The skills and capabilities that Business Development training delivers are critical to the success of lawyers and their firms, yet every firm takes a slightly different approach to coaching.
To talk about some of the assumptions that are potentially holding firms back, Cam Dobinson is lucky to welcome Jennifer Griffin Scotton, Director of Marketing and BD at Brooks Pierce, to the CMO Series.
Cam and Jennifer discuss:
- The assumptions some firms make in their approach to building BD capabilities and the benefit of starting lawyers earlier on BD training programs
- The impact of starting that training & skills development too late
- How the industry is addressing the problem
- How to identify and assist the lawyers that need BD support
- The assumption that new lawyers understand the economics, personalities and processes that keep a law firm running
- Solutions to help distribute the business knowledge that lawyers need
- Advice for those looking to improve their firm's approach to BD skills development
Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series
Cam: Hello and welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast. I'm Cam Dobinson. Today we are discussing how to challenge assumptions around your firm’s BD capabilities. Every firm has a slightly different approach to business development training, yet the skills and capabilities that training delivers are so key to the success of lawyers and firms. To talk about some of the assumptions that are potentially holding your firm back, I'm delighted to welcome Jennifer Griffin Scotton, Director of Marketing and BD at Brooks Pierce, to the podcast. Jennifer, welcome.
Jennifer: Thank you so much, Cam. I'm delighted to be here.
Cam: No, we're really excited, Jennifer, to start us off, you've worked in a number of interesting roles across different firms. Could you give us a little bit of your background on what you've been up to for our listeners?
Jennifer: Sure. I've been in legal marketing for more than 15 years now, and in the marketing industry for 17. I actually started out as a marketing coordinator for a B2C law firm and worked my way up through the ranks in B2B law firms like Williams Mullen and Smith Anderson. I've pretty much handled every kind of task that one can handle in the legal marketing realm, which is nice because it really keeps things interesting. And like you said, I now serve as the director of Marketing and Business Development for Brooks Pierce, which is a full service business law firm with more than 100 lawyers across the state of North Carolina. And we're actually celebrating the firm's 125th anniversary this year. In my role for Brooks Pierce, I oversee all of our strategic client development efforts, whether that's focusing on client experience, brand visibility and content marketing, or other fun projects like a go to market plan for a new service line. But my favorite part of my job is working with our lawyers, both partners and associates individually, on coaching them to craft practical business plans which deliver value for clients.
Cam: Amazing. That's really interesting. And congrats on the 125th anniversary today, we're going to be talking about some of the assumptions firms make in their approach to building BD capabilities and plans. When we talked before the podcast, you mentioned that you thought firms could benefit from starting their lawyers earlier on BD training programs. When do you feel the ideal time to start and how did you come to that conclusion? Was it from an experience or how did you come to that conclusion?
Jennifer: In my experience, the best start time to start business development training is ideally as early as possible in a lawyer's career. And over the years that I've spent in law firms, I've come to realize that while every lawyer and every law firm is different and there are senior level partners that are huge supporters of marketing and business development, there are also naysayers everywhere. But I've found that to be much less the case with the lawyers who are just starting out in their careers. And I found new associates to not only be receptive, but they rather kind of crave that business development training and are so grateful to be invested in when marketing professionals spend time coaching them. You mention assumptions, Cam, and there's often the assumption that new lawyers are sort of observing senior level partners and aware of everything that they've done to become successful. So both in becoming a good lawyer and in becoming a skilled business developer. And that may have been true in law firms 40 years ago when everybody's office was in the same building and the junior level associates were spending a lot of time with senior level partners, but especially now in post pandemic, it's just a different society. So the assumption is that those new lawyers are observing the senior level partners and that's just not true. Those junior lawyers, I do believe, try to soak up as much as they can in respect to what the senior partners are doing to be successful. But with the pandemic happening and post pandemic and people sort of just now coming back into offices and things like that, it's just a different time and you can't expect to just be a good lawyer and the work will come your way like things used to be. Legal practitioners have to be really intentional about learning those skills and building those skills, especially if it doesn't feel natural to do business development. And I think the new generation of lawyers are being taught in law school these days that to be successful in private practice, you need to work on both the soft skills and the legal skills pretty much right out of the gate, which is contrary to what earlier generations experienced. Seems like more and more law firms are realizing the value in business development, coaching and training. However, there is a little bit of a tendency to focus those resources on partners with the thinking that lawyers just become good lawyers first and then focus on the soft skills - that they won't need those until later in their career to build their clientele. For those of us in legal services and legal marketing, it benefits us and our lawyers individually to incorporate the skills specific to marketing and business development much earlier in their careers. And I'm a huge proponent of working on those skills while in law school and at the latest may be as a new associate, because even before a lawyer is bringing in clients at a law firm or working with clients as an inside counsel, they still have clients, so to speak. It's just a different set of people. So while they're in school, their potential clients that they need to be marketing to are their law firms or companies they want to join. And while they're that first year associate, they need to be marketing to the partners at their firm that can provide them the work that they want and the matters that they want to work on, to take their career to where they want it to be. So building those skills from the outset is really going to help with being the architect of your own destiny.
