Law firm marketing and business development staff are stressed-out and the COVID-19 pandemic has only ratcheted up the pressure, the 2020 Legal Marketing Mental Wellness Report published by fSquared Marketing, a consultancy that specializes in working with law firms, shows.
In a survey of 400+ law firm marketing and business professionals, 96% agreed there is significant stress in the legal marketing field. 71% reported often feeling overwhelmed at work and 79% said that their work-related stress had increased during the pandemic.
“Legal marketers have seen their workloads increase this year, as they maintain firm communications and respond to the challenges of this crisis,” observes Lynn Foley, CEO of fSquared Marketing. “They are working hard to ensure their firms are providing timely updates, maintaining strong relationships with clients, and adapting to remote working and new communication channels such as webinar presentations and virtual conferences. At the same time, many professionals have had the threat of layoffs hanging over their heads or seen their marketing budgets slashed and projects put on hold.”
“During this time of COVID-19, they furloughed my co-coordinator. The amount of work in the department has not changed so I have taken on all her work as well.” one respondent to the survey said. “…They also reduced my pay. I am happy I still have a job, but I feel like my work product has suffered and my stress level has skyrocketed.”
Legal Marketing is a demanding profession, even in less difficult times. In 2019, fSquared Marketing ran a similar survey that illuminated many of the issues which re-emerged in the 2020 report including overwork, a lack of respect and a lack of understanding of the marketer’s role by lawyers.
“The 2020 report builds on our team’s previous research,” says Foley. “We expanded the survey this year and– in partnership with the Legal Marketing Association (LMA)—we were able to more than double the number of responses collected.”
Stress is Impacting the Health and Wellness of Staff
It’s widely recognized that there is a mental health crisis in the legal industry. A landmark 2016 study by the ABA and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that 36% of lawyers qualified as problem drinkers and 28% report mild or higher depression symptoms. Through initiatives such as The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and increased media attention, the industry is starting to take this issue seriously and take steps to improve itself.
Yet law firm professionals have often been overlooked. As this 2020 report makes clear, marketing and business professionals at law firms are also under considerable levels of stress. Nearly 80% of respondents said that their stress, on a scale of 1-10, was a 7 or higher. And 67% said that stress was negatively impacting their ability to concentrate on the task at hand. 63% of respondents said that stress from work was affecting the quality of their sleep and 48% said that stress from work gave them psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches or stomach pain.
“Overwork is part of the problem,” notes Foley, “but this report also reveals compounding factors, such as a lack of understanding of the marketer’s role and, in too many cases, a lack of respect from lawyers.”
Marketers Dismissed as “Non-Lawyers” But Still Essential
Many respondents pointed to a divide between the lawyers and law firm professionals, often dismissively labelled as “non-lawyers”, as a source of stress. 67% of respondents said that lawyers do not understand their role or the work they perform. 40% agreed with the statement: “There is a lack of respect for me/my role by the lawyers”.
“Most of the stress I experience comes from feeling like the lawyers won't let/don't trust me to do my job,” said one respondent.
Another respondent said: “I don't see how lawyers who don't even value my contribution to the firm would ever value my mental health.”
At the same time, Marketing professionals are well aware of the value they bring to the table: 93% felt that they “have an important role to play at their firm”.
Legal Marketing Might Be More Stressful Than Marketing in Other Industries
Of those respondents who had previously held marketing positions in other industries, 72% felt that marketing in legal was more stressful.
Marketers who worked in-house at a law firm were more likely to report feeling overwhelmed and disrespected than external marketing consultants with law firm clients. Not surprisingly, in-house marketers also reported lower levels of job satisfaction than their external counterparts.
Taken together, this indicates that there are factors endemic to law firms that increase workplace stress. Several respondents pointed to a culture of perfection, the rigidly hierarchical nature of most firms, and the billable-hour model as culprits. “This job is custom-built for stress,” noted one respondent.
“We work at the request of lawyers, who don't think about marketing or business development during the work day. Therefore, they contact us after the work day. So by definition, our work needs to be completed after hours and on weekends. Holidays are nonexistent. PTO is nonexistent. All that exists is a gigantic, gaping maw of legal work that needs to be done. There is no escape.”
Skills Training the Most Requested Type of Law Firm Support
Access to training was the number one resource that legal marketers thought would help them to alleviate stress. 79% of respondents said that access to marketing/business development/technical training would help them to limit their stress.
Training was seen as more useful for managing stress than access to mental health professionals and mindfulness coaching. Access to external marketing resources to provide assistance on a project basis was seen as the second most useful form of law firm support for mental wellness and stress management.
“Marketing is a fast-changing field and it can be challenging to stay on top of new tech, changing client expectations, and methods,” notes Foley. “Law firms that provide their professionals with regular access to high-quality training will help their marketers to manage the pressures of the job while also empowering them to deliver meaningful results for their firm.”
Towards a Better Model
Research in workplace psychology has consistently found that employees perform to their highest potential when they feel respected, challenged but not overwhelmed, and valued for their contributions.
COVID-19 will continue to send shockwaves through the economy at large with implications for the legal market. Law firms that foster resilient, supportive cultures have an advantage in weathering downturns and periods of turmoil and emerging from the other side of the pandemic in a dominant market position.
“I know from firsthand experience how stressful it can be to work in-house at a law firm,” notes Foley. “This is always going to be a demanding profession within a high-pressure industry, but incivility and burnout benefit no one. This report shows how widespread these issues are in our industry. But they aren’t universal, and that is a cause for hope. Many law firms have fostered cultures of work-life balance and mutual respect. It’s possible and demonstrably profitable to ensure that law firm professionals feel understood, included, and valued for their contributions.”