law firms who spent 14 years as the CMO of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. “A CMO does not arrive their first day on the job with a bag of magic beans, ready to grow a practice. The firms that succeed with a CMO demonstrate a genuine commitment to market from senior leadership and provide the resources to make the relationship work.”

Sometimes it’s a bad fit, said Lilley. “It takes a great deal of resiliency in your personality,” she said. “Law firms are not affirmative environments,” as lawyers are trained to find flaws and loopholes.

McClune added, “Partnerships need to be very clear what they expect in a CMO, and a CMO needs to be very clear and understand the expectations in the partnership.”

“I find it quite energizing, but some people do struggle with being able to manage the expectations of multiple owners,” he added.

And sometimes, firms recruit CMOs from other sectors, which can lead to short-lived positions due to differences in culture between law firms and other industries, McClune said.

Brady, the law firm recruiter, said while she recommends firm leaders consider candidates from outside the legal industry to hear new perspectives, she encourages clients not to stray too far.

“I will generally only encourage clients to consider ‘non-law firm’ candidates from other professional services firms. It’s the closest you can get to the law firm culture and an environment in which you are supporting smart and demanding, high revenue generators,” she said.

At the same time, Lilley said, CMO roles have rapidly evolved. “It’s a lot more sophisticated, you have to have a strong financial fluency in law firm economics and in the market in general,” she said.

Instead of focusing on only PowerPoint presentations and client pitches, CMOs are working more with firm lawyers on strategic business plans, such as where to grow their business, and CMOs are expected to handle more pricing and profitability analytics, she said. “You’re managing big data, more automation, more project management, looking at the intake process,” she said.

As the position’s responsibilities have shifted, Brady said, tenures of law firm CMOs have actually lengthened over the last decade, pointing to average tenures of about four years now.

Brady partly credited this to a transition away from more traditional marketing and communications to a focus on business development. “Now most firms employ marketing and [business development] professionals who can help the firm, select practices and even [help] specific attorneys develop and improve client relationships,” she said.

CMO positions are very demanding, with the executives working the same number of hours as any firm attorney. “If you’re at an Am Law 100 firm, you’re really on call 24 hours a day,” McClune said, adding some CMOs in New York consistently work 60 to 80 hours a week.

Am Law 100 firms compensate for those demands, though, paying anywhere from $350,000 to $800,000, while an outlier firm may pay in the seven figures.