Are Law Firm PR Pros Overpaid or Underpaid?

Sometimes the best blog posts are inspired by other bloggers. In this case, Robert J. Ambrogi’s blog LawSites provided me with and idea that I have never looked into: what am I worth to a law firm? Here’s something from his blog that I’d like to respond to:

The gist of my post is to ask whether law firm PR professionals are overpaid or underpaid or whether law firms even need PR pros on staff. My opinion is that a skilled and knowledgeable communications professional can be highly valuable to a law firm. That’s not to say there aren’t incompetent PR folks out there. As a former newspaper editor, I’ve encountered my fair share of clueless PR folks. But as I say in my forum post, in an age of social media, law firms do themselves a disservice not to use a communications or media professional.

If you read his entire post and related links, you’ll see that law firm media professionals have salaries that range from $50,000 to $375,000. In comparison, larger law firms in Chicago, on average, publish that they start out their associate attorneys at around $160,000/year. So if you are motivated by money and deciding between legal PR verses becoming a lawyer, I’ve solved your career decision.

When our public relations agency works with law firms, I find that how they value public relations can be as different as practicing IP verse PI law. While the PR professional can point to values such as ad rate equivalency, number of LinkedIn connections or followers on Twitter, the real value meter lies in the hearts of the attorneys.

I find that more lawyers need to ask themselves these types of questions when it comes to deciding how much to invest in public relations:

  1. Where does it fit into my business development chain?: While public relations results can range from being quoted in the New York Times to speaking to a national trade organization, the main issue is knowing how it fits into a marketing strategy. So if speaking four times a year at national industry conferences can eventually yield one million dollars of new business a year, then the work your PR person did might justify a six figure salary.
  2. What will the lawyer invest? I’ve seen public relations and marketing people inside law firms loose their jobs because their efforts did not get the phone to ring. Yet, when attorneys were given leads to follow up with or were asked to mingle at a trade show, the lawyers dropped the ball. For the PR person in these instances, they were worth paying minimum wage because they never got buy in from the attorneys to follow through on initiatives.
  3. Do you want tactical or strategic PR people?: Some lawyers see their internal marketing and public relations staff as additional administrative staff. Just having them order business cards, update the copy on their websites or write press releases and post online. It would be better to get an English major who knows basic HTML to handle that work. However, the law firm who sees their internal marketing people as part of a business development strategy, will include them in managing partner meetings to decide how to best bring in the business. For these marketers, somewhere in the six figures seems right.

So to respond to Mr. Ambrogi’s question, it all depends on the attorneys who run the firm and whether they are willing to invest time to understand the value they want from a public relations professional. It’s not a matter of getting what you paid for, it’s more a matter of knowing what you want and finding the people who are worth hiring to get you the value you desire.