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Recruiting top marketing and BD talent for law firms

Why salary benchmarking is useful, but not the be-all and end-all

Lawyers are not the only legal professionals to have seen significant inflation in their salaries in recent times: those working in the marketing and BD teams have also experienced a steep rise in their pay packets, with competition between firms remaining pretty heated. If you run a law firm or are in charge of hiring, salary benchmarking reports are therefore an incredibly important tool to help you determine what level of talent you will attract for each of your roles.

Handily enough, Tish de Beer of RedLaw Recruitment has kindly provided me with her company Marketing & BD Salary Guide 2024, which is specific to the legal sector and offers “a detailed snapshot of the compensation landscape in London” as of Q2 2024. You can email or DM her for a copy. I should state that it’s not the only report of its kind: Ambition has published its latest BD, Marketing & Communications Salary Guide, which covers the wider professional services sector and is available to download here; Anthem will be publishing theirs next week, and Carter Murray will doubtless soon be issuing its 2024 UK marketing and salary guide for marketing professionals across different sectors (you can download its 2023 guide here). The market leader remains, unsurprisingly, Totum’s salary survey, which is used as one of the main benchmarks by HRDs and CPOs. To get their survey, you need to provide your data, which seems fair enough.

Tish and her team have done a fantastic job in compiling so much useful information. The only part of the report that I hesitated over was the salary band for Heads of Digital Marketing, which is listed as £90k – 120K at UK firms. In our experience as a leading digital marketing agency for law firms, these salaries would not allow firms to attract the top talent in this field. I know a few people in role on more than this salary. 🙂

Of course, reports such as these add fuel to the fire when it comes to HR departments’ obsession with benchmarking their own firm against the competition; a public document such as RedLaw’s salary guide therefore allows employees within these respective roles to see that their current salary sits within the indicated ranges and therefore represents a fair market rate. And if you are paid more than the published salary bands due to your seniority or the level of expertise you bring to the role, then you can explain the difference in your pay on this basis.

Diversity matters

However, despite the helpful guidance provided by these salary benchmarking reports when it comes to hiring, I do think that law firms need to think outside of the box a little in terms of the talent they are bringing in for these roles. For example, one thing that irks me is that a lot of the job listings for marketing and BD roles require previous law firm experience, which to my mind is unlikely to facilitate social mobility within marketing departments.

How so? Well, law firms are rightly concerned with ESG-related issues and keen to burnish their credentials in this arena; yet the very people entrusted with getting the relevant messages to market are often less diverse as a group of individuals than one might wish to have represented. Which, in turn, means that law firms then don’t represent their target audiences, target hires and target clients. And when people don’t feel represented in terms of their aspirations, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., they will go elsewhere.

I cannot stress this point enough: if we lack diversity in our marketing team, we’ll lack it elsewhere in our business.

So while the salary bands are helpful, I think law firms will sometimes need to flex a bit and be willing to pay a little more to bring in, say, digital marketing talent from the consumer sector: these people may not have direct experience of legal marketing, but they will have relevant expertise and a skill set that can make a material difference to the business.

Part of the wider issue is that, as a sector, the law could be better at selling the benefits of working in marketing and BD. We need to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to work with some of the brightest minds, and enthuse our potential hires that a career in legal marketing is more fun than it might at first seem. If we don’t convey our excitement about these roles, we risk not attracting the very best talent. Their heads will be turned by others.

Many job advertisements (written by HR) will talk about “an exciting role” – but place your hand over the brand and it becomes just another role, with the job spec failing to convey any distinguishing detail that makes the role genuinely exciting. Collectively, we can do better. The law does too little to promote its own virtues, not least as a (relatively?) safe work environment for marginalised people and people from the Global Majority, people with visible and non-visible disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Retaining talent

Beyond an insistence on previous law firm experience, another reason that we see a lack of diversity in marketing and BD roles is the ways in which HR departments instruct recruiters. Simply put, too many firms default to the same small, select group of recruitment consultants, which often recruit from the same networks. I feel that a widening of the horizons could really be beneficial here.

