CMOs Stress Levels Surge


CMO Stress Levels Surge

Business is good. The best it’s been in recent memory. So, what’s the worry?

2019 marks the first time a large number of CMOs tell us the external factors are just as stressful as the internal issues. These law firm marketing leaders see outside threats and opportunities as being equal to the challenges within their firms.

My 30 years’ experience shows strategic changes are afoot when external and internal issues equalize. Let’s start with the newest and fastest growing stressors:

The Stress of the Future Soars

Perceived threats from The Big 4 moving into law (EY, PwC), legal technology, AI, and retaining clients caused an 8-fold increase in worries about the future. In fact, the future has become the top stressor. 24% of CMOs, up from only 3% last year, say the stress comes from their law firms’ apparent lack of concern about these issues. These CMOs don’t see a plan or anyone working on a plan with any sense of urgency. They see clear and exposed threats, and feel as if they, alone, are concerned about these issues.

CMO Workload

Just over 23% of law firm CMOs say workload is growing faster than their staff can scale. This is up from 20% last year. It seems business growth is driving new demands and needs—causing clients to hire new law firms. This brings more RFPs—especially in the Am Law 100. And, almost all law firms are changing their approach to marketing. The added coaching, staff training, and planning for new strategies are additive to the everyday job responsibilities for a CMO—pushing stress levels higher.

And Those Empty CMO Slots Are Causing Undue Stress

A number of high-profile law firms are operating without CMOs, Kirkland and Debevoise to name a couple. While it doesn’t impact current CMOs directly, it raises the open question of the need for CMOs in law firms. This is causing stress as it strikes at the existential need for such a role.

Some law firms like to give the impression they don’t have a CMO, but somebody is running the Marketing and BD show. These firms attract some good press and in an odd twist, attract a large number of good CMO candidates who want roles at firms with empty slots. Expect these roles to be filled—and a few more to open up.

Show Them the Money

15% of CMOs feel serious pressure to show their value. These CMOs are often forced to rely on murky metrics and face partners who take credit for any marketing wins. An over-focus on results leads to demoralization, stress, and burnout. It also prevents strategic thinking. Not good for these CMOs or their firms.

Not Worrying Causes CMOs to Worry

Complacency is the leading cause of sleepless nights for 20% of CMOs. They see lack of urgency spreading as their firms enjoy increases in business. Profits are strong, so there is little motivation to make things better. These CMOs tell us their firms believe strong profits cure all ills and prevent future problems—or at least underpin a lack of concern for future problems. 

CMOs give advice on how to deal with stress and pursue opportunity here. It’s worth another read and helps put things into context. And as any stress management teacher will tell you, stress is a sign you recognize something has to change—and can be helpful to our firms and ourselves when managed well. It’s not always easy to frame it this way—but it helps to remember.


Based on our survey of more than 160 marketing leaders, conducted between November 2018 and June 2019.

Who'll Collect the Win? 9 Firms Intent on Edging Out Kirkland and Latham

Horse Race Blog Header.png

Who’s next? Kirkland and Latham are in a class by themselves. So, which firms can get even bigger and create a new class? We asked more than 160 law firm marketing leaders and here’s who they think are the next firms to deliver blow-out growth:

DLA Piper and Dentons

These 2 merger-hungry firms lead the list of firms most likely to pass Kirkland and Latham in growth. Law firm leaders expect DLA Piper and Dentons to find new merger partners—and create 2 new, even larger firms to drive unmatched growth. Whether the mergers occur inside or outside the US remains to be seen—but—the competition expects each firm’s next moves to be big and impactful.

Baker McKenzie

The firm is undergoing major changes to bring together its many pieces into a unified growth machine. The firm closed comp, brought in a strong leader to drive client development, and is becoming much more aggressive in its innovation and thought leadership. This is the strongest effort yet to create the uniformity successful law firms need to scale past the current market leaders.

Hogan Lovells

With a collection of global clients which would make any law firm salivate, Hogan Lovells has the existing base to kick off blazing global growth. The firm’s proven experience in serving and managing global clients paired with its superior client service prowess has law firm leaders watching Hogan Lovell’s next steps—very carefully.  

Jones Day

Boasting one of the best brands and the highest levels of client service, Jones Day is positioned to leapfrog the market leaders. The firm brings one of the strongest cultures of strategic discipline and uniformity across the globe. The partners understand and believe in the firm’s strategy—and the changes in strategy as market demands change. Jones Day understands the legal world is all about its clients—and knows their clients better than most others. All this adds up to outsized growth waiting to happen.

