CMO from Non-Legal Background Didn't Work Out

I was stunned when I heard the news: the CMO of a global law firm with 1,000+ lawyers was let go after only four months.  I made calls to verify the news, and it turned out CMO's fatal flaw was that he had never worked in the legal profession before.  He had worked in marketing at a bank and a Fortune 500 corporation -- but never a law firm.

My contact told me that the departed CMO never made the adjustment from the corporate world -- where what Marketing says is what happens -- to the legal profession, where a CMO has to build support for an idea before he presents it.

I like working with lawyers, because I have learned to work with their unique personalities:

  • If the CMO has a great idea, the lawyer will look at the downside and see if the CMO can defend the idea with data and precedent.  Most lawyers will not be interested in being the first firm to try something untested.  The way I sold new ideas when I was at Sidley & Austin was to identify other firms that had tried the idea and to point out that there was no downside.
  • Lawyers want facts and data to back up a new idea.  If there isn't solid research or empirical data, then a CMO's great idea is just an assertion to be challenged.  Most lawyers are not persuaded by the upside of an idea, however they cannot argue with facts.
  • Lawyers are detail-oriented.  So if a CMO is trying to sell a lawyer on a concept, he will fail.  The lawyer will want to know the details of how an idea will work and what steps are involved. If they don't hear this, the lawyers will reject to the idea as one that is not fully thought out.
  • A CMO has to build consensus for an idea before he presents it. This means that before the CMO presents the idea to the executive committee, he must have lobbied and gotten support from each member in advance.  It is essential to eliminate objections in advance; a single "no" vote on the executive committee will kill the idea.  The presentation of the idea is a pro forma appearance to ratify a plan that is already approved.  This is very different from the corporate world, where Marketing can decree how the new fall schedule will be promoted.

The inference that I draw is that for most law firms, it's smarter to hire a marketing professional with a law or accounting background -- at least a CMO who has experience with partnerships.


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