The problem with BD and Marketing Manager salaries in legal

What's going on with BD and Marketing Manager salaries in the legal sector?

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In 2019, I published an opinion piece on “Why law firms need to increase their BD and Marketing Manager salaries.”

This piece followed an analysis of our own salary data, revealing that BD & Marketing Management salaries had risen by only 8% since 2002.

I argued that this needs to change.

Fast forward to 2022, with the media coining these rather unique times, 'the great resignation’, there have been reports of individuals being offered huge salary increases across multiple areas of the global economy as the battle for talent grows with intensity.

For our own specialist sector, legal BD, Marketing & Communications recruitment, my team and I have witnessed this first hand. This has led me to believe that something must change.

To be clear, the aim of this article is not to point fingers or to exclaim righteousness in telling law firms how to coordinate and construct their Business Development & Marketing functions. After all I’m well aware that I’m not a BD/Marketing Director who has to set the budgets (or ask for a bigger one).

However, given the challenges of talent attraction and retention firms have faced this year, I think it’s important to highlight some of the key issues we are seeing across the legal sector.

​To view the latest salary information for BD & Marketing roles in Professional Services, download our latest BD & Marketing Salary guide.

What are the issues with BD & Marketing Manager salaries in the legal sector?

In this article, I will outline the reasons why I believe salary bandings need to be adjusted for Manager and Senior Manager levels within legal BD & Marketing.

Let’s start with a brief observation;

Overall, BD & Marketing Manager salary bandings have stayed rigidly at £50k - £70k and Senior Managers at £80k - £95k.

These salary bandings have by and large stayed the same ever since I started doing Legal BD & Marketing recruitment back in 2014. Whilst an outsider reading this might think this looks odd, as there was no real change to salaries over a 7/8 year cycle, it was largely accepted by firms and job seekers alike that this was the going rate.

​The key salary trends in Legal BD & Marketing

1. Legal BD & Marketing professionals taking on their first management role are regularly being offered salaries of £60k and above.

Now before all the first-time managers my team have placed bite my head off, I would like to point out that I’m in no way implying you’re not worth this figure, I’m just merely commenting on what we have observed…

This change has, in my opinion, had the most significant impact on the post-Covid jobs market and is arguably the catalyst for all the trends we are observing.

What has transpired is rather than starting at the bottom of the £50k-£70k salary bracket, as had traditionally been implemented, we have seen first time managers starting at £60k+.

Why the change, I hear you ask?

Well, one of the root causes was that by the time we reached early 2021, most law firms, off the back of fantastic financial results, decided to dust off the recruitment button and hire a Business Development Manager, something the majority hadn’t done since March 2020.

Whilst the actual volume of roles in 2021 wasn’t significantly higher than any other pre-Covid year, the issue was that many firms started re-entering the recruitment market at the same time.

As a result, recruitment moved from 0-100mph at breakneck speed, with a huge influx of roles suddenly hitting the market within a 3–6-month period. Thus creating fierce competition to secure high calibre talent.

The talent war had begun.

Once the BD & Marketing Managers who had wanted to move in 2020 but couldn’t were swept up, many firms turned their attentions to the Senior Executives looking to step up, but there simply wasn’t enough readily available talent to meet demand.

We all know that money talks, so many firms duly went through their pay bandings to try and secure the individual they wanted. This created a domino effect, resulting in the current situation where a £60,000 salary for a first time BD & Marketing Manager in a law firm has become the ‘going rate’.


2. Internal pay rises are not as lucrative as making an external move and existing staff are left feeling undervalued.

This is a complex issue, so let’s start with some raw data.

Our market trends survey carried out at the beginning of 2022 indicated that most BD & Marketing professionals had received an internal salary increase of 3-5%.

However external job movers have generally been able to achieve an 8%+ salary increase, (in many cases, this has been double figures).

We now have the significant issue of firms trying to compete with the market rate for external talent without being able to reward loyal and valued staff the same riches. As a result, this is presenting quite the conundrum.

Simply put, the internal rate of salary increases has not been allowed to keep pace with external salary demands.

Another by-product of the external market interfering with the internal market goes back to point 1 above.

With an influx of new talent joining teams where there are existing Managers or Senior Managers who are being paid according to pre-Covid salary bandings, we now have scenarios where the gap of new Managers or new Senior Managers vs existing, more experienced Managers, is narrowing ever further. The disparity of experience also creates a difference in capability between individuals, however this is not being reflected in monetary reward.