Morgan Lewis

Morgan Lewis is one of the rare firms able to integrate its sizable lateral pool, deliver superior client service, change its approach to the market as needs develop, and is deeply committed to client-facing innovation (dating back over 20 years when Cisco used Morgan Lewis as the poster child for how to use AFAs). Look for the firm to take on more lateral groups and improve its already high-performing global client teams to drive leadership growth levels.

Paul, Weiss

Paul, Weis announced its new growth strategy by picking up Scott Barshay out of Cravath. Not only did it announce the death knell for lock step, it announced the firm was going big. The firm is one of the few with successful lateral integration. The firm’s lateral rainmakers are supported while growing the existing client base firmwide. A longtime client feedback advocate, Paul, Weiss is adding business (and profits) by leaps and bounds.

Quinn Emanuel

Quinn is nothing if not aggressive. Having passed $1 billion last year, you have to believe $3 or $5 billion in revenue is the next goal. The firm takes marketing and business development more seriously than most give it credit for. Quinn targets prime clients and goes after them with a vengeance. It understands how to win work without RFPs. The firm brings in rainmakers able to keep their existing clients while also finding new ones. Quinn is enjoying brand growth—driving more inbound leads. A growing group of clients is coming to terms with Quinn’s representing plaintiffs and defendants—and a few clients see it is a plus.


Boasting one of the strongest brands, competitors expect the firm to gain the momentum to go right past Kirkland and Latham. The firm enjoys an institutional client base with large budgets and recurring needs. The brand generates significant inbound referrals. Skadden sits in the heart of the markets showing the most growth—providing a strong tailwind.

Skadden assigns a group of partners to look at business development and client related issues at regular intervals. These groups may not have long lives but a short life span can bring a more thoughtful approach. Our research detected 2 changes to it's business development and client development tactics—both relying on educating clients on leading-edge trends in transactions and litigation. While Skadden has a history of using their knowledge to keep clients current—the tactic is becoming more widespread – developing brand and new business across a wide swath of top legal decision makers.

The Big 4

A smaller number of law firm marketing leaders expect the Big 4 to eclipse law firms in size and growth. The Big 4 can only achieve this by acquisition; this would clearly redefine the business of law as we know it and require some regulatory wrangling.

Nobody No How

11% of law firm marketing leaders believe Kirkland and Latham have a lock on being the fastest to grow. They see these 2 firms as having the strategies to continue being unmatched market leaders.

We eagerly watch the competing landscape unfold. Paul, Weiss and Kirkland will not be the only firms to pluck the best laterals. Other law firms are making large investments in their growth which they believe in their heart of hearts will drive market-setting growth. These firms rarely get noticed during early implementation and “pop up out of nowhere” when they start to grow.

We wish all these firms luck as we track their growth and watch how they navigate one of the most attractive legal markets to appear in almost 20 years.



Exactly When, Where and How the Big 4 Will Steal Your Firm’s Best Clients

PWC Building-01.png

PwC is out to steal your clients. They just told you so.

PwC, through its legal arm, ILC Legal, has formally announced its intentions to open its US office. ILC indicated it will “wait to see how the market reacts” to decide its future plans—we interpret this comment to mean: How many clients can they sign up and how fast?

And, by extension, the remaining 3 of the Big 4 accounting firms can’t be far behind.

This is more than a wake up call or point of observation—it is a rare defining moment. This is also the kick in the pants any organization would see as a screaming voice for change. The nature of competition has changed. Law firms will be competing against a new beast who has already been through the changes law firms need to make to be winners.

The Big 4 accounting firms faced the same issues as law firms face today—about 30 years ago. At the time, I spent a decade working for PwC predecessor firm Coopers & Lybrand and helped to implement their changes to make client service the top priority, rivaled only by business development. This included training in business development and working across practices and offices, selling multiple services to a single client, going to market by industry, segregating high priority pursuits from others and using partners with skills to land these prized clients, and harnessing the power of finding the right partners at the right time to win big-time work.

They figured it all out and haven’t looked back since.

The last time BTI measured (by interviewing more than 300 CFOs, CAOs, and other top financial executives a few years ago) we found:

  • PwC has the best client service of the Big 4
  • 58% of clients recommend PwC to a peer (the highest of the Big 4); for comparison - only 31% of clients recommend their primary law firm to a peer
  • PwC has a highly developed business development process designed to identify the strategic nature of potential clients, locate the right partners in terms of chemistry, industry and skills, and talk business issues to win big, sophisticated clients
  • Clients report PwC partners work collaboratively across the globe; clients say the majority of law firms don’t work collaboratively within their own firms
  • PwC was the first to develop the paperless audit—inventing new ways to use technology
  • PwC’s thought leadership is considered to be one of the gold standards
  • PwC plays hard and plays to win big

All of this is already built into the fabric of ILC Legal and will change the business development and client service rules in the legal industry.

