Program Recap: Advancing Your Career in Legal Marketing

It’s not always what’s on your resume that will get you your next job in legal marketing. That was one of the key takeaways from the LMA Bay Area’s Aug. 8 program, “Advancing Your Career in Legal Marketing.”

Kate Harry Shipham, owner of executive search firm KHS People, and Clare Ota, senior marketing and business development manager at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, shared their best tips to help legal marketing professionals get the most out of their careers.

Shipham said professionals who are attuned to the pressures that law firm partners face in keeping clients happy and remaining competitive in the marketplace are well positioned to go far.

“That should be your starting point and ending point for every single thing you’re doing,” she said. If you ask questions along those lines, partners “will very much appreciate that conversation and find a lot of value in that.”

Shipham said cultural fit is very important to her law firm clients. Many are also looking for “soft” skills such as critical thinking, complex negotiation, problem solving and creativity.

Plan Your Career Roadmap

In order to move up, it can be helpful to map out your career progression. But it’s not mandatory. Ota said her own career path, from litigation paralegal to marketing and business development manager, shows that “there’s no right or wrong way to come at this,” especially considering that the field of legal marketing didn’t get started until 1977 when the U.S. Supreme Court in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona upheld the right of lawyers to advertise.


Ota recommended assessing your own strengths and weaknesses to figure out what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing, marrying that with what the industry and your law firm needs. A good resource, available to LMA members online for free, is the 2016 Body of Knowledge that defines the core skills needed for all the different roles in legal marketing.

An advanced degree isn’t usually required to do your job and won’t get you a salary bump, the panelists said. That said, Ota is finding it helpful to pursue a master’s degree in business administration for the exposure it gives her to people in other industries, including those served by her law firm.

Seek Help From Others

It’s good to find a mentor, Ota and Shipham said. But it’s up to you to reach out to potential mentors and be clear about what kind of help you’re looking for. Don’t be discouraged if the person you ask doesn’t have time. Just move on to the next candidate.

Perhaps you find a “sponsor” within your own firm who gives you opportunities to grow and shine. Or, you could seek advice from those you meet at networking organizations such as LMA. You can have more than one mentor.

“Choose someone who will challenge you. Not someone who agrees,” Shipman said.

Shipman cautioned that you also need to be aware of the internal dynamics – the challenges your manager is facing and other things happening at the firm that might limit your opportunities for advancement.

It can be helpful to have coffee meetings outside the office, where there are fewer distractions and you can ask for candid advice.

“Look at the people around you as role models,” Shipham said. “You want to be the person always going above and beyond. Your advancement will move forward quicker than others.”

Focus on Your Goals

Some other tips that will help you advance your career in legal marketing, according to Ota and Shipham:

  • Be kind to everybody in the organization and be a good person to work with.
  • Dress for the role you want, not the role you’re in.
  • Don’t wait for review time to ask for feedback on your performance.
  • Track your wins and, if possible, tie it to firm revenue. Save emails that contain positive feedback.
  • Know that employers in California can no longer ask about your current salary. The law was changed to try to address the fact that women in the same jobs on average make 20 percent less than men. Read more on Shipham’s blog.
  • Don’t move to a new law firm just for the sake of moving. Make sure you can credibly tell the story of your career journey.
  • Read books such as “The Future of the Professions” by Richard and Daniel Susskind and “Smart Collaboration” by Heidi Gardner.
  • Review the Legal Executive Institute 2019 Report on the State of Legal Marketing.


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Coming Up on September 12th - Client Service Metamorphosis

Join us on September 12th for the our next monthly educational program about LMA's Next Big Thing: Client Service Metamorphosis. Hear from Jill Weber about how law firms are shifting strategy to focus on client service, and what opportunities that creates for legal marketing professionals and the broader legal industry.

Register Now


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Laura Ernde is a San Francisco-based communications consultant. A former legal affairs journalist and State Bar of California communications director, she helps law firms and legal marketing agencies with content strategy and content creation. Connect with her via LinkedIn and Twitter. Email:

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