Mark Usellis, the CMO of Davis Wright Tremaine, as issue editor of the October 2010 Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing (published by the International Legal Marketing Association – LMA), compiled several articles that he packaged as "Lessons from our Mentors." I wrote the following article that was published in this issue. I just received my copy of this magazine, so that's why the delay in sharing this post.
Draw a horizontal line on a piece of paper. Write the following words below it: blaming, lying, justifying, rationalizing, quitting, delaying, procrastinating, whining, complaining.
Write one word above the line: RESPONSIBILITY. Now, set this paper aside – we’ll come back to it.
“Self-help” is a multi-billion-dollar industry. People of all ages individually invest hundreds of dollars each year to help them survive loss, handle depression, better manage their families and other relationships, be more successful, have more fun, lose weight, get the promotion and make more money. Those of us who purchase these books are optimists, believing that whatever mess in which we find ourselves, there is a road out – a road to a happier, more fulfilled and successful life. In a word, we have hope.
But, do you have enough hope and drive to actually read and finish the book(s)? The answer is often no, because fundamentally, people are subconsciously or unconsciously comfortable where they are.
Why is this understanding important in an article about your legal marketing career? Because you have to shake yourself loose from the comfortable place and be painfully honest about the role you play in sabotaging your success and career. Now, put that piece of paper back in front of you. The ten pieces of advice that follow will help you take ownership of a bright and memorable legal marketing career.
- Be early. It’s rude to arrive late to anything. It doesn’t matter if traffic was horrendous; it doesn’t matter if you phoned and apologized – if you are late, you end up justifying why – and that goes below the line. Don’t lull yourself into thinking that you are protected by the goodness of your intentions.
- Set and meet deadlines. What does it say about you if you have a piece of a project and you deliver it late? Excuses such as, “I was waiting for Susan to deliver her piece!” or “Tom isn’t finished with his section!” are merely rationalizing your failure to deliver and show your lack of respect for the assignment and the person who gave it to you – and they go below the line. Who cares what the others do? Care about what you do. If your role is dependent upon someone else delivering first, don’t complain, jump in and give aid.
- Work at least a 50-hour week. Write “But, I’m only getting paid for 40 hours a week” below the line. Legal marketing is not a nine-to-five job – far from it. Much of your investment in learning will take place after hours – reading, attending conferences, brainstorming with colleagues, networking. If you are to be deemed worthy of promotion, prove you are committed by demonstrating extraordinary effort and time.
- Manage expectations. One reason that expectations aren’t met in law firms is that some marketers often don’t know the basics of how to scope a project. When you are handed an assignment, immediately create a short five to eight-step scope of work outline. Define the necessary elements of the project and how long each should take. If you believe the project simply can’t be completed in the requested time, the same day you receive the assignment discuss your scope outline with your boss. Together determine if all steps are critical, assess if any steps can be accelerated or abbreviated, or discuss extending the deadline to accommodate the full scope of work. Then deliver.
- Execute. Most legal marketers want to be strategic – whatever that means. The most admired professionals have years of successful execution under their belts. A brilliant strategy is worth nothing without knowing how to design and execute a plan to make it work. Seek to be valued not for the strategy you created, but for how effectively you put it into action.
- Be smart first. This is advice to the most attractive women and men in our industry. (You know who you are.) While a beautiful and fit appearance is an asset, it will surely be overlooked long-term if there isn’t substance behind the pretty face. While there may be exceptions, being a quick study, intelligent and articulate will get you promoted faster and farther.
- Be genuine and nice. Gossiping, sniping, manipulating, being passive-aggressive and duplicitous – all go below the line. Only authentic and good people deserve to be trusted. Marketers who are trusted get promoted.
- Always be excellent. Push yourself to excel and raise your standards even higher. Never settle for “good enough.” (Good enough goes below the line.) If you take pride in your work product, whether it’s updating 500 lawyer biographies without mistakes, writing an accurate and clear press release, planning a high profile event or designing a workable lateral integration strategy, you can celebrate your accomplishment. The people who matter will notice. Better yet – you will know and can be proud of what you did.
- Grow and learn. Law firms are Petri dishes for growth and learning. Legal marketers at every stage of their careers should have specific, actionable growth plans – to ensure they are viewed as current, relevant and trusted assets. Learn about what the lawyers do, what laws and regulations are changing, how that will affect firm clients and what it means for your law firm. It’s not enough to learn about one segment of marketing, such as PR or marketing technology or business development. The most respected marketers learn new things about the law, business and the world that they can use or apply to their jobs every day.
- Actively take responsibility. Own your reputation. Own your failures and successes. Own the truth or the lies you tell. Own the excuses you give for failing to deliver. Own the accolades you earn for a job well done. Own the promotion you won and the job you lost. Own knowing how to perform better the next time. Own the commitments you make and the deadlines you miss. Own how you follow through and own how you don’t. Own your sub-standard work product and own its marked improvement next time.
Own your life and own your career. Own living above the line. Nobody owes you anything but what you earn.