Firms can also reduce their need for and reliance on recruiters by becoming more adept at retaining the talent they already have. By nurturing their people from the very early stages of their career and by promoting in a timely fashion those who show promise, and incentivising them with interesting tasks and competitive remuneration, firms can help prevent recruits from leaving for opportunities elsewhere, or at least delay their departure – and, in the process, forge an ambitious, talented and motivated workforce with strong internal relationships due to the relatively low staff turnover.

For their part, candidates must accept that the top salaries in the benchmarking reports will always involve a quid pro quo. You have to realise that what is expected of you in terms of weekly hours won’t be too dissimilar to what is expected of a lawyer. Some of the marketing people working in the US firms’ City offices are taking home the equivalent pay of a regional law firm partner. On the flip side, these marketing professionals will also help to bring in a level of revenue to their firm that many a regional law firm partner would be reluctant to take on.

Some final thoughts on marketing and BD remuneration

Tish sent me the RedLaw salary benchmarking report in the same week that Freshfields upped its NQ pay to £150,000. This sparked an idea in my head: perhaps it is time for law firms to look at what they pay their marketing and BD teams as a fraction or multiple of what they pay their NQs, as this is the one consistent salary in the business against which to model all other salaries: how does your CMO stack up against one of your NQs, for example? I bet I know who is bringing more business into the firm.

And NQ salaries also provide a reference point against which to measure the salaries offered in other firms for BD and marketing roles. If you’re curious, Legal Cheek has provided a list of NQ salaries across a wide range of firms – you can find it here.

Simone Sullivan from Anthem told us, “At the Director/Head Of end of the market, salaries remain stagnant. When senior people see the high salaries being offered to newly qualified lawyers, it reinforces a subliminal message of being undervalued. The accountancy sector already offers 100% bonuses to some Director-level candidates on six-figure salaries. I think most legal candidates would welcome this kind of recognition. Bonuses currently range from zero to a maximum of 15-20%.”

The industry is constantly raising lawyers’ wages, which is always justified with the near-reflexive statement “they’re the ones bringing in the money”. Sure, they’re bringing in a hefty share of it, but so too are the BD and the marketing teams, with the BD people often creating the opportunities for the lawyers to strut their stuff. I think that there is room to get creative with the way that employees focusing exclusively on business development are remunerated.

At the moment, the rewards for BD work by BD professionals (as opposed to partners) are baked into people’s salaries, which actually disincentivises them from focusing on pure BD work, as it’s riskier than sticking to marketing activities. However, if BD and marketing salaries were equalised and a performance-related uplift bonus offered for successful BD work, this would flatten upfront costs, lead to greater accountability and, I dare say, significantly boost performance, revenue and profitability.

In other news

DFW’s former deputy director of advocacy disbarred for dishonesty

Barrister Barry John Harwood, who was once named “champion of the year” by LGBT+ charity Stonewall, has been disbarred for making false homophobia allegations against fellow barristers, The Telegraph revealed this week.

Freshfields boosts NQ pay to £150,000

As reported in the FT and other news outlets last week (and as mentioned above), Magic Circle firm Freshfields has upped the ante and increased the salary it pays its newly qualified lawyers to £150,000, which represents a 20% rise in the baseline pay for new solicitors. The pay war is clearly far from over, and it surely won’t be long before other MC firms respond in kind.

Working as a mother in Big Law International ran a thought-provoking opinion piece this week, written by an anonymous mother working in Big Law and detailing her experiences at large international firms.

Can London remain the top global talent spot?

Nick South, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group London, wrote an article for City A.M. last week in which he examines why London may soon lose its crown as the world’s most attractive city for talent, with New York and Dubai nipping hard at its heels.

How Paul Weiss took the City by storm

On Wednesday, The Lawyer published an interesting article detailing US firm Paul Weiss’ many audacious moves over the past year to grow its City presence, centring around a much-publicised raid on other firms’ senior talent.

The LinkedIn posting habits of Magic Circle trainees

This week, some of TBD’s research (and a quote by yours truly) formed the basis of an article in The Lawyer examining the potential reasons why we don’t hear from more MC trainees on LinkedIn.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s edition!


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