Harnessing the Strategic Advantage of Fractional CMOs in Law Firms

Discover how law firms are harnessing the strategic advantage of using Fractional CMOs to help grow their practices and strengthen their brand position.

Paul Mills
15 Apr
April 15, 2024
 min video
15 Apr


In the competitive, yet highly undifferentiated world of legal services, effective marketing strategies are not just beneficial; they are essential. However, many law firms still overlook the strategic importance of dedicated marketing leadership. The emerging role of the Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) provides a solution, offering top-tier marketing expertise on a part-time basis. In this article, Paul Mills explains how this model is especially fitting for law firms that may not require or cannot afford a full-time marketing executive.

Defining the Role of a Fractional CMO in Law Firms

A Fractional CMO serves multiple organisations, lending their expertise to each on a part-time arrangement. This setup is particularly advantageous for law firms, where a full-time CMO may be seen as an unnecessary overhead. A Fractional CMO brings a wealth of experience from various industries, applying their broad insights to the unique challenges and opportunities within the legal sector.

paul mills - ceo & founder, vcmo
"Fractional CMOs infuse law firms with cutting-edge marketing techniques and a level of agility that full-time CMOs might struggle to offer, given the rapid changes in the digital landscape."

The Rarity of CMOs in Law Firms

Despite the pivotal role that marketing plays in client acquisition and differentiation among firms, it remains uncommon for law firms to have a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), especially one who has a seat on the board. This lack of dedicated marketing leadership at the highest level can result in missed opportunities for strategic planning and execution, which are essential for maintaining a competitive edge and fostering growth.

A Marketing Leadership Void in B2B Businesses

Recent findings from Marketing Week's 2024 Career & Salary Survey highlights this gap in leadership across various industries. The survey reveals that more than one-third of brands do not have a marketing director or CMO at the executive table. Specifically, 34.7% of over 3,000 marketers surveyed indicated that their companies do not include a marketing director or CMO in the leadership team. This percentage rises to 40.5% in B2B businesses, underscoring a significant absence of marketing voices in strategic discussions.

Head of BD vs CMO

From my extensive experience operating in the legal services sector, I would argue these statistics are higher in law firms, where a Head of Business Development is often appointed in lieu of a CMO. This role typically serves as a liaison among different practice areas and the board of partners, focusing primarily on tactical activities aimed at securing new business. Strategic marketing decisions, on the other hand, tend to remain with the partners. This arrangement may facilitate immediate business development needs but often overlooks the broader strategic marketing perspective that could drive long-term growth, firm-wide innovation, and increased enterprise value.

The Impact of Absence of CMOs on Strategic Marketing Decisions

Law firms traditionally rely on partners and senior solicitors to guide marketing efforts, instructing small teams of junior to middle-manager marketers. However, these leaders often lack formal marketing training and may be too engrossed in legal duties (and billable hours) to give marketing the attention it deserves.

Without a strategic leader focused exclusively on marketing, law firms may struggle with brand building, client engagement strategies, and ultimately, growing the business. Some common pitfalls of not having a CMO in the law firm includes (but not limited to):

  1. Focus on Low-Impact Tactical Activities: Lawyers leading marketing efforts might concentrate on immediate, tactical activities that feel productive but add little strategic value. This focus can lead to overlooking broader, impactful strategies like brand development or thought leadership, which are essential for long-term success and differentiation in the marketplace.
  2. Inconsistent Brand Messaging: Lawyers who split their time between legal duties and marketing may lack marketing expertise, leading to inconsistent brand messaging. This inconsistency can confuse clients and dilute the firm's brand identity in the market.
  3. Neglected Client Relationships: Lawyers focused on billable hours may prioritise immediate legal work over long-term client relationship management. This neglect can lead to missed opportunities for client retention and referrals, which are vital for a law firm’s growth. This is reflected in the Legal Service Board’s Public Panel Research Report (Published January 2021).
  4. Inadequate Market Analysis: Without dedicated marketing professionals, law firms might not effectively analyse market trends and client needs. Lawyers overwhelmed with case work might miss critical insights, resulting in strategies that are out of step with market demands.
  5. Poor Digital Presence: Lawyers often lack the time and expertise to effectively manage online marketing strategies. This can result in outdated websites, poor social media engagement, and weak online visibility, which are crucial for attracting today's tech-savvy clients.
  6. Uncoordinated Marketing Efforts: Lawyers handling marketing sporadically are likely to execute uncoordinated campaigns that don’t align with the firm’s overall strategy. This disjointed approach can waste resources and fail to build cumulative momentum in the firm’s marketing efforts.
  7. Delayed Response to Market Opportunities: Lawyers primarily focused on billable tasks may respond slowly to new marketing opportunities. Delays in decision-making can cause the firm to miss out on new markets or innovative marketing tactics, reducing competitive edge and revenue potential.
"A Fractional CMO can seamlessly integrate sophisticated marketing strategies that align perfectly with a law firm’s long-term goals, enhancing visibility and growth without the overhead of a full-time executive."

