After spending more than a decade in legal marketing, there are days when I think I’ve learned nothing. These moments usually come after working on a last-minute proposal (and aren’t they always last-minute?) or working with a particularly demanding attorney. Likewise, there are days when I’m able to reflect on what I’ve learned and put it into practice — these are the good days. For the past several years, I have been lucky to be part of a great team and work under a director from whom I’ve been able to develop my skills and grow personally and professionally. But I didn’t always work as part of a team.
For the first half of my career, I worked as a team of one (first supporting 40 attorneys in two offices and then almost 100 in four offices in two states). When I worked solo, I often wished for a team many times. When I found myself as part of a team, I learned that it was not without its challenges as well. Since working on my own, I have gained significant perspective. If only I’d known then what I know now, I could have prevented some headaches, some heartbreaks (and possibly some tears) along the way.
Being able to share collective knowledge and work toward a common goal are just two of the great things about working on a team. Just because you’re on your own, however, doesn’t mean you can’t do great things. The following are just a few of the things I wish I’d known while working on my own:
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Think about the tasks you perform on a regular basis. Submissions to vanity publications, new hire preparation, sponsorship coordination, bio updates — these are all areas that can be documented and systemized from start to finish. Take some time to think about the steps involved and write them down. As you create these checklists, create a master list so that when these tasks arise you will be ready.
- Learn your email system. For most, this will be Microsoft Outlook, which has a number of features that can make your life easier. From creating folders to calendaring reminders for simple tasks (“Follow up with Tom re: speaking engagement”) to recurring appointments or events, managing your email effectively will help prevent things from falling through the cracks. Tasks and to-do items are another great feature. Creating a task enables you to track your process from start to finish.
- Find your champion. It’s been my experience that in firms where there exists only one marketing professional, there exist numerous (and often incorrect) conceptions about what it is that person does. While it is important to have an attorney in your corner, it is important that you not forget those in other areas within the firm (including administration and IT). Having others in the firm who understand what you do and your contributions to the firm will go a long way in advancing your career. And, while I’m at it, don’t hesitate to be your own champion. Tout your successes and make sure people know what you do. If you’ve put together a winning proposal, let other attorneys in the office know or when an attorney is featured in the media, share that with the firm as well.
- You can’t be everything to everyone. There are only so many hours in the day. Think about your office as an in-house marketing shop. List your strengths and promote them; acknowledge your weaknesses and develop them. Do your best to sell your strengths and determine how to fill in your weaknesses. There may be times when you need to seek outside help (as I often did for graphic design, for example) and that’s OK. Once you identify those areas where you need help, pull together a list of available resources so that you will have them ready when you need them. Additionally, identify those in the firm who may possess the skills you need. No one likes to admit they don’t know something or can’t do something, but identifying those areas frees you up to focus on the areas where you really shine.
- Find support with the support staff. The receptionists, secretaries and everyone in your IT department can make your life easier, but only if they’re on your side. While it should go without saying, treat everyone with respect. A little kindness can go a long way when you’re dealing with an angry attorney or a looming deadline. When things go wrong (and they will), it’s good to have those who make the firm run on your side. As a business development coach, I often remind attorneys that it is important to create authentic relationships, and the same applies here. Don’t force it. Do take an interest in getting to know those with whom you will work most frequently. It will serve you well.
Finally, when I first started, I was in a small market where everyone was a possible competitor. I couldn’t just pick up the phone and talk to other marketing folks. Some of my best ideas and greatest supporters came from the LMA listserv. So, make use of the resources available through this association. Ask questions. Develop relationships. Through my relationships with LMA, I was able to build a support system of other solo marketers, and it truly made all the difference.
Sara Pauley Coffey has more than a decade of experience in legal marketing and has been a member of LMA almost as long. She is currently a business development liaison at Jackson Kelly PLLC and also serves as co-chair of the Competitive Intelligence SIG.