Cam: If you're a newer lawyer, you mentioned that it's crucial to get the business development training in as early as possible, even right the way back to law school. Whereas traditionally some firms have focused on that when lawyers reach partner level, what do you think the impact is of starting that training and those skills on business development too late?
Jennifer: Yes. With the mentality that lawyers don't focus on business development training and skills until they're closer to partnership, it's a little bit of a double edged sword because when it's time for them to make partner, business development capability is always something that's in the mix of things that are considered for partnership or even worse, if it isn't considered new partners can find them themselves in the situation like, okay, you're a partner now, so you eat what you catch, which sets them up for failure from the outset because they haven't necessarily been provided with the training or real world opportunity to hone the skills needed to be successful with business development. So many folks that start to incorporate business development into their practice later in the game experience the feeling of, OK, I need to set aside time to do my business development this week, and it becomes sort of this huge mental hurdle that they have to overcome. Whereas those who have been working on it from the beginning of their careers often find that it's second nature to them and that business development oriented tasks are things that are incorporated into their daily lives rather than this huge insurmountable task that is something that they have to check off the list every week to make sure that they can realize some sort of success with their business development.
Cam: And just going back to that mental hurdle that you addressed, what, if anything, are you seeing in the industry with regards to how that problem can be solved? How can that problem be addressed?
Jennifer: Many of my colleagues in the industry and this is true for me as well, like to start addressing this when we first meet with our new lawyers, both through business development training during summer associate program and then also during the onboarding process as new lawyers join the firm. So one of the many benefits of a midsized firm like Brooks Pierce is that I can meet individually with every new lawyer who joins the firm. And then in that onboarding meeting, I kind of get a sense for their practice, their personality, their interests and their aptitude for business development. And if they show real interest in business development, I offer them one-on-one coaching on a monthly basis. And not only does this help them with the soft skills they need for business development, but it can help them figure out the lay of the land with regards to how a firm runs versus a firm they may have worked at previously because all firms have a different leadership structure. And sometimes there's an assumption that newer lawyers can learn by watching. Like I said earlier, unfortunately just not the case. So this individualized coaching helps them get up to speed much more quickly and ultimately realize more long term success, which helps with the firm's retention overall. As the marketing professional in this situation, I have been really appreciative of the relationships I've developed with my lawyers through individual coaching. If they're open to the process, you really get to know somebody on a more authentic level and build a greater level of trust when you work with them like this. And I'm helping them understand more about business development, but also the firm structure, how to navigate internal and external challenges and find a greater sense of belonging and achievement. Overall, I find a much greater sense of fulfillment in working relationships at my firm when I'm coaching my lawyers like this, and I can help the firm find greater success by being a resource in this manner as well.
Cam: You've mentioned there that those individual relationships you've been able to build a key for the success of your lawyers when it comes to business development. And something we spoke about in the discussion we had before this call was that it's unlikely for lawyers to reach out or ask for help if they wanted help building that book of business. Number one, do you think those relationships you've been able to build has helped that? And I guess the second part of that. Why do you think it is that the lawyers can be so reluctant to reach out in that regard?
