Beyond Selling: Inspiring Careers In the Legal Sector Through Marketing

Deborah Fleming

This week, we’re joined by Deborah Fleming, Marketing & Business Development director at Walker Morris, with over 20 years marketing experience. Deborah is joining me this week to discuss how we can use marketing strategies to sell a career within the legal industry.

Victoria: Welcome back to this weeks episode of the boss to boss podcast. In our interviews we feature remarkable people doing imaginative things in often unimaginative markets, usually in the world of b2b. This week, we’re joined by Deborah Fleming, Marketing and Business Development Director at Walker Morris with over 20 years marketing experience. Deborah is joining me this week to discuss how we can use marketing strategies to sell a career within the legal industry. Deborah, thanks so much for joining us today. So the dream to join the legal industry is one that so many students and aspiring lawyers and marketers have had for decades, in your opinion, how can marketing efforts in the legal sector be strategically designed to not only attract clients, but also inspire individuals to pursue careers within marketing in the legal industry?

Deborah: So I think like any marketing, you need to start with the audience and develop a strategy from there. And I think there is a real issue that a lot of marketing teams in in law firms (and I’ve been in a few) don’t think about attracting employees, that the focus of the marketing team in a lot of law firms is purely about attracting clients. We actually rebranded last year, so we launched our new brand in June. And we were just as interested in employer brand as in traditional client brand. Partly, just because I think it’s just as important. I mean, clearly, as a law firm, our product is our people, if we don’t get the best people, we’re not going to do very well. Also, this time last year, it’s died down a bit now, we were sort of in the middle of a bit of a talent war in the legal industry. So we were really focused on that employer brand. And we started as all good marketing should by undertaking some research. And we spent as much time on employees as we did on clients. So we interviewed senior managers we interviewed we use focus groups, we did some online surveys, we spoke to recruitment consultants to find out what is it that’s important to people? And what is it that we’ve got, that really matters to our people? And what what do recruitment consultants think about the typical Walker Morris trainee, for instance, we ended up with a really clear, compelling brand identity. I think with hindsight it may be almost too focused on employee rather than client if I could go back and do it again. But we were really clear. And it was really important to me all along that the purpose and the values we reached weren’t and aren’t aspirational, they were driven completely by the research and who we really are. And that’s been really key for us in terms of how we’ve designed our employee focused marketing. I think the other way – it’s really not rocket science- who just show people what an exciting place the legal industry can be. I did law at university, and I remember getting all the graduate packs, and being, you know, being told all these stories about how you were doing deals with Hong Kong at three o’clock in the morning, and I think it’s really inspiring for our people to see the sorts of clients we’re working with sort of household names always go down well. I always think it’s that sort of mum thing if people want to go home and be proud to tell their mom, which clients, the firm they’re working for works with, I think that’s probably as a stronger pull is anything?

Victoria: I like what you’ve just said that last bit about going home to tell your mum, I haven’t heard that before. But, looking at that in the jobs that I’ve had, and that feeling of accomplishment, that is sort of the ultimate goal as an employer, isn’t it? To create a job that your employees can go home and sort of boast about to their family and feel proud of, which is probably something that’s been overlooked by I think companies in every industry. But yeah, that’s that’s an interesting point.

Deborah: I think we -ironically- we benefit in a way from the marketing efforts of our clients. I remember I remember some years ago, I was working at another law firm. It’s when the 2012 Olympics were on. And one of our clients was the post office. And it was when the post office did the gold postboxes. And we, as a firm, the firm I was working at the time did the deal for for how that was done. And yeah, everyone was super excited about it, you know, made people really want to go home and tell friends and family that yeah, we did that.

Victoria:And you mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that you have been doing a lot of work in attracting talent to the legal sector. What specific marketing strategies or tactics have you found effective in promoting the marketing in the legal sector as an attractive career choice? And can you share any success stories or campaigns that have stood out amongst the crowd in terms of success and encourage people to join the legal profession?

