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| 19 minutes read

CMO Series EP42 - Sadie Baron of Reed Smith on equipping legal marketing functions to succeed in today's environment

Legal marketing functions have experienced rapid and significant changes in response to the global events of recent years, arguably the most transformative period in their history. 

This accelerated pace of change brings challenges and opportunities. The role of the CMO is to make sure that the team is ready to navigate those changes and make the most of the opportunities on offer. 

To discuss these changes and how marketing leaders can best equip their teams for success, we welcome Sadie Baron, Chief Marketing Officer at Reed Smith and President of the Legal Marketing Association, Europe, to the CMO Series.  

Connor and Sadie explore: 

  • The current legal marketing environment and how it compares with other points in Sadie’s legal marketing career
  • How well legal marketing teams are equipped to operate in the current environment
  • How to structure and resource your teams to be effective given the current opportunities & challenges
  • The red flags that suggest a function might not be totally equipped for the current environment
  • The search for talent and advice for CMOs trying to keep their teams together and fill empty vacancies
  • How well prepared individual marketers are for the dynamic, shifting market
  • How team members can close their own personal skills gaps to take advantage of the opportunities the current market offers
  • Initiatives and programs that are equipping the function as a whole
  • Advice for those legal professionals looking to equip their teams and people for success


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO series. 

Connor: Hi there. I'm Connor Kinnear, Chief Marketing Officer at Passle. And today we're going to be talking about equipping legal marketing functions to succeed in today's environment. So the world has experienced a number of seismic changes in recent years. The economy is changing, but marketing functions are changing, too. In fact, the marketing teams and individuals that are best prepared for the current market are likely those that are going to be the most successful. And the role of the CMO professional services firms is to make sure that the team and its people are ready to navigate those changes and make the most of the opportunities on offer. So today, to give her advice, we're delighted and very lucky to welcome Sadie Baron, Chief Marketing Officer at global law firm Reed Smith and also now the President of the Legal Market Association for Europe. Welcome, Sadie, and thanks for joining us. 

Sadie: Good morning and welcome, Connor. It's lovely to speak to you. 

Connor: Great stuff. Before we get going on the more serious stuff, I want to tell you about a date. Do you know the date 20 June 2019? Do you know what that is? 

Sadie: I don't, Connor, what is it? 

Connor: I looked it up, this is the first day we ever met in the Reed Smith office in London. I don't actually remember that off my head. I had to look it up on Google calendars. But that's when we first met you and we first started working with Reed Smith officially on the 15 November 2019. So we're almost three years into our journey together. Sadie, before I ask you about equipping legal marketing functions, we met a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas at the Legal Marketing Association of America's, annual conference. You're also now the President of LMA Europe. Tell us a bit about that and what you're doing around that. 

Sadie: Yeah. Thanks, Connor. So I'm delighted to have been asked to be European President. It came about because I was contacted by a lady who was involved in LMA, Jill Huse, and she was sort of trying to find out about the London and European market in terms of members, organisations and networks for professional development. And from that, we spawned a conversation with a few fellow CMOS of US orientated law firms. We kind of brainstormed how many people we knew. It worked out that actually we know an awful lot of people and quite quickly stood up a new region of Europe. We set ourselves a goal of having 150 members by the end of this year, 2022. I think we're approaching 250 already. We'd smash that target before the end of last year. And so that just proves to me that there's a real need in the market for what LMA can offer, which is different to some of the other really good networking organisations. Clearly, we offer networking, but actually what we really want to do is tap into the kind of knowledge fountain that LMA has. Their resources are endless. We're also really focused on mentorship and making sure, particularly reverse diverse mentoring, we think that's really important. And we want to focus on special interest groups, such as ESG or Thought Leadership plus also obviously networking and buddying opportunities at role level. So a group for below manager manager and above senior manager, director, etc. So that's what we're trying to do. We've got a really great educational program going as well. We'll be working with lots of partners. Hopefully Passle will be one of them, to kind of bring that knowledge and insight, but also that ability to share the pain that we all feel many days in a community which kind of really understands the job that you do. So that's why I got involved. And yeah, I'm loving being part of LMA, it's a fantastic organisation. 

Connor: Great. I think of our listeners just Google Europe LMA. They'll be able to find out more and we'll maybe put a link up to how they can register as well. Very exciting. So you're in Vegas, where we met the LMA. Then you were skiing last week. I think before that you've been in about three different continents, in five different time zones. Where does the energy come from? How do you do it all? 