Jennifer: I think it's definitely helped. The more someone trusts you, the more likely they are going to be to take your advice and execute on the plans that the marketing professional has helped them build. But also sometimes lawyers just don't know where to go to ask for help, or they might feel uncomfortable asking for help. Perhaps they think that admission of needing or wanting business development assistance makes them appear as though they don't know something they perceive the firm thinks they should already know how to do. And often they don't understand what the client development team does for the firm. So they don't really understand how the firm's marketing and business development team can help their practice and their overall success at the firm. And like I said, it often takes a couple of years to get the full lay of the land at a new firm when you're just coming to that firm to figure out the personalities to the firm and to find your champion. Even as a lawyer. As marketing professionals, we always look for our Champions internally, and lawyers should be doing the same thing. All the coaching that my firm does is customized to the specific lawyer and their strengths so that we can help address any pain points, whether those are specific soft skills for business development or seeking out certain kinds of legal experience at the firm to get their practice to where they want it to be in the future. We're really investing in their long term success overall.
Cam: I really like the idea of not only you identifying your Champions within the firm, but also the lawyers doing that themselves. If you can't depend on lawyers to reach out, how can you identify and assist those lawyers that want or perhaps need a little bit of help in that regard?
Jennifer: That is a really good question. And some firms analyze hours and billables and collections to find someone who may be struggling with business development or who might wish to have some more help with business development. Our firm focus is a bit less on those metrics, and I tend to work with those who are open to coaching, and this is key, willing to execute on their plans. So if my development sees somebody who appears to have an aptitude and a willingness to engage in business development, we run with that. The old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink continues to be true. So it can be really frustrating if you're trying to push someone to build skills they don't want to build or to be an accountability partner for someone to achieve goals that they aren't driven to realize. And I've learned over my years and firms that, like I said, I'm much happier and much more fulfilled in my career if I invest in those who want to invest in their own success with those who want to invest in their own success.
Cam: And the final assumption that we spoke about before this call was on the business of law and how well newer lawyers understand the economics, personalities, processes that keep a law firm running. How well do you feel like the trainees and sort of new wave of junior lawyers understand those factors?
Jennifer: I know I'm going to sound like a lawyer when I say this, but it depends. We are fortunate to have a fantastic recruiting team, and we also have a great summer associate program, as is true for many firms in our industry. But those programs are really key to giving a good foundation to understanding how to be successful in any firm and really the key to helping lawyers to be successful in their career with your particular firm. And I guess that individualized approach you spoke to earlier can be a key retention factor when it comes to those summer programs.
Cam: Jennifer, we spoke to another CMO recently, and she ran a law firm Economics 101 course at her firm. What have you seen work well in terms of distributing the business knowledge lawyers need to help the firm?
Jennifer: Yeah, that is such a fantastic idea, Cam, and one that I've seen more firms embracing, especially since it's not something that they teach in law school. Generally, our firm has a dedicated associate's committee that oversees training for our junior level lawyers and they've developed a custom curriculum focused on the business of law. My team and I usually teach a course at each one of those training sessions quarterly or annually. However, those are structured and then additionally, one of the benefits of having that customized coaching program is that we can help individual lawyers address these firm level mechanics in a way that most resonates with and benefits their long term development.
Cam: And finally, Jennifer, we always close the podcast with this question. You've got one piece of advice, one key takeaway for those looking to improve their firm's approach to BD skills and development, what would that one key takeaway be?
Jennifer: It's something that you actually pointed out earlier Cam, and that's find your Champions work with the willing at the outset. If that means associates first run with it. Once you've got proof of concept, it's going to be so much easier to get the buy-in of others at the firm and with persistence you can steer that barge and become a positive change agent.
Cam: Amazing. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us as a really insightful session. So there's a lot to take away. So thank you so much and yeah, I look forward to speaking to you soon.
Jennifer: Sounds great. Thank you so much, Cam..