Deborah: Well, strategically, I’ve got to admit, our focus has been much more on how do they get people to join Walker Morris, then how do we get them to join the legal profession, per se, although we have been doing a bit of that as well, which I’ll come on to. But from an objective setting perspective, there’s been a real internal focus on engagement and retention. As I say, we have the sort of great resignation post-COVID, getting people back to work, we have some work to do. And the research I mentioned earlier, showed that we did that in 2021. So we were just coming out of COVID. And we had a fair number of passives, we did a net promoter score an employee, not net promoter score, and we had a fair number of passives in the business. So we needed to do something about that. So for us, it’s been all about, I suppose, in marketing terms, the product, what’s our employee value proposition. And so we spent quite a lot of time last year working on that. And last year, we launched our sustainable careers proposition. So around October/November last year, we developed sustainable careers. And when we spoke to people in the research on what matters most to people as employers, the top five were, as our above mentioned, to me here, treat you as an individual values, your perspective, provides excellent development opportunities gives you the freedom to make your own decisions enables you to forge your own path. And so we developed a sort of a product, if you like a value proposition that was about people coming here, to do really high quality, challenging work, we do allow our people to pursue opportunities to share ideas, we’re of a size that kind of allows us to do that we’re not too big that people can come and have a voice. And we do challenge people to be, you know, probably a little bit out of their comfort zone. But he also recognised that that commercial was a tough environment and will help them with that. We wanted to offer something different to the to accepted positions of Korea firm and lifestyle firm, we wanted to sort of hit that middle ground and really help them achieve that balance. And so we launched a new l&d prospectus, we really went to town on trying to coach our managers and team leaders to drive our values through the business. And we keep trying to involve our younger people in high quality work, we’re working on a programme of career pathways for business services. So like marketing, and finance, and HR, traditionally, law firms, maybe aren’t as focused on us as the lawyers, we launched a more transparent path to partnership. But we’ve also launched a sabbatical scheme and the new family leaves scheme, we’ve got an annual well being calendar. And this was really kind of led from the top and it feels like an HR thing, but it wasn’t it was it was it product development. In essence, it’s it’s developing something that’s really going to speak to our people. We re-ran the research in December last year, the number of the promoters within the business went from 39 to 48%. And we reduce the passives from 45 to 31%. And actually, we won an award at the International Management Excellence Awards for Best Sustainable Culture as well. So the sustainable careers some is it feels not exciting. It’s not a sort of campaign in the sense of, you know, billboards and emails, and but it worked.

Victoria:I read an article a couple of weeks ago about the new generation and what they’re looking for when it comes to employers and where previously, it’s always been about the best salary for the job that I’m going for. There is this whole conversation about culture. And it’s something that people are starting to look out for more and more, because we’re spending that many hours in the office or dedicating yourself that much to the job, you want to know that it’s a job that will look after you if something goes wrong, or if you need a bit more time. And it’s that sort of idea of well, “I put in this much time for the company, they should be able to do something for me as well”, if I were to need it or to support me in a way that I feel like a valued member of the team and not just somebody down below that is just doing the work and not being looked after by the company. And that’s why culture is so important. And it’s a conversation that I’ve actually had with quite a few people recently. And I think it’s something that’s here to stay, I don’t think that it’s ever gonna go away that people focus on culture. And I think a lot of that as well as from the pandemic and seeing how some companies have treated their employees really well. And some companies probably not so well, there has been this massive shift towards looking after their people and sort of seeing them in a more humanitarian way

Deborah: We can’t get away from the fact that law is a tough business to be in. And you know, particularly for some of our practice groups more than others, there are times that they are going to be working long hours, and we can’t fix that. I don’t think, that just is the reality of law at times. What we can do, as you say, is realise that if we’re going to work in that environment, we need to support our people. And we need to introduce things like sabbaticals and wellbeing support. And, you know, we did we had a big event, we had a two day sustainable careers event last year. There was stuff that we do that I didn’t know about, and I worked on the I’ve worked on the campaign. And, actually, it may be that lots of other firms have the same sort of stuff in place. But they don’t tell their people that it exists. And and I think that is where marketing can help. Because we are the people going to go into HR and saying you’re doing all this great stuff, but no one knows about it. You need to get it out into the business and tell them.

Victoria: Yeah, definitely, I’ve seen that as well. I mean, it’s when you see a job description online, these tend to list the sort of benefits there. But when you join a job, or when somebody then gets a job, all these things have disappeared into the background, and they get forgotten about. So not only is it good for people that are looking to join the company, but I guess it’s reminding your existing employees of all the benefits that they have access to that are often down in the shadows, because there’s sort of greater work at hand.

Deborah: And particularly that said, that was our focus, you know, we we identified at the time that we had got a problem with retention and with engagement. But that said, that passive score was higher than we wanted. And so we focused the campaign specifically around our existing employees rather than rather than new ones. And, and yeah, I think that was what was clearly clearly the right thing to do.

