I was surprised recently to hear Tim Skipper of First Counsel say that two out of three positions they fill in law firms are from people coming into the profession. At a gathering of the Directors Insight Panel, I put this to a number of Directors from some of the UK’s leading firms and asked where they stood on introducing fresh talent from outside the professions.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Linda Stevens from PWC has seen it work but in her experience there are also examples of people that have not survived. The big question for Linda is whether the new recruit has the patience and tenacity to cope with a Partnership structure and the ability to win peoples’ respect. It is not just about executing smart plans well. Any joiner needs to be able to persuade the partnership of the merits of their course of action and demonstrate the value in their advice and suggested approach.

According to Lee Grunnell at Beachcroft, it all boils down to social skills and emotional intelligence. Regardless of your technical strength in marketing and sales, the crux is “can you win multiple stakeholders, often with differing agendas, round to your point of view?”

Things may have moved on in giant bounds within professional services marketing in terms of creativity and delivery but there is still a large chasm between how decisions are made in the commercial sector and what happens in firms. Unlike a truly marketing led company, it seems that the 4 P’s of marketing in a Professional firm are Patience, Persuasiveness, Persistence and Politics.

In, out, shake it all about

Nigel Pyke, like Joni Mitchell, has looked at life from both sides now. He made the bold move from BT to PWC and got a jolt when hit by the silo culture, new ways of navigating decisions and the accompanying vocabulary. He’s since moved to Deloitte and then from accountancy into property, finding each to be a short cultural hop compared to that first move. So it is good news for those of you reading this who are sitting snug within a professional firm; it can be hard for others to adapt and be accepted – and once you are in, it is relatively easy to move around

Lee Grunnell believes that the ease with which you can move varies according to the size of firm and your ability to balance expectations with culture and infrastructure. Other friends who like Lee have moved from accountancy to law share the same views; there’s not the mythical void between the two that was once cited but often there is a difference of scale and resource. If I had a pound for everyone who told me that they were surprised when moving to a small firm about the complete absence of basic policy and understanding – I’d have at least three pounds!

Nick Richards notes that it seems to be harder to enter a professional firm at a higher level as the senior people find it hard to adjust to not calling all the shots when they arrive, and the frustration when overruled by partners.

However, while the message was clear that an ability to deal with the quirks of partnerships is needed, in certain roles that very frustration and challenge can be an asset – adding a bit of spice to the status quo. Nigel Pyke, for example, is actively seeking people with fresh ideas from outside the Professions plus the energy and drive to take more control.

You’re not from these parts

Amy Kingdon adopts a more nuanced view. She thinks that people from some sectors will more easily assimilate within firm culture. In her experience, while it may be hard for people to adapt from an FMCG culture, it can be smoother if you are coming from a multi-stakeholder public-sector role or even an agency environment. Lee Grunnell agrees and thinks that often there’s a lot to be gained by looking outside the professions and gave the example of bringing in industry experts and also people with leadingedge experience of niche skills, such as a deep understanding of procurement protocol or research and analysis.

A radical view is that seeing professional services experience as a pre-requisite for marketing & business development professionals in the industry could actually be damaging in the long term. As the same merry-go-round of people (some with few stand-out credentials save for having worked in law, accounting, or property previously) swap between firms could it be that new ideas and innovation within business development are stifled? We’ll have to wait and see.

So opinion is divided, but common threads emerge, in every case you need people with good technical and emotional skills and according to where the firm is in terms of size, culture and marketing evolution – the fresh approach and challenge of a newcomer can be a big plus.

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