The Case for Including CMOs on Law Firm Boards

Incorporating a CMO into the boardroom can significantly enhance decision-making processes with insights that bridge client needs with firm capabilities, aligning long-term growth strategies with actionable marketing initiatives. Other reasons include:

  • Strategic Alignment: Including a CMO on the law firm's board ensures that marketing strategies are fully integrated with the firm’s overall business objectives. This alignment helps in crafting initiatives that support long-term growth, client acquisition, and retention strategies, making the firm more proactive and responsive to market changes.
  • Expert Insight into Client Behaviour: A CMO brings expert insights into client behaviour and market dynamics. This expertise enables the firm to adapt its services and marketing messages more effectively to meet client needs and expectations, thereby enhancing client satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Enhanced Brand Management: A CMO on the board can oversee the firm’s brand management strategies, ensuring consistency across all platforms and touchpoints. This consistent branding strengthens the firm's market position, builds trust with clients, and attracts potential clients through clear, powerful messaging.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: CMOs typically leverage data analytics to gauge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and client engagement strategies. Their presence on the board allows the firm to make informed, data-driven decisions that can lead to more targeted and successful marketing efforts.
  • Innovation and Competitive Advantage: CMOs are often at the forefront of marketing innovation, bringing new technologies, platforms, and approaches that can give the firm a competitive edge. Their strategic vision can help law firms break away from traditional, less effective marketing methods and embrace newer, more impactful tactics.

Six Reasons Why Law Firms Don't Have a CMO

Despite many compelling reasons for having a CMO, many law firms operate without one, often due to the traditional structure and perspective of their leadership. Managing partners may not see the need for a CMO due to several entrenched beliefs and operational practices:

  1. Perceived Cost vs. Benefit: Managing partners often view a CMO as an unnecessary expense, doubting that the benefits brought by strategic marketing leadership will justify the cost, especially in firms where billable hours are the primary revenue driver.
  2. Traditional Firm Culture: Many law firms cling to traditional ways of operating, where senior partners handle marketing decisions. There's a reluctance to change a system that, in their view, has worked well enough in the past.
  3. Lack of Understanding of Marketing's Role: There may be a fundamental lack of understanding among managing partners about what strategic marketing entails and how it can significantly benefit the firm beyond mere advertising or client dinners.
  4. Fear of Diluting Decision-Making: Some partners fear that introducing a CMO into the boardroom could dilute the decision-making power or shift the focus away from legal expertise, which they consider to be the core offering of the firm.
  5. Confidence in Existing Client Relationships: Managing partners often believe that their existing client relationships and referrals are sufficient for business growth, underestimating the potential impact of sophisticated marketing strategies on expanding their client base.
  6. Difficulty Measuring Marketing ROI: There is often scepticism regarding the measurable return on investment from marketing efforts, which makes partners hesitant to invest in a full-time CMO position when outcomes are not as directly quantifiable as legal services.

Introducing the Fractional CMO: A Best of Both Worlds Solution

For law firms hesitant to commit to a full-time Chief Marketing Officer due to cost concerns or uncertainty about the role’s value, a Fractional CMO offers an ideal compromise. This arrangement provides the expertise of a seasoned marketing executive tailored to the firm’s specific needs and budget, offering a strategic approach without the full-time expense. Here’s how a Fractional CMO can be a significant advantage:

  • Cost Efficiency: A Fractional CMO brings high-level marketing expertise without the associated costs of a full-time executive salary, benefits, and bonuses. This makes financial sense for law firms not ready to commit to a full-time position.
  • Flexibility: Law firms can scale the Fractional CMO's involvement up or down based on current needs and budgetary constraints, allowing for more control over marketing expenditures.
  • Specialised Skill Set: Fractional CMOs often have experience across various industries and bring a wealth of knowledge and innovative strategies that can be tailored to the unique challenges of a law firm.
  • Rapid Implementation: With their experience, Fractional CMOs can quickly identify areas for improvement and implement strategies and processes faster than a law firm might be able to do on its own.
  • Objective Insights: Being part-time and externally involved, Fractional CMOs can provide unbiased, objective assessments of a firm’s marketing strategies and client engagement practices, which can be invaluable for growth.
  • Short-Term Commitment with Long-Term Benefits: Engaging a Fractional CMO allows law firms to benefit from expert guidance and see tangible results without the long-term commitment, which can be particularly appealing for firms experimenting with strategic marketing for the first time.
  • Access to Extensive Networks: Fractional CMOs usually come with established professional networks, including potential clients, media contacts, and technology providers. These connections can open new doors for the law firm, enhancing business development opportunities and collaborative ventures.
  • Fresh Perspectives: Being involved with multiple organisations, Fractional CMOs are continually exposed to new ideas and trends. This exposure allows them to bring fresh, innovative perspectives to the law firm that might otherwise be missed, helping the firm to differentiate itself in a competitive market.
  • Training and Empowering Lawyers for Effective Client Engagement: Fractional CMOs can offer training and resources to lawyers, enhancing their confidence and skills in client engagement and retention.
  • Facilitate and Streamline Business Development: With a Fractional CMO, law firms can implement more effective marketing tools and strategies, reducing the burden on lawyers and allowing them to focus more on their legal responsibilities.

Selecting the Right Fractional CMO for Your Law Firm

Choosing a Fractional CMO who aligns with your firm’s culture and has a deep understanding of the legal market is key. They should have a proven track record in similar roles and be able to navigate the nuances of the legal industry.

Learn more in our comprehensive guide: Selecting the Perfect Fractional CMO for your Business.


Engaging a Fractional CMO can offer law firms a strategic advantage by providing experienced marketing leadership tailored to their specific needs. This model not only enhances marketing efforts but also aligns them closely with the firm’s long-term goals, driving growth and building a robust client base.

By exploring the potential of a Fractional CMO, law firms can step into a future where marketing is a driving force behind their success, tailored specifically to the dynamics of the legal industry.

‍About VCMO

VCMO helps SMEs and investor-backed portfolio companies with a £2 million or higher turnover that operate without a full-time Chief Marketing Officer. Our Fractional CMOs and tailored services transform marketing potential into a competitive advantage that delivers scalable and predictable growth, increased profits, and enhanced enterprise value.

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Paul Mills
CEO & Founder

If this article resonates with your business situation, get in touch to discuss how we can help.

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