As is true in any profession, mar com and bus dev candidates come in varying sizes, shapes and (most importantly) skill sets and competencies. Unfortunately, in the law firm marketing and business development profession, there is a low barrier to entry – in that virtually anyone can "say/claim" they can do this work. That is a major reason why bona fide capabilities and true talent vary widely. Over the last 25 years, hundreds have claimed to do this work, many of whom are no longer in the field. In addition, many consultants offer themselves up as both marketing and business development experts. But these are two very distinct and different disciplines. Just like lawyers, some consultants are generalists and some are specialists, while some have a combination of skills. Not all are created equal, nor are they all credible or even legitimate.
With increasingly limited funds available to invest and the high cost of turnover and attrition, it is important for firms to utilize a more formal vetting process beyond the old-school "throw a person at the problem" approach to hiring. Too often, the old school approach consisted of trying to sense if the candidate “seemed likely to fit” – i.e. using more subjective selection criteria. Common choices included hiring: a paralegal who already got along with everyone; a recent college graduate related to a partner; a person who had done PR in the community; or a candidate recommended by a client – all with minimal emphasis on assessing deliverables. Now, more firms are considering more sophisticated, objective criteria as part of the selection and vetting process, asking questions such as:
- As precisely as possible, exactly what is the problem your firm wishes to solve? What are your goals and objectives for this hire? What do you hope to accomplish? Exactly what results do you want to achieve and in what time period? To answer these questions, work with the candidate to establish realistic, attainable and measurable objectives.
- What criteria are most important to you/your firm - credibility, ensuring results, fit within your firm culture? List and rank them. Then, consider a process to create a "short list" based on the following and other considerations unique to your firm/situation.
- Does the person have the expertise to do the exact type of work you need done - i.e., law firm business development?
- What is the person's level of experience - i.e. for how long have they done this exact type of work, for which firms and with what outcomes? Do they talk the talk and walk the walk? Is this a person who simply says what you want to hear, could they be an "empty suit" or motivational-type "talking head"?
- What are your expectations (as precisely as is possible) and can they be met by this person? And their expectations - are they in alignment with yours?
- What exact results do you want and can you expect to receive? What is the endgame/outcome you desire? How will you measure whether you have gotten there? Will you receive a "cookie cutter" solution or one designed/customized for your firm? What demonstrable experience does this person have getting these exact types of results?
- Does this person the credibility/credentials you want, with a proven track record of gaining the respect of the kinds of audiences he/she will be working with/communicating with in your firm?
- Does the consultant have the integrity & character to say up front if they will be doing the actual work, or will they substitute another consultant(s)? If so, vet them too. What do others, especially clients say about them?
- Do their communication style, work style and track record show that they can work well with lawyers? How responsive are they? What is their formal "personal style type" and how does that compare with those with whom they will be working? Are they self-centered or can they subjugate their ego to lawyers and others with whom they work? Are they a good writer? Will they "represent" your firm well?
- What differentiates this person, making them different from or better than other options/competitors?
- Have you been given written references? Plan to talk personally to at least three at organizations that are most like your firm. Ask about the prospect’s strengths and weaknesses because no one is perfect.
- Have you defined the work product and agreed in writing to the scope, timing, work plan and deliverables?
- Have you developed a contract that includes confidentiality and other appropriate terms?
- What other considerations are unique to your firm and situation – have you thought through all the questions you want to ask before you start doing interviews? If new questions emerge as a result of the interview process, be flexible and add them to your list.