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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP33 - Karen Wilcox of Taylor English on scaling a marketing function to meet the needs of an ambitious, high growth firm

Ambitious firms rely on and demand more from their marketing teams, putting pressure on stretched marketers to achieve more and to scale the effectiveness of the marketing team.

On this edition of the CMO Series, James Barclay is lucky to be joined by Karen Wilcox, Marketing Director at Taylor English, to share her insight on how marketing leaders can develop their teams to meet the growth ambitions of the firm. Karen discusses the firm’s ‘lean and mean’ model and how this approach works in practice.

Listen in as James and Karen explore:

  • Karen’s own experience in growing a marketing function and how that has informed the approach at Taylor English
  • How marketing leaders can get the job done with the increasing demands from their firm and constraints around staff
  • How Taylor English’s unique approach to bringing suppliers, contractors, consultants and firm staff together as a proper team has been so effective 
  • How to define priorities within the strategy and decide what is an internal focus vs something external help is used for
  • Advice for marketers in ambitious and demanding firms trying to scale their marketing efforts


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series.

James: Hello and welcome to the latest of Passle's CMO Series podcast, where we celebrate the leadership and passion that we see every day in the leaders we meet who run marketing and business development in law firms. My name is James Barclay and I'm CEO of Passle Inc. here in the US. And today we are going to be discussing how to scale your marketing function to meet the needs of an ambitious, high growth law firm. Ambitious firms rely on and are always demanding more from their marketing teams. As you all who are listening to this know, this puts a great amount of pressure on already stretched marketing leaders and their teams to achieve more to scale quickly at a time when it's getting even harder to get more resource. We're lucky enough today to be joined by Karen Wilcox, Marketing director at Taylor English, to share her expertise on how you as marketing leaders can develop your teams to meet the growth ambitions of your firm. So let's get straight into it. Hi Karen, great to see you. What I wanted to start with is that we've been working together now for over a year, and in that time I've observed closely the phenomenal growth happening at Taylor English, and therefore the growth of marketing function is a key part of that to your role. You've been a real change maker at the firm and in lots of ways I've seen you turn the traditional approach to legal marketing on its head. Would you mind giving us a little background on your own experience with growing the marketing function in the past and then how that's informed your approach at Taylor English?

Karen: Sure, James, it's great to be here today. I did two tours at the Big Four and I've done two tours at AML 100 firms. And being at those four firms, I've gotten to watch and observe various marketing departments and how they're set up and structured in the different skill sets. What was advantageous about that was those were able to be larger teams at a firm like Taylor English where we're a mid sized firm and I have to work with a smaller team, we have to get more creative. So I've been able to take the observations that I've had at those larger firms, see what's worked, what hasn't worked, and then try to somehow scale it down but still get the same volume of work done. It's been an interesting process and picking and choosing which pieces worked well in my previous role.

James: Absolutely. And I suppose on that, what I've noticed and what we've observed from working with you is that you suffer exactly what all our other clients talk about, and that's that in legal marketing, you'll never, ever have enough staff. It's simply ridiculously hard right now to get enough people. Marketing leaders, however, like you still need to get that job done. So how are you as a marketing leader, achieving what needs to be done with all the increasing demands of your firm with those constraints around staffing.

Karen: I think one of the first things that has been incredibly helpful is I've got a seat at the table with our named partners, Mark Taylor and Joe English. Joe is our communications partner, so I report directly to him and I report directly to our COO. Having that level of support and having the camaraderie that I have with them has really helped us be able to do things differently and be able to have open conversations about what we need and where we want the marketing function to go. I think the other thing that has been hugely helpful because of that and because we're younger as a firm, we're only 15 years old. I'm not having to tear anything out, I'm only having to build and the team that was there before I came on board put in a great platform that we're building from. And so what we've been able to do because we've got leadership support, we've really been able to look at the task that we're being asked to do and do that analysis on if there's a value add or not. And being able to move the value add task either totally off everybody's plate, they don't go anywhere in the firm. It's just something we don't do anymore or we've been able to move it to the right team to do instead. It's still being in the marketing Department that I think has been hugely helpful. The other piece that I think has been hugely helpful is we've taken a really hard look at our tech stock and have reevaluated that whole piece of it and are putting in a whole new technology platform right now. We took advantage of COVID and having that slow time a little bit last year with some of our big sponsorships and things not happening and being able to do that analysis and we hopefully, with the new tax act that we're going to put in, are going to build in some natural efficiencies from a productivity standpoint, both for our attorneys and for the marketing Department.

James: Yeah. And I think that's certainly what we've observed with you is a case of and I guess you are in a nice position as far as being able to build as opposed to have an enormous amount of legacy, and that offers you that great flexibility, right?

