Strategic Planning for Legal Marketers: Essential Skills for Your Career

Strategic planning is an important driver of success in any organization. It is based on consensus about the future of the organization — where it wants to be in three to five years — and the necessary steps to get there. Without it, the organization may drift into the future, committing resources based on over-the-transom opportunities or the whims of influential people. Or worse, it will stagnate while its competitors thrive.

Most law firms recognize the need to take charge of their future and create plans for growth. Law firms are creating plans with a vision that articulates what they want to be known for in the marketplace and building the firm around that vision. The firm vision influences business plans for practice groups, industry groups, geographic markets, and clients. The firm's lawyers create plans for developing their practices that are aligned with the broader plans.

Strategic Plans Enhance the Success of the Marketing and BD Team

Having a robust strategic plan not only benefits the firm but can also be essential to the success of the marketing and business development (BD) team. As Jennifer Simpson Carr, a director at Knapp Marketing, and I discussed at the recent LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Conference, law firm marketers are charged with a wide-range of responsibilities for the firm, practice groups, sector teams, local offices, clients, and individual lawyers. They work on everything from targeted business development plans to client communications, to execution of events and firm branding, to name a few. These activities can often be derailed by a last-minute RFP or an urgent client alert. Marketing and BD jobs are more fulfilling if the team understands where they fit into the long-term plans of the firm. The plan enables the team to understand how they contribute to the firm's future success, solidifies a focus on activities that are consistent with the firm's strategic direction, and provides ammunition to prioritize initiatives that align with the plan, rather than random acts of marketing. Focused marketing and BD activities help the team perform at a much higher level.

The Role of Marketing in the Planning Process

Marketing and BD professionals play an important role in developing and implementing their firms’ strategic plans. They are tapped for those roles, because they have the basic attributes and skills critical to success at every step of the planning process. That said, strategic planning is a discipline learned through training and hands-on experience. Legal marketers who have acquired strategic planning skills will find themselves in a greater position to influence the firm’s direction, their reputation, and their career trajectory.

Marketing and the Planning Process

Marketers can contribute at every stage of the planning process. Often, marketing and BD are called upon to help convene the team and drive the process to completion.

The Strategic Planning Process

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Gather Information

The first step in the process is to gather information. Working collaboratively with other staff functions in the firm, such as finance, knowledge management, and IT, the marketing and BD team will compile data about clients, competitors, financial measures, and market trends. Gather the perspectives of key stakeholders in the firm, including leadership, influential lawyers, staff groups, and outside stakeholders, such as clients and referral sources.

Marketing and BD are well suited to identify the information needs, compile the information, and analyze the results. They possess the business acumen, knowledge of the clients and markets and analytical skills to contribute.

Analyze and Synthesize Information

The next step is to analyze and draw conclusions from the data. Review the data with the planning team and brainstorm about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, a.k.a. conducting a SWOT analysis. The SWOT process is a highly efficient in compiling large quantities of information and drawing conclusions. A successful SWOT analysis requires interpersonal skills, problem solving ability, and an ability to make high quality decisions.


The planning team uses the SWOT results to draft a vision for the firm or the relevant business unit. The vision should be both aspirational and achievable. It should address the organization’s value proposition vs. its competition. It should be relevant to the key stakeholders, particularly clients and talent. Finally, it should be clear about the markets in which the organization will compete, and the status it hopes to achieve in those markets. The marketing and BD team formulate a vision through its understanding of clients and markets, its ability to negotiate consensus, and its strategic agility.

Goals and Plans

With a vision in place, the team can determine its goals and strategies for achieving the vision. The goals should be SMART.

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Create detailed, granular plans for achieving each goal. As goals may include everything from branding, business development, financial metrics, professional development, recruiting, innovation, and technology, contributions may be needed from lawyers and staff across the firm. Here again, marketing and BD draws on its strategic agility, project management, interpersonal skills, and problem solving to help corral the contributions needed to create detailed plans.


Finally, marketing will help implement the marketing and business development components of the plan. Marketing may be asked to play a broader role in plan implementation by helping to lead the lawyers and other staff members as they implement other components of the plan.

Marketing and BD often find themselves playing critical roles in strategic planning, whether it is the CMO working on the firm’s strategic plan or a BD manager working with a practice group or industry team. Marketing and BD have the competencies that are needed to drive the process to completion. Planning allows marketing and BD to play an important role in direction of the firm and to better define and measure their own contributions. It is a skill that can be leveraged to achieve greater advancement and a fulfilling career.

By Mary K. Young, Partner, Zeughauser Group

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