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Insights in Action: Talent & ESG concerns drive discussions at recent CMO roundtable events

Becky Halat  Client Services / Thomson Reuters

Becky Halat  Client Services / Thomson Reuters

How law firms are managing their talent needs and the impact of ESG initiatives continue to be the hottest topics of discussion among firm chief marketing officers

At a recent roundtable event held in New York with a group of global law firm chief marketing officers (CMOs), two main topics drove much of the night’s discussion: first, talent (not surprisingly); and second, how firm clients are handling environmental, social & governance (ESG) concerns and what enterprising firms might do to help them.

While much has been written and researched on how law firms are dealing with (or not) the explosive growth in the cost of hiring and retaining top legal talent — especially around associate and partner satisfaction and retention rates — much less ink has been spilled discussing the rising cost of keeping critical professional staff.

The CMOs in attendance all agreed that they were navigating somewhat uncharted territory in terms of increased salaries of legal staffers with little data on benchmarking the appropriate market rates — or if the current salary rates that were being offered could be sustained in the long term. Given the difficulty many firms are having in retaining talent across the board, including on the professional staff side, getting these rates wrong could mean the loss of a valued experienced worker or a potential key candidate.

These losses are costly both in terms of productivity and culture and add to the stress and resentment felt by those who haven’t left yet, as the situation leads to further increased workloads caused by being unable to backfill positions quickly.

To be sure, the group in attendance pointed to some new benefits, such as being able to hire beyond their local geographic region due to the rise of remote work, thus allowing them to cast a wider net. However, that positive was somewhat dampened by the challenge of training remote employees.

Despite this being a difficult time for hiring and retaining legal talent of all stripes, the CMOs said they were still keen on getting their teams the tools they need to elevate their individual positions and ensure that each team member was seen as a strategic thinker in the organization. One CMO suggested using data as a way to professionalize a firm’s marketing staff, as long as team members could be trained to use the data effectively. Indeed, training professional staff members and ensuring that they have a clear career path and ample opportunities to reach their goals is seen as an important piece of the retention puzzle, the group agreed.

ESG rises as a top concern

Another top concern voiced at the CMO roundtable was how law firms’ clients are handling ESG — specifically climate change and other environmental concerns — as a top priority. The group’s experience working with their clients echoed what our own Market Insights data has shown us: That many companies are passionate about decreasing their impact on the environment.

One attendee noted that there certainly is work in the ESG space that would allow law firms to help clients, but to understand what that work entails will take clear communication between clients and their lawyers.

Further, the CMO group noted that their own individual law firms were also concerned about ESG as a business in its own right. Their own drive to contribute meaningfully to climate and social progress, in addition to their clients’ expectations of sustainability and diversity could give many lawyers a sense of purpose to the work. Of course, the primary challenge to that scenario is clearly the ability to measure the impact of ESG initiatives and actions.

Interestingly, a different CMO roundtable event held in London focused much more closely on ESG concerns, delving deeper into such challenges as how to monetize a firm’s ESG efforts and allow these clients’ concerns to be tagged onto matters in a way that will further drive lawyers’ efforts. For many firms, ESG concerns boil down to key environmental or diversity initiatives, with all the rest sitting in the “nice-to-have bucket.”

The London CMO group also discussed what clients really want when they press for assistance in handling ESG challenges; and are those demands similar to clients’ demands for innovation made in previous years. For example, how are ESG concerns impacting client instructions? The answer may not be as cut and dry as younger lawyers or the media would suggest, the group noted, offering the example of an oil & gas client that wants to engage a firm to provide legal support for its clean-tech operations.

In fact, the group drew a sharp line in ESG expectations on new matters from existing or long-time clients (easier to communicate with and manage the work) compared to new matters with new or even controversial clients (less so).

Finally, the CMOs’ conversation then came full circle back to talent, as the New York group noted the clear connection between a purpose-driven workplace and higher employee retention and greater levels of satisfaction among their staff and lawyers.


Thomson Reuters’ Michelle Nesbitt-Burrell, in London, contributed to this article.


You can find out more about the conversations that took place in the London and New York CMO roundtables and how Thomson Reuters’ Market Insights data can help your firm tackle today’s market challenges, here.

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