Victoria: In your opinion, in what ways can marketing messages and branding be tailored to showcase the diverse career opportunities within the legal industry, and attract the wide range of talent?

Deborah: There is a message point here, I think, I mean, of course, attracting graduates into law is completely different, to say me looking for a marketing manager or our FD looking for finance business partner. Because for graduates, the chances are they’ve already made up their mind that they want to be a lawyer. So our challenge isn’t getting them to be a lawyer, it’s getting them to be a lawyer at Walker Morris. Our messaging for graduates is a more extreme version of the sustainable careers proposition that they’ll absolutely be getting the best training, the best opportunities, the ability to go to faster pace and their peers at other firms. You know, if you decide that you want to be a lawyer, you’re expecting certain things from career and we need to get that message out that that actually yeah, it is going to be fast and exciting. And you’re going to be doing cool stuff. But they’re not going to be burned out by the time they’re 35. And our branding is slightly different. So if you look at our graduate site, compared to it is a separate site, separate site to our main site, it is slightly different. We’re trying to appeal obviously, with that with our graduate marketing to 19 year old who might find our main website, as fresh as I think it is, at my age, they may still find it a bit corporate. And then the message beyond that, I think, and particularly for our business services team, so marketing, finance, HR, IT projects facilities, is that there is a career inside law firms for non lawyers. We don’t necessarily with those people need to push the sustainable side of that sustainable career seesaw messaging that hard. It’s kind of taken as a given that we won’t necessarily be putting in the same hours as the lawyers. But law firms have had a bit of a bad reputation for delivering career paths for professionals outside of people being lawyers and that their expertise isn’t taken as seriously and that’s the messaging that we’ve had to really push for non lawyers. And it’s about where the message is, is given as well. Putting a huge amount of work into attracting a more diverse range of talent. And so using things like specialist diversity job boards to advertise roles, and to try and to try and appeal to people, you know, we’re gonna get a bigger proportion of people coming into those business services roles from outside law than we are lawyers, obviously. And so we want people to come in from different industries, if we just keep importing people from other law firms, we’re just gonna keep doing things like other law firms, which isn’t really the best competitive strategy really, because will just be like everyone else. So there is, I think, work for the legal industry to do as a whole. So and I’ve worked in it for a long time, there is work to do to read promote that message to the non lawyers, that there is a career for them there too. And I think that is I think that is changing. I know, there are universities in Leeds, for instance, where I am, that are doing courses about the business of managing a law firm. So that is becoming that is becoming a more more serious message is being pushed.

Victoria: Yeah, there’s definitely a shift, as you said, I think specifically for law firms, but also a lot of other professional services firms, whether it’s accountancy or anything else, that you think of the the job that you’re going into, whether it’s law or accountancy, and you think of the accountants and the lawyers and the architects, but you don’t see everybody else that’s sort of holding up the company in all other aspects, whether it’s HR or marketing etc. So I suppose there are some challenges shifting away from that idea of it’s only lawyers that work at law firms. Do you think there are any other challenges unique to the legal sector that should be considered when marketing this profession as a career choice, compared to marketing in other industries? How would you address these challenges in your campaigns?

Deborah: Perception. I think there is still a perception of the legal industry (particularly the commercial legal industry, as opposed to the, you know, the personal conveyances and that kind of thing) that it’s one of white privilege men. We really had this brought home to us about 18 months ago. So there is a a organisation in Leeds called Stronger Together, that’s a group of professional services firms that’s come together to promote racial diversity in professional services. And at least one of our people said – who is a female mixed race partner – said that they’d been told by a career advisor that law wasn’t for them. And we did a survey in autumn last year with 20 14 to 18 year olds, and it was pretty shocking. One in five of these kids thought that they couldn’t pursue law because there was no family connection. And one in seven thought that it was a requirement to have a private education to be a lawyer. And obviously, now this stuff isn’t true. I can see why people think it is. About three quarters of our partners, those those at the top of the profession were stay educated, we’ve got one partner who started as a paralegal. So we’ve really got to tackle that perception. And we’ve got to show people that, we’ve been working quite a lot with a local school. I actually went out and did a spot at their assembly. And I think the challenge is to show children that they see people that think “they’re like me”, we’ve got to have real people in our marketing, talking about their real lives. And we’ve got people working part time and flexible hours and have come into the industry from all kinds of backgrounds and show these kids that, if you want to work in a law, you can work in a law firm, you don’t even have to be a lawyer. You know, I’ve got people in my team whose job it is to manage our social media, you could do that, you know, and show these kids that. You know, a kid like me from a from a village in South Yorkshire could grow up and become a marketing director of a big law firm. And that there are all kinds of jobs out there. And you don’t have to be a privately educated white man, whose mum and dad were lawyers. And that that’s the only way that you’re going to get into a law firm. And I think there’s a real need to position the industry in a way to overcome that barrier and to communicate that in a credible way. Because it’s just not true. But I think it is still seen as an industry that’s hard to get into. And you’ve got to be from a certain background to get there.

