Q&A: Freshfields chief marketing and business development officer Libby Chambers

A marketer amongst lawyers: Freshfields Chief marketing and business development officer Libby Chambers answers questions as part of her profile with Marketing Week.

Marketing Week (MW): What are the main attributes of Freshfields you are trying to communicate to clients in your marketing?

Libby Chambers (LC): What you are always trying to do in a law firm – as distinct from marketing a bank or a publishing company, or other things you might do – is marketing your people and their distinctive expertise and experience. You are marketing a set of intangibles that in many cases have to be experienced to understand them.

Law firms are having to think more about branding and reputation management, and that is coming from clients’ demands. The bar is rising. Clients demand an increasingly bespoke and sophisticated level of partnering. We need to raise our game so that the service we are providing is up to scratch.

MW: How does your own professional experience equip you for the task of marketing a law firm?

LC: There are two things in my career that fundamentally inform Freshfields. I spent the first 10 or 11 years of my career in a role that wasn’t much different from the lawyers here: working as an analyst at an investment bank, and working as an associate and then a partner at [management consultancy] McKinsey. What you learn from that is the client service experience and what you are doing to deliver a high-quality service to a client. That is broadly what our lawyers do here every day, all day. I have in many respects had the type of day job that our lawyers have.

The other thing, specifically from having been a CMO in other businesses, is that I have marketing functional knowledge. So when we need to figure out our brand positioning and work on a new corporate identity, I know how to do that because I have done it before.

When we need to build a new website, I have done that too.

MW: How forward-thinking is Freshfields about digital marketing?

LC: Right now I am spending a lot of time making sure that our website, and our social media strategy around it, is robust and constantly evolving. We have more and more lawyers and partners who would like to use tools like LinkedIn and its equivalents in different countries, but use it intelligently – not just putting up a post and hoping that translates into a marketing plan. I am spending a lot of time day to day making sure that all the partners’ LinkedIn profiles are as good as they could be.

We get 1.5 million unique visitors to our website every year. Many of those people might be entry-level hires, or they might be people who are working with us, looking to find out more about our practice, or looking at the profiles of the lawyers they will be working with to understand a little bit more about our capability.

MW: As a non-lawyer in a legal practice, do you feel you have as much business influence as the firm’s partners?

LC: I have a partner-level role. What that means in practice is that I go to all the partner meetings and have the same status in terms of the firm, which is good, because it gives me the ability to have an influence that is more peer-like. Everybody has to hold their own.

This is a very intense, engaged, smart, intellectually agile group of people, but what is really true in professional services is that there is pretty deep respect for expertise. In the same way as I would have respect for someone who is an expert in pensions law – and I wouldn’t think I know more about pensions law than them – there is a little bit of that coming my way too, in terms of marketing disciplines.

MW: How do you think the reforms of the legal industry in the Legal Services Act will affect Freshfields’ marketing, and the way legal services are sold?

LC: I would say it has not completely affected us in the same way that it might affect other firms. It will certainly open up and raise the bar on commerciality, and it will, I think, accelerate innovation around the business model. Traditionally, legal services are sold by the hour for a rate. It’s pretty standard: you bill time. What the Legal Services Act will do is bring new capital in and cause people to think a little bit more innovatively about some of the business models. It will create risk sharing arrangements. I think that will be the main impact.

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