Several years ago the trend in law firm circles was to promote the executive functions at law firms — marketing, administration, IT, HR, finance, etc. – from director to chief. According to Korn/Ferry’s Michael DeCosta:

Moving from a director to chief title typically suggests a move, albeit subtle, from a tactical to a more strategic approach to a function — and almost always, with the title change comes increased responsibilities. In some circumstances, the title is irrelevant in terms of scope of duties. Either way, one can anticipate expectations around your performance and contribution to notch up with the new title.

Yet, the “value” of the title is being weakened by the new trend of presenting C-level titles to tactical, non-strategic employees in law firms, as DeCosta references in his article: chief receptionist officer, chief of business continuity, chief of client excellence and chief ambassador.

These roles are important in the firm, but they do not rise to the level of senior, strategic or executive.

In the flat business structure of law firms, titles, size and location of offices speak volumes to lawyers. A CMO with an internal office will not be perceived as highly, by the lawyers, as a director with a partner office and a view.

According to Wharton management professor Sarah Kaplan, a chief title should:

“signal the importance of that particular issue to the corporation. So you have a chief diversity officer because the company realizes that diversity is an important initiative. And the way to signal that is to create a C-level job to implement it.” In addition, “it might also be signaling that the job is more than just an operational one, that there is something about it that is strategic.”

The trouble is, when everyone has a title that evokes importance and strategy, how do you differentiate between those who really are important and strategic, versus those who are tactical and administrative? Where will you find a conference room table big enough for all the chiefs to gather? What will you call the chief of the chiefs?

He [Chris Matthews, Orrick’s newly appointed Chief Marketing Strategy and Business Development Officer] will lead our talented senior staff of Jolie Goldstein, Chief Client Relations Officer, John Hodder, Chief Marketing Officer, and Allan Whitescarver, Chief Communications Officer, and their teams in executing an integrated approach to supporting the firm and our partners.”