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By Jennifer Johnson and Gordon Braun-Woodbury

Innovation has become central to the business agendas of many law firms today.  We’re seeing this trend reflected in talent, recruiting and financial priorities across the legal profession.  More and more, firms are establishing innovation funds and creating senior job titles that include the word “innovation.”  Some are even setting up full departments devoted to it.

But innovation isn’t just about huge, centralized projects, task forces, C-level positions, and major investments.  Arguably, it’s even more important for firms to build a culture of innovation, so that it becomes a core part of every individual’s job.

Nowhere is this truer than in legal marketing and business development – a discipline that thrives on innovative approaches.  When we interview candidates for legal marketing/BD positions, we look for people who can show a track record of successful innovation throughout their careers – whatever their job level.  People with an innovation mindset, who can recognize and realize opportunities to do things better, faster, cheaper and with greater impact on the firm.

What are the characteristics of an innovative marketing leader?   While you might think it’s just about creativity and ideas, in our experience there’s much more involved. Here are some of the key “innovation markers” we look for in a candidate:

Ability to collaborate:

Innovation is best played as a team sport. Innovation experts cite the huge benefits of diverse viewpoints, experiences and skills to generate new ideas and bring them to fruition.  We look for people who can show they are comfortable teaming on projects with others from outside their immediate circle.  For example – can you collaborate effectively with the IT department to improve a process?

High tolerance for criticism:

Let’s face it – attorneys are trained to be critical, and most of them are always ready and eager to poke holes in a proposal for new ways of doing things.  Innovative marketing leaders will show that they can weather criticism.  Rather than caving in to challenges from higher-ups, they respond to criticism constructively, recognizing valid objections and countering them with evidence.

Business literacy:

A shortage of fresh ideas is rarely the problem for legal marketers. More commonly, we see people who have difficulty translating their innovative ideas into persuasive business cases that attorneys can get behind.  Innovation must be justified by business return – successful legal marketers have mastered the language of business and show how their innovations can help increase revenue and/or reduce costs.

Recognize the right place for technology:

For some people, installing and using new technology is the whole point of innovation.  But technology is a means, not an end in itself.  We look for people who are not only good at using technology but are great at leveraging it to amplify their efforts.  For example, it’s not enough to say that you led the implementation of a new CRM system – you also have to demonstrate how you and your team used the CRM to gain new clients or gain new revenues from current clients.


Any innovation project has ups and downs – we look for people who are adept in managing the downside of the adoption curve; who show they can bounce back from adversity when a project runs into problems.

Process orientation:

Innovation often starts small, with seemingly tiny changes to a business process.  A lot of legal marketing work is highly repeatable and process oriented – a gold mine for people who can recognize inefficiencies and find ways to do things better.  Credit for process improvements looks great on any legal marketer’s resume.

Client experience:

A big part of the legal marketer’s role is to help shape the client’s experience.  While there’s lots of opportunity for innovation that helps the marketing back-office work more smoothly, this needs to be balanced with innovation that offers the client a better experience with the firm.  We look for marketing leaders who can demonstrate a clients-first mindset with their innovations.

In conclusion, if you’re waiting for your firm to appoint a new Chief Innovation Officer to start innovating in legal marketing & business development, it’s time to get rolling.  Make innovation a part of your job.  Think about our “markers of innovation” and how you can apply them in your role today.  Start to build a portfolio  that will position you as an innovative marketing leader for the next promotion or career move.

Jennifer JohnsonJennifer Johnson is the founder and CEO of Calibrate Legal.  She possesses two decades of professional services experience, including six years inside of a law firm as head of recruiting, and 14 years in legal marketing executive search and organizational consulting.



Gordon Braun-WoodburyGordon Braun-Woodbury
the Marketing Operations practice lead at Calibrate Legal, focuses on helping firms align internal systems and enhance their performance. His career includes more than 30 years at KPMG Canada, where he was responsible for building the firm’s Marketing Operations function.