The Fastest Path to Market Share: Why Law Firm CMOs Need A Seat at the Lateral Hiring Table

A majority of attorneys and law firm leaders say business development is set to get tougher, according to a survey by BTI Consulting.

Yet many of these firms are making it harder on themselves: The Legal Marketing Association reports that in four out of five law firms, the marketing team is not involved in the hiring process.

Here’s why this is a critical mistake: The marketing team is responsible for growing firm revenue and expanding the influence of incoming talent. By sidelining these professionals, law firms are neglecting the primary and fastest tool for driving new business and building market share.

Indeed, let’s consider the numbers:

  • For RFPs and proposals, BTI Consulting measures the post-pandemic win rate at 26 percent—or just about one in four. (And this is when you are invited to pitch—you’ve at least made a short list already. Organic growth through brand-building can take years.)
  • For lateral hiring, lateral partner candidates screened by Decipher Investigative Intelligence in 2023 claimed an average client portability rate of 57 percent—or better than half.

To be clear, that’s the portable business that lateral candidates claim they can bring—not what actually manifests. But even when adjusted, actual lateral portability is closer to around 35 percent, or about one in three. It’s a significantly higher upside, and considering the amount of marketing, pricing and timekeeper resources that go into laborious RFP responses, it can provide significantly higher ROI.

To put it simply, why scramble to compete for work when you could buy the books of business you want?

In 2024, the most competitive law firms will take their fight for market share straight to the talent battlefield. Here are the trends we will be watching:

“Moneyball” comes to legal marketing. As law firm business models become increasingly sophisticated, leading law firms will elevate their Marketing executives from brand stewards to true revenue catalysts. When this is incorporated into how law firm CMOs and CBDOs are evaluated and incentivized, more marketing leaders will recognize the faster and stronger returns that are possible with data-driven talent strategies. (After all, no law firm can pay the rent—or the partners—with social media mentions.)

The end of the Talent and Marketing siloes. Smart law firms are making the most of their investments in business professionals by removing barriers between administrative functions. When Talent and Marketing have open channels of communication, the rates of “random acts of hiring” go way down—and the number of strategic hires go up.

Cross-selling evolves to include specific lateral recruitment. In a January 2024 survey by Intapp, 64 percent of law firms said cross-selling to existing clients was their No. 1 growth priority. At Decipher, we are seeing law firms get proactive with lateral hiring in a number of ways; chief among them is to look at existing clients, see who handles their work outside the firm, and develop short lists of prospective partners.

New data-driven approaches to legal talent. In addition to using client, industry and practice data to source potential lateral candidates, leading law firms are using data to better evaluate the candidates in their pipelines. Specific to the fight for market share, Decipher has helped firms benchmark potential candidates’ client portability rate and assess their overall books of business. When law firms can predict how much (and which clients) of a claimed book will actually come, they are better positioned to manage risk and set realistic compensation.

Curious how Decipher data can move your firm forward? We advise business development teams with client intelligence, comparative benchmarking and more. Contact us today.

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