Karen: Right, absolutely. I don't have to worry about hurt feelings. I don't have to worry about someone being tied to something because we've never done it before in some cases. So it is all new now. With that comes the challenge of it's new and a lot of attorneys don't warm up to change real well. So we're asking our attorneys to really step out of their comfort zone with some of the things that we're doing. So we have to work through that, work through that communication and over communicate. It's just not going to snap our fingers and put in a new tech stack and everything's going to be peachy keen. Right? But again, because we've got the support of leadership and it's coming from leadership. This is what we are doing. We support Karen and her team. It makes the change so much easier. 

James: Yeah. And again, that's what I've observed with you is that you very much have a seat at the table. The managing partners there, Joe and Mark, really listen to you and make sure that what you're saying is implemented. The other thing I've noticed, of course, is you've got a bit of a different way of approaching your team. We work with some marketing leaders who do everything in house and who have everybody in house. And what we've observed with you is how it's a really effective approach of bringing suppliers, contractors, consultants to build into your marketing team. I can't remember exactly, but I think it's only one and a half full time people. Is that right that you've got and everyone else is external. Could you explain a little bit more about that kind of philosophy? Because it's quite different and why it's been a key element of your plans. Why have you come with that to Taylor English?

Karen: So Taylor English's business model is lean and mean we will never be at industry standards when it comes to staff, no matter what the Department is, because of the business model that we have. We have a low overhead model. So when you go in knowing that a firm of 180 attorneys normally would have about six marketing people in house, no matter what the roles are. And we have a half person in three quarters and I'm the half three quarters person, and then we have a senior manager. You've got to start looking at how do you get that specialty experience on board? And I'm never going to have headcount to bring on a writer or bring on a graphic designer or bring on a video person. But those are all things that we need from what we decided. Our marketing plan is going to be for 20, 22, 23 time frame. And so we are outsourcing all of that. But what I think we're doing a little bit differently with the outsourcing is all of our vendors and contractors know each other. As you know, back in December, we brought everyone into one big room, let everyone meet each other, and we kind of work through what we want to do from a content standpoint for 2022. And I've given permission for all the vendors to talk to each other. They don't necessarily have to go through me or senior manager Molly to get projects done. So they are very integrated and very much part of the team. And that works for us because I have a management structure, a management team that allows me not to treat my vendors in a transactional way. They are a part of the team. All of them have met Joe, all of them have met Mark. And if they want to go talk to Joe and Mark, they could go talk to Joe and Mark. It's a very open door policy that we have. And so it's very much of a team approach, even though we are outsourcing all of what I call the specialty functions and all we will have at Taylor English as far as employees are project managers.

James: Yeah. It was fantastic to travel down to Atlanta last for Christmas, wasn't it? And to meet you, to meet the team, to meet all the lawyers, but most importantly, to meet the other vendors, the other partners that you've got from our perspective, is just so helpful. And I think that was a real lesson to us as well when we're sharing best practice with law firms is to say, hey, let's talk about partnership rather than kind of vendor buyer relationship. And of course, hopefully what that means for you is that as your partners, we can work together to create something quicker and more effectively and bring that to you as opposed to you having to try and coordinate us.

Karen: So absolutely right. I think that's the key word. It's the partner word. Is it going to be a partnership if it is just a traditional vendor client relationship, this Mama won't work. It's got to be a partnership. You have got to feel you being the vendor, I've got to feel you're invested in us and I have to be invested in you as well, and that we can have those open, candid conversations we need to have about ideas or this is working or it's not working and that type of thing and feel like even though none of us are sitting together and we all get paid by different companies that we're all still in one team.

James: Absolutely. Yeah. It's 100% better as far as the output you create, but it's also just 100% better as far as the experience of working and the efforts made. And that's really important is that experience that we all have as well as being a one team. Absolutely. And with that strategy you're implementing, there's obviously a clear set of priorities, and you've got a clear picture of what suppliers like Passle can do versus what your internal team should do. Now. How do you define those priorities? How do you decide what you choose to do with your internal team at Taylor English versus something that external help can be used for? What's your process there?

