Your law practice has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. You’ve developed a reputation as the go-to firm in several practice areas, and you’ve built a stable of lawyers with the skills to support it. Now that your firm is operating at a new level, it’s time to level up your marketing, too.

Until now, you’ve likely approached your firm’s marketing with a catch-as-catch-can attitude. Without a dedicated marketing expert on staff, you and your partners have divvied up the marketing responsibilities among your staff. That worked well enough as a stop-gap measure. But if you want to continue growing your firm’s reputation and business, now is the time to consider hiring a chief marketing officer (CMO).

The Role of a CMO at Your Law Firm

A CMO is responsible for setting a business’s marketing strategy at the executive level. However, your CMO’s exact roles and responsibilities will depend on a number of factors. For example, if you plan to make just one dedicated marketing hire, your CMO will have a hand in everything, from strategic planning to tactical execution. This is the case for many law firms.

Another factor has to do with the level of involvement you and your partners want to have in setting your firm’s marketing strategy. At some law firms, the CMO functions as an executive, charting the course for a firm’s marketing and even business development trajectory. At others, they are more likely to execute on the partners’ vision. In the latter scenario, the CMO’s role is far more tactical.

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Before you start the hiring process, you should carefully consider how your CMO would function within your particular firm. This will help craft a job ad and determine which qualifications you seek in candidates, too.

How to Hire the Right CMO for Your Law Firm

There are several ways a growing firm can fill the role of a CMO. They can continue to distribute expanding marketing responsibilities among existing staff. They can also hire a marketing consultant to temporarily fill the role on a part-time basis.

These solutions are viable for the short-term. But they are really more bandaid than cure. If anything, they just kick the can down the road a ways. The truth is that your firm’s marketing needs aren’t going anywhere. If anything, they’re growing. And if you want to continue to drive your firm’s growth, you’ll eventually need to invest in a dedicated in-house marketing specialist.

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, it’s time to put some thought into what the position will look like and what kind of person would be a good fit. Start by asking yourself the important questions. What do you hope to accomplish with the CMO role? What are you willing to pay in terms of salary? How much funding will you give your CMO to work with? What goals do you want them to achieve with that budget?

Regardless of how you answer those questions, you should make sure to hire a CMO who is:

  • A good cultural fit. Your CMO will play a major role in expressing your firm’s brand — so it stands to reason that they should be an excellent cultural fit. If your partners are genteel in manner and you hire an aggressive personality, there will always be a disconnect. Put another way, you should enjoy working with your CMO as much as you enjoy working with your partners. Remember, your CMO will be in charge of crafting your firm’s marketing materials. If they don’t have a deep understanding of and appreciation for your culture, they are likely to take your brand in a different direction (and not in a good way). You need consistency and continuity in terms of your brand’s expression and culture. Unless your CMO is already on the same cultural page, that will never happen.
  • Capable of representing your firm in the public sphere. A CMO often acts as the public face of a law firm. In addition to putting together marketing campaigns, he or she pursues earned media and speaks to the press on a regular basis. You’ll want to make sure your chosen candidate is well-suited to representing your firm in this way. Your CMO should be poised, confident, and not easily ruffled. Public speaking experience is a definite plus. However, the right instincts may be even more important.
  • A strategic thinker. Your CMO will play a critical role in your firm’s growth. That’s true even if you and your partners prefer to make the high-level strategic decisions yourselves. You want to hire someone who is naturally a strategic thinker. Don’t hire someone just because they already know how to use the latest marketing software. Tactics can be learned. But thinking is intrinsic. For example, if a candidate is social media savvy, ask probing questions to discern how they think social media should be used to grow your firm. Strategy is primary. The software used to implement it is secondary.
  • Not a yes person. Ideally, you want to hire a CMO who takes instruction well — but isn’t simply an order-taker. They should be confident and tactful enough to provide feedback and constructive criticism regarding your brand and business development strategy to your firm’s partners. This is especially important if your CMO will have a more executive-level role. But it’s a good quality even if you expect the role to be a bit more junior to start.

When you hire a CMO, you take a crucial step toward professionalizing your firm’s marketing efforts. The wrong hire can set you back significantly. The right CMO, meanwhile, can put their unique fingerprints on your firm’s brand while at the same time remaining firmly within the bounds of your existing culture.

Hire well, and your new CMO will help your firm shape and achieve strategic goals for years to come.

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