Victoria: I never really thought about it until you mentioned it. But it’s definitely something that I’ve come across over the years, when everyone in my school – I went to a state school, so I didn’t, I wasn’t privately educated – and there was a lot of people there that were looking to do law. And I suppose thinking back to it, especially women and people of colour, they were probably less inclined to start this career and go on that path. And that was even me coming from a school in a fairly affluent area, I hate to think about the restrictions [children belive] are in low income areas and the way that children are thinking about those industries and those careers. So the work that you’re doing, it’s so important. And hopefully, in sort of 15/20 years, the outcome is going be a really diverse law firm, and not only one really diverse law firm, but law firms across the country, with just a high level of diversity. I guess that’s the the ultimate goal, and it really looks like the work that you’re doing is supporting that. And finally, how important is the storytelling and marketing efforts aimed at promoting careers in the legal industry? And can you provide any examples of how storytelling has been leveraged successfully, to engage and inspire potential candidates?

Deborah: So, I mean, obviously, the example I’ve just mentioned, I mean, really authentic storytelling? We are doing a lot of work with this particular school is in an underprivileged area. And we are sending people like me and people from across our business to go and tell our stories and hopefully, inspire the children in that assembly hall that they might do that, you know, even if just one kid kind of goes, you know, what I could be her or I could be him, that would be great. And that, you know, that’s, that’s real storytelling. That’s kind of not marketing, storytelling. I think we’ve identified that it’s a great strategy to use, we’ve, we’ve got it, we’ve got it right internally. So we did a campaign, one of the things that we are trying to do inside the firm is really encourage people bringing stories, ideas to us about innovation. So innovation, obviously, being the big buzzword in not only law firms, but all industries. But one of the things that we really identified about a year ago was, people just don’t come forward with their ideas, because they think nothing will happen. They everything’s got to be a eureka moment, everything’s got to be this world changing innovation. And so we ran a campaign internally called “I did that”, which featured people within the business who had brought us an idea and we taken it and run with it. And now, you know, particularly the corporate department or the real estate department, were using a particular piece of technology that they wouldn’t have been had this person not come forward. And it was really kind of quite visually, it was great. We’ve got big kind of cartoony speech bubbles saying I did that. And, and that worked really well. I think by Christmas, we’d got something like 65 ideas that people had brought forward to the managing partner. So just that storytelling worked really well. I think we haven’t quite got it right externally, if i’m honest. I think it is a really good thing again, to show what we really wanted to do with the new website, we wanted to film some people telling their stories of of their, the different sort of working patterns that they use, and things like that. So we’ve got people within the business, who actually came out of the pandemic in a better place, because suddenly, it’s more acceptable for people to log off at three to go and pick their kids up and then log back on at six. And we really wanted to get people to tell those stories on video and for some reason, we couldn’t quite get it right, we’re going to try again, because I still think it’s a really powerful message to put out there that look here are real people. And this is their real lives. And they’re they’re working in this way. And that’s fine. We’re happy with that, you know, as long as the work is getting done, we don’t really care how or when people work. So yeah, we have had success with it. We’ve had more success with it internally with “I did that” so far than we have externally, but we’re gonna keep plugging away at it, as always.

Victoria:It is an ongoing task, isn’t it? Just keeping up with with everything that there is to do and I mean, internally is probably the first place to start anyway, you start it internally, see how well that work and then you take things external. So it’s good to hear that you’ve got this path of storytelling ideas and how you are taking it from in your internal campaign of “I did that” to this external video thing which to be honest to me sounds it sounds great. Debrah, thank you so much for joining me today. It has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you and have you on the podcast and who knows hopefully this episode has inspired some people to consider a future career in the legal industry.