It’s thrilling to author a column that explores the existing and potential rapport between inside counsel and their law firm’s Chief Marketing Officer (“CMO”). Having worked in three of AmLaw’s Top 20 in various leadership positions, I can say with confidence that in-house lawyers and CMOs are natural allies. Why? CMOs are singularly devoted to making sure that clients are happy with their firm’s services. Yet – to date – direct access between these two constituencies is rare. A column can help explore common ground.
What does a CMO think about clients, how are they naturally aligned with them, and what do many of us see as areas for growth?
The late, great New York City Mayor Ed Koch is the only lawyer I have worked with who asked anyone (much less everyone), “How am I doin’?” Your lawyer may speak with you daily, yet never feel comfortable auditing the account or asking how you feel about the firm’s services. CMOs raise this topic internally on a daily basis and constantly seek out information about the client’s view of their firms. We also want to know how we compare in relationship maintenance with other firms working for you. Are you feeling good about the relationship? Are the bills consistent with the level of work being handled? Ask your lawyer for a quarterly review, and suggest that the CMO sit in. You will have an additional champion helping insure that the firm devotes all resources necessary to getting it right in terms of relationship management (who will do so without circumventing or aggravating partners).
CMOs appreciate that inside counsel doesn’t always demand the least expensive rate – but do expect that there will be predictability in billing. And we know that bonuses are often tied to their effective budget management. CMOs manage the completion of responses to RFPs and can be your advocate in getting alternative fees in front of management for consideration and/or having a budget process put into place at the start of all new engagements. We can then support partners administratively in making sure that these specifics are adhered to for the lifetime of the relationship. If the partner is willing to open up the lines of communication to this degree, you can also call the CMO if you don’t like any element – large or small – of billing. We very much appreciate that your overall comfort and satisfaction with this element of the relationship keeps work flowing and relationship management smooth.
CMOs understand that one of the best ways to build a relationship is to second someone from the firm to work at the client and absorb their culture, work habits and the substance of their industry – at no cost to the client. Similarly, many CMOs advocate for regular training of all levels of the general counsel’s office, either through customized CLE programs at the client’s office or a standing and open invitation to the firm’s regular CLE programs held weekly for partners and associates. It’s an easy way to offer the general counsel and her team access to critical training. And it helps to forge a better relationship.
Beyond the CLE, I don’t think many firms craft events that speak to the networking needs of a client. This is where a broader conversation on the relationship could make a real impact. There is a lot of ground we can cover to use our contacts to create intimate roundtable discussions with industry-level speakers that might appeal or be useful to you. For instance, if you are in a business that has a great number of concerns related to import taxes, your law firm could assemble a panel of tax experts from the Big Four, lawmakers, government officials and others to help you to gain further knowledge on where laws are headed. This allows you to craft your business strategies in a more targeted fashion.
We get it. Entirely. You don’t want a 72-page client memo with footnotes written in turgid language delivered to your e-mail box on Friday nights at 9:00 pm. (We’ve lost out on many Friday social events giving to this cause.) We think you’d rather have a one- to two-page summary of the facts of a case and spell out the reasons why you should care about it. Give us a call or send us an e-mail when you receive communications that do not meet your expectations or needs. Having your feedback means things will change quickly.
These are a few of the core things CMOs think about in terms of client service. Overall, forging a relationship with your firm’s CMO will mean more targeted and personalized service, and will give partners the security of knowing that all bases of relationship management are covered.