Karen: So there's two pieces to it. One of its time management and then one of its skill assessment. From a time management standpoint, we're all drinking from firehose. When you're doing law firm marketing, there will always be more volume than your team can get done. It doesn't matter what size your team is. That's just the way it is. So from a time management standpoint, what do you want to leave on your plate? And then what do you want to delegate to someone else to do because they have that hour that you don't have to get that project done, and you got to get everything done by the end of the day. So that's part of it. I think the other piece is really about skills. I'll give an example. I can do a flyer for you. It'll be possible. I won't embarrass anybody. But if I give it to my graphic design firm, we will get something so much better. Right. My attorneys will be happier at the end of the day with what the graphic firm does than what I put together, even though I can do it. So even if I would have the time to do the flyer, I probably should give it to the graphic designer and give it to the subject matter expert. And so we look at it from that standpoint, too. We want the projects to be with the people who can do the best job at it. And that's why we've been very careful and very thoughtful about the vendors that we have, because we know that they're the subject matter experts and they can do a good job on whether it be the video, whether it be the writing of something for the website, writing the internal newsletter, doing a graphic design for us, graphic strategy. So that's how we make those decisions. At the end of the day, it's about our job is to make our attorneys look good. So who has the best potential to make our attorneys look good?

James: No, absolutely. And I think from both sides, it's really helpful for us to be used as a vendor perspective or a partner perspective to be used at what we're good at as well. I think that just needs to make sure, again, coming back to communication is knowing that, you know, our time is valuable and vice versa, that you're not asking us to do stuff that you could either do in house or you could get one of the other partners to work on with you. But actually, this is a bit where we bring real value. I think that's absolutely crucial. What's been very impressive at Taylor English and working with you guys is just how few of you there are and how much you've achieved. And I think kind of just from an observation perspective, from my side, is you get a lot done because you do you don't talk about it too much. We don't sit in endless meetings with you that's often talked about. But I would imagine from your experience with Deloitte all those years ago, that probably helps with that prioritisation.

Karen: It does. And that's why I want project managers on the team in house, because I think if you've got two project managers, they know you've got a limited amount of time, a limited amount of budget to get things done. So you figure out how to make it happen. Right. And you've got to stop talking at some point. You're totally right on that. I don't have the most fancy PowerPoint plan. I have a plan. It's in PowerPoint, but it's not the most beautiful thing out there in the world because they don't spend a lot of time on constantly rehashing the plan. We're more about doing and then tracking what we need to track. And it also gets back to what do the attorneys want? At the end of the day, what does my management team need from us to know that we're doing what we want to do and are we on track? And my management team doesn't want to set up a bunch of meetings. They're not going to tolerate that. So why have them? I ask them to do something they don't want to do. And there's a point for a meeting, and that's where you have your idea generation. And once you've got your ideas, then everyone should feel free to go. We've got permission to do this and we're going to go do it. And then we will come back in a month and reassess and make what changes we need to make. But everyone is empowered to do their projects. And I think that's critically important. Not only are my project manager, Molly, is empowered to do her project, but the vendors are empowered to do their project. I'm going to get out of your way. And I think that's part of how we get as much done as we do is that we know what our lanes are and we focus on those lanes.

James: Yeah, absolutely. So it's prioritisation and then effective execution with a great deal of trust, making sure that you've got the right people in place to do the right jobs. It's kind of an old school business. So finally, start of the new year, what would be your one piece of advice for law firm marketers who are also in ambitious and demanding firms trying to scale their marketing efforts this quarter, this half, this year?

Karen: I think you have to have management buy in of you, not just the team and not just marketing the function itself, but of you personally. They've got to feel that you're going to get it done, that you are a change agent and they're comfortable with you being a change agent. They've got to be comfortable with you speaking for them. Sometimes if you want to get things done in a quick way and they've got to help with that socialisation with the attorneys that you are speaking for the farm when you say we're going to go do X or we're going to do Y or we're going to do T, that you're speaking for the firm, that has got to be part of it, and that trust with your senior management team. And I think the other piece of it, and I think this is just critical, especially if you want to think about outsourcing large portions of your team to vendors and contractors is that you have to be allowed the firm has to allow you to treat your vendors and your contractors as true partners if they are going to nickel and dime every hour that the vendor or the contractor spends with you justify every hour, it's just not going to work. It's got to be that partnership. You got to feel like you can and that you're trusted to empower your vendors and your contractors to do the job that they need to do and you have that trust and I just think that's incredibly important as we grow and you also have to make sure that whatever you put in place is scalable if your law firm's plans are to grow the number of attorneys that you have because if you've got five now and you're going to have 15 by the end of the year, will this plan still work for 15? And you need to constantly be asking yourself that as you grow, do I still have something that works for this number of attorneys that we now have and where I know we're going to be in six months?

James: Yeah, absolutely. And that's perfect to end on essentially, it's leadership, empowerment, effective partnership, trust, and then proper execution. It's exactly right. I'm excited about spending the next year with you and helping drive that growth at Taylor English thank you very, very much for being part of our podcast.

Karen: Thanks for having me. I had a good time.

What is critical is that the firm has to allow you to treat your vendors and contractors as true partners. You must be able to empower them to do the job you want them to do.


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