Sara Pauley Coffey is a Columbus, Ohio-based marketer and co-chair of the Legal Marketing Association’s Ohio Local Steering Committee. A former law firm marketer, she is the Documentation and Training Specialist at ContactEase CRM Made Easy where she manages marketing and works with clients to enhance their use of CRM products. Learn more about her in this Women Who Wow profile.
Why did you choose your profession?
It really chose me. I have two degrees in English. My master’s degree is in technical writing. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I graduated and took my first law firm job thinking it would be a great advantage when I applied to law school in a year or two.
Well I never did. I was hired at my first firm because the managing partner in charge of marketing had a soft spot for English majors and I knew how to use Photoshop and PageMaker (which no longer exists). I didn’t even know that law firms had marketing people when I applied. It was my first professional job and it’s a testament to that firm that I stayed in legal marketing for so long. The management team there gave me the opportunity to learn and grow. It was a small firm and I had the opportunity to really do whatever I wanted and was encouraged to do so.
I also learned that I didn’t want to be a lawyer (some of my friends were in law school at the time and really unhappy), but I did enjoy the challenge of working with them (well, most of them) and helping them grow their practices and develop their personal brands. I was in law firm marketing for twelve years and worked for three firms ranging in size from 40 to 200 lawyers.
What Do You Love Most About What You Do?
At ContactEase, I have dual responsibilities. I work as a technical writer which involves not only understanding how to use our products, but how our clients use them. I’ve always wanted to write for a living and while software documentation isn’t the path I necessarily saw while I was workshopping short stories in college, I really like the challenge of new things and the sense of accomplishment I get when something I’ve written helps a client.
I work closely with our Director of Client Services, Amber Elliott, to develop best practices and client focused content to improve our clients’ experiences with CRM. I also work with the company’s president, Jennifer Whittier, to executive our strategic marketing initiatives. Jennifer and Amber are both former law firm marketers, so having that shared experience and being able to use it to serve our clients is something I really enjoy. They’re also both incredibly supportive which is fantastic. Working with marketers has also been a bit of a catharsis for me. When I left my last firm, I was feeling burnt out and not sure what I wanted to do. Being able share my experiences and work with law firm marketers has been really good for me.
What Advice Would You Give to Women in Your Field?
If you can’t grow at your current firm, find other opportunities (or a new firm). You aren’t stuck. I’ve been laid off from two firms (one of which I’d resigned from two years earlier). Both times I thought it was the worst thing that happened to me (spoiler alert: it wasn’t).
And while the issues weren’t job performance, both times I’d been ready to go long before I was let go. The first time it was just a poor fit from the start. In hindsight, I wish I’d been able to recognize that earlier rather than trying to force a fit. It’s been over ten years and I continue to reflect on that experience because I learned so much from it.
If you can’t grow at your current firm and you’re not ready to leave, getting involved with a professional organization (like LMA) is a great way to add new skills, expand your network, and find support. I also think the earlier you can get involved in understanding the business of law, the better. One of the directors I worked under made sure that our team was included in practice group meetings. Just having a seat at the table went a long way in getting buy-in for many marketing and BD initiatives and allowed me to develop strong relationships with the firm’s lawyers. Getting to know firm leadership, your accounting folks and IT to understand how your firm runs and your role in it is also incredibly valuable.
I know it’s cliché, but find your champions. Just because some lawyers don’t understand the value of marketing and business development doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Don’t underestimate your value.