Sadie: Well, it's a little harder to find these days as I'm a bit older than I was when I first started doing this sort of level of travel. My energy comes from people, though, Connor. That's where I find that I kind of reboot myself. So Vegas was fun, if a little crazy. It's my first time being in Vegas. I'd been to Dubai previous to that. Yes, taking a little bit of time off with the family, doing some skiing, but yeah, just getting out and about and being able to see people. I'm basically here this week and next, and then I'm off to the US again for a couple of weeks and my number one focus is connecting with my team. That's what I really want to do. I want to get around, see the new faces that I've never met who've joined us since the Pandemic and reconnect with the partners. That's a big part of my job, is just understanding the partner's needs, understanding their specialisms and thinking about how I can connect them into our huge network of attorneys across the world and clients. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to it, if slightly not looking forward to the jet lag. I have to admit that one. 

Connor: That's a hard one to get over, but I know what you mean. We had twelve people out from Pascal in Las Vegas and just the energy that gave everyone. Since I've come back, all the team have been saying just great. I suppose after two years of not hanging out with your colleagues, just great to get out and do it in person. So listen, Sadie, let's move on and we'll ask you. I've got a few questions written down, but hopefully we can just chat through it all here. The first question really was looking at we're in this time of change for so many different reasons, and I'm sure you've seen so much in your career, your own career and professional services through average PwC and not Reed Smith. How do you see the current legal marketing environment and how does it compare maybe with other points in your own legal marketing career? 

Sadie: Well, right now I think we are in another period of extreme change, but this change comes with a speed factor that we perhaps haven't had before. The Pandemic, I think, has brought around lots of good changes, particularly around, for example, how we used to have some challenge that the partners needed to have their BD or communications and marketing specialist kind of virtually outside their office. Well, that's gone and that's never coming back. But equally, it brought about its own change and challenge in that we had to pivot and move to a digital virtual environment, whether that's events or communications. And I think that part of our marketing function is still evolving. So from my perspective, that's another area that's kind of focused on change, continuing to look at new ways, new technologies. A great example of that is hybrid events. How they're working, are they working? Do people want to come back? We've just talked about that piece around energy. I've yet to really experience a hybrid event that I have felt has been really positive, but I think it's going to come. So I think some of that is there. But I think the other thing that I've observed is what I call that kind of Warp factor speed thing that's going on with the change still and how we're not particularly well structured, in my view, as an industry, generalisation here, but as an industry to cope with those changes that are being thrown at us. So I think some more focus is needed around that and how you restructure and how you change and set yourself up for success in the future. 

Connor: Okay. I love that piece around pivoting to this digital environment and getting you this hybrid, whether it's events or whatever it might be. One of our founders, Tom Elgar, often talks about the digital atrium. So professional services firms have always been so good at having a beautiful office with the big atrium and the kind of wow factor when you walk in. But if your clients aren't coming to your office, your prospects aren't coming to your office as much, how do you do that digitally? How do you have this digital atrium online that kind of wows those same people. So marketers and other firms, they might think that Reed Smith has unlimited resources and the same with other big international firms like yourself. But when we've spoken before, you talk with all these things changing, with Brexit, with what's going on at the moment in Ukraine, with Covid, and all these things that pop up. You've talked to me before about having to beg, borrow and steal people from their day jobs to react to the market. So how are you structuring and resourcing your teams to be effective given the current opportunities and challenges? 

Sadie: Yeah, look, you're right. I have had to beg, borrow and steal. And I think the latest prices between Russia and Ukraine is a great example where clients were desperate for advice overnight. And so we scrambled to put up a sort of sanctions investigations practice like many other great law firms did. And to do that, I had to ask people to stop doing their day job and pivot and move. That's not sustainable in my view. So I am literally kicking off just this week a process of having a look at how we are aligned to what we call diagonals, which means they are cross practice, cross industry, and sometimes cross geography. And so I've got to think about how I structure that, and then I need to think about how I take those diagonals to market. And again, we're back to the sort of speed factor here in a really agile way. So one of the things that I'm actually thinking about is actually putting an agile marketing function into the team. And that would be, I think if you're being purist on this, you'd call them a squad. It comes from software development, probably not likely to call them a squad within the law firm. I'm not sure how that would go over. But you get the concept here, which is a group of people who have a range of skills, whether that's content creation, subject matter, expertise - so pulling on the BDRs, through to campaigns. So how are you going to take this to market? What's the marketing campaign? What's the hook? Digital exposure through all our channels, and then most importantly, client engagement, understanding the clients that really need this, how are we going to get it to them? And how are we going to follow up with them to make sure that it's resonated? How do we learn? How do we adapt? How do we change again? And then how do we go again? Because there's kind of never one sort of size fits all on this. I think it's a one size fits one approach that you need. So that, I think, is  a challenge for all CMOS at the moment. How do we create this sort of agileness within our functions whilst also keeping the lights on and delivering the day to day work? 