The best clients will be the first to go on ILC’s target list. And your new competitor(s) will be playing by different rules. The most dangerous part will be in how this all plays out. No client will hand over all their work to ILC. The shift will unfold one assignment at a time and be hard to notice until it’s too late.

But, every law firm can still take steps to protect their clients and make it harder for ILC, or anyone else, to encroach on and poach your clients. Here is what we recommend you do about it, now:

Develop a Meaningful Client Retention Plan

Identify what the firm would do if you learned a client was thinking of shifting work elsewhere. Who would lead the charge? Exactly what steps would you take? The steps include intense client feedback, coaching from top rainmakers and consultants, changes in the team, adopting client service standards for these mega clients who might be defecting, forming a dedicated client team and meeting quarterly to discuss progress internally, and talking to clients semiannually to check progress. The sooner you start taking the steps, the less likely your clients will defect.

Get Deep, Meaningful Client Feedback

Not client satisfaction feedback, but performance feedback—and, the type of feedback which reveals how your clients want you to perform. Clients view performance improvement as equal to/or more important than understanding their goals—because if you can’t improve, you can’t meet their goals. And, they will never be satisfied.

The winning firms are getting feedback from their:

  • Largest and most important clients
  • Large clients where you do only a limited amount of work
  • Large clients (as measured by client revenue) where your fees have flat lined or declined
  • Clients where they have a new GC

Implement Your Client Teams Now

Dedicate your most skilled and high potential resources to care for, look after and grow client relationships on a long-term basis well beyond the current case. Make the leaders accountable for a robust business development plan and give them the budget they need to keep your clients for years, if not decades.

Train Partners in Business Development and Client Service

Most partners in law firms readily admit business development is their biggest weakness. And you can’t develop business without superior client service. The Big 4 are decades ahead of law firms in establishing business development and client service cultures. The firms unable to beat the Big 4 back with superior client service and business development are already at a disadvantage.

You can start changing now—and see business development skills, and client service soar in less than a year with the right training.

While there is more you can do, the steps above are game changers for most law firms. Follow these recommendations with the same zeal as you track and bill time and you will be ready for battle with any firm—Big 4 affiliate or not.

You battle the Big 4 (and other law firms) on the client-facing front lines of competition. The law firms who make the investments now and build these skills into their culture will leave all others behind—some far behind. Few industries get a wake-up call announcing one of the final chances to change is upon them. No firm serving medium to large clients is immune.

BTI has successfully helped our clients work through and accelerate the pace of change and improvement—at the Big 4 Accounting Firms as well as the law firms wanting to keep pace and even move ahead. We can help you with any or all of these recommendations—I welcome your call to discuss what this would look like for you and your firm. Reach me at


Don't Sell to People Who Don't Want to Buy

Some clients just don’t bite. No matter how good you are or how well-suited you are to meet their needs, there are clients who just won’t buy from you. Successfully selling professional services is largely based on personality and chemistry. In any given professional services sector, 60% to 70% of decision makers are a match for your skills and—more importantly—your personality. With the other 35%, something just doesn’t click.

It is good business to pursue the best (and highest spending) clients, but sometimes the chemistry is missing. While it’s hard to resist the lure of the one who got away, be careful to not let fantasy take over when there’s real money to be made elsewhere. Too frequently, we take refusal as a personal challenge. There’s a push to spend our limited resources on converting disbelievers who never intend to buy instead of focusing on the majority of buyers who are a good match. 

Are You a Chemistry Major?

Read More

Leveraging Big 4 Consulting Best Practices to Bolster Your Business Development Strategies

Closing out the 2013 LMA Annual Conference to a packed room yesterday, panelists from Deloitte Services LLP, Ernst & Young and Thomson Reuters Elite discussed what legal marketers and business developers can learn from their colleagues in consulting, and what they see for the future of professional services marketing and business development. BTI Principal Marcie L. Borgal Shunk moderated the discussion which ranged from client service and client feedback to branding, company culture and big data.

Click here to download a copy of the presentation.

Read More

Clients Audit the Big 4 – 60% of Clients Happy

All too often, people—executives, job hunters, the media and, yes, auditors themselves— collectively refer to the Big 4 as a single entity. Together, they dominate the big firm CPA world, their individual brands subsumed by their reputation as a whole. Yet, like the superhero team The Fantastic Four, each individual member of the Big 4 has a real set of strengths and weaknesses—their superpowers and their vulnerabilities. The client satisfaction rate with each Big 4 firm individually ranges from 54% to 67%.
Read More