3. Firms are paying increased salaries but experience levels within the team are decreasing.

This raises the question; if firms are hiring new, less experienced BD & Marketing professionals at a higher salary than the previous incumbent who had more experience, are these firms prepared to adjust the expectations of the role until the said individual gains more experience?

Or are we potentially putting unfair expectations on individuals who, through no fault of their own are now being paid the higher market rate, therefore increasing the likelihood of the role not working out as hoped by either party?

Whilst you could argue that the market will eventually correct itself as firms will be forced to adjust pay scales and seniority requirements to align with market rates to fill vacancies, I believe that now is the right time to realign the salary bandings going forward.

How much should BD and Marketing Managers in law firms get paid?

In my opinion, I would suggest the following salary bandings;

Business Development / Marketing Managers

£60k - £80k

Senior BD / Marketing Managers

£85k-£110k (roughly)*

*Some firms might already offer these high salaries on the Senior BDM side but the majority of firms stop at £90k-£95k.


What are the benefits of increasing BD and Marketing Manager salaries in law firms?

1. More lateral hires

This would allow BD / Marketing Managers and Senior Managers to make lateral moves within the Legal sector and would enable firms to hire someone with proven experience at that level.

At the time of writing, there is very little financial incentive for BD & Marketing Managers to make a sideways move.

If the new salary bandings were in place, I believe this would free up an area of the market that has become quite stagnant.


2. Better retention of BD & Marketing Managers

By increasing salary brackets, new BD & Marketing Managers coming in higher up the current banding would still have plenty of room to stay at Manager level for 4-5 years as required before becoming Senior BD & Marketing Managers.

This would keep those individuals engaged whilst also increasing the firm’s ability to retain them, thus creating a more stable team environment, which you would hope would increase the productivity and value of the BD & Marketing function within the firm.


3. More experienced Management professionals would feel valued

It would allow Senior BD/Marketing Managers to be content that their experience and value to a firm is being acknowledged and financially rewarded.

As we know, not everyone can or wants to reach ‘Head of’ level, so again, raising salaries is a great way of rewarding those individuals for their loyalty and being able to keep them feeling that career progression is still available to them.

Retaining these individuals and keeping them motivated would also help showcase your firm to new recruits. Having longevity within a senior management team is one of the key things we get asked by jobseekers when they are trying to evaluate the culture of a firm.

4. Better able to sell a long-term career path to potential hires

If we were to increase the salary bandings to those suggested above, it would create more opportunity for BD & Marketing professionals to learn their craft at each stage of their development.

If we were to start BD & Marketing Managers on a salary of £60,000 it would create a buffer for firms to be able to invest more into junior talent, knowing they had scope to keep them engaged from a monetary perspective rather than worrying once someone hits 3 years and a salary of £40k+. they are liable to lose them in 12-18 months if they can’t offer them management opportunities in that timeframe.

I also feel this might help enable firms to be more open around the background of individuals they hire from, allowing them to bring in professionals from outside of the Legal sector, knowing they had the bandwidth to train them up and remove the pressure of individuals having to hit the ground running from day 1.

This could bring a whole host of benefits, such as new ideas/approaches from other sectors and would allow law firms to embed more D&I into their recruitment processes.


In summary

Whilst this article may come across as being squarely focused on a monetary issue, I actually see it as being more of a reflection on the state of the current BD & Marketing hiring market within legal and a way in which we can try and address the current talent shortage that many law firms are experiencing.

As one Head of Recruitment mentioned to me this year, we’ve ‘let the genie out of the bottle’ when it comes to first time management pay and experience, so I think it’s unrealistic to think we can revert to what has traditionally worked.

I also fully appreciate the inner workings of a law firm is not quite so easy as just saying “ok Ben, we’ll increase the budget by another £10-£15k.”

However, I hope that this piece provokes some discussion and thoughts as to how the market has fundamentally changed since 2021 and how best to counteract that.

After all, we have seen a significant shift in NQ pay for fee earners lately and perhaps it’s time for adjustments to be made within the Legal BD & Marketing world as well.

Finally, I do pride myself and my team on being consultative and solutions-focused for both individuals and clients, so I would welcome your opinions on this topic from both an individual or a hiring manager perspective.

What do you think about this? Feedback welcomed!

​About the author

Ben Curle is the Divisional Manager of Ambition's BD, Marketing & Communications recruitment team, working with a range of law firm clients from the top 200 UK firms, US firms and specialist boutiques. Whilst completing assignments across the UK, Ben has also completed successful hiring projects across mainland Europe, The Middle East and the USA.

Find out how BD, Marketing & Communications salaries have changed by downloading the Ambition BD & Marketing Salary Guide.

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