Connor: Yeah, it's really interesting because actually you usually think of law firm where they have the perception of being these slow, cumbersome machines, who don't like change. But what's really interesting, as you said, the clients were desperate for advice on what was going on, and you guys were timely and reactive and you were speedy and agile and I suppose that’s why law firms are so successful, because you're basically saying the clients need this advice, and you guys reacted to that. But I think what you're just saying is that to take people off the day job is not very good because that's got to keep going as well. But I think there's a lot of positive things about law firms that you are actually able to do that. 

Sadie: Absolutely. And I think just to build on that as well, I think the absolute key to all of this as well as data. I think we need to understand the metrics of how that campaign or how that response worked in order to learn from it to then adapt and improve going forward. So I think the piece I didn't mention previously, but a really key role within this agile marketing function would be that data analytics piece. 

Connor: That's brilliant, Sadie. So, if you were assessing marketing teams in other firms, you’re coming in as an advisor or consultant, what do you think would be the red flags that suggest the function might not be totally equipped for the current environment and these constant changes? 

Sadie: So I would have a look at their data again, I would want to understand how they were using it. I'd look at the technology platforms because I think just in the era that we're in, technology is absolutely key, and I want to understand their structure. Are they very siloed? Do they only react to kind of partner need? Because that's really not what we're here to do. As functions, we are supposed to be Proactive. We are supposed to be spotting the opportunities and helping partners take them to their clients. How do we Horizon scan for those clients? I'd like to think about the sort of P&L of the firm that I was looking at as well. Read Smith has a really interesting P&L, which took me a little while to get my head round, if I'm honest, in that we have industry groups embedded within our two departments. We're like most firms, 50% litigation, 50% transactional. But those industry groups are entirely unique in that they have their own P&L. We don't double count. So if you are an energy and natural resources lawyer, you sit on the P&L of ENR. But within that group, which sits under the transactional side of our business, are litigators. So actually why that works and why it works really well from a marketing perspective is it means we can get far deeper on understanding the needs of our clients because all our attorneys are constantly focused on the needs of clients within that space. So from my perspective, I think being able to really drill down, really horizon scan, because if you're working for client X, you're pretty certain that clients Z-W-Q and A and B have also got those issues as well. It means cross selling should be an easier function. And also you can listen to your clients more effectively because you are talking their language. So they would be sort of red flags to me. Are you really aligned to the needs of the clients, possibly by industry, or are you still perhaps in this old way of work thinking, which is practice? And also how are you using your data and your technology to go to market? 

Connor: Yeah, that's great. And we're lucky that we work with lots of different law firms and consultancies. And I think that point is really interesting about not just reacting to partner needs because I've seen new marketers that's the way they do it is whatever the partner wants, they do it. So that point about being Proactive and adding real values is so important for marketing and business development functions. There's also a team structure side of this conversation, but possibly even more important is the people's side and getting the right talent. That's a huge challenge at the moment. When we talk recently, you've talked about half your job seems to be kind of hiring people and things, and we could probably do a whole podcast on that sometime and maybe you'll come back and do it with this, but just briefly at a really high level. What's your advice to marketing leaders and other CMOS who are trying to keep their teams together and fill those empty spaces? 

Sadie: So I think a few things spring to mind for me. One is you need to be really listening and watching your team. It's not always what they say, it's what they don't say. In my view. Money is an issue. We know that the market has exploded for legal marketing talent almost across the globe, but it's not the only factor. And I think I've certainly experienced ways of being able to motivate and hang on to talent by thinking about opportunities for team members, whether that's for secondments. So I've got a gap at the moment in Singapore, we've hired somebody, but some of my more junior members of the team are going out and doing two week stints out there because it gives them an opportunity to experience a new culture, but it also gives them a great opportunity to work with the partners out there and to build a relationship. So anything you can do like that, I think is really important. In the past, I've also had team members follow their passion, and as long as it's got a business connection to it, so I would have struggled if someone said, I want to learn how to Bake better cupcakes, I would have struggled to understand how that would fit. But for me, if somebody came to me and said, look, I know it's not really in our wheelhouse, but I'm really interested in change management. And there's a course. Can I do it? Absolutely. And funnily enough, change management actually is in our wheelhouse. It's a huge part of internal communications within the function so she's been able to bring that skills to bear. I think follow your passions, keep an eye on your team, really listen to them. Think about how you can offer sort of lateral moves, how you can give people the chance to try other things. And finally, I am a great fan of bringing people in who are outside our industry. I think they're fresh, commercial thinking often works. The only cautionary tale I give around that is making sure you think that that new person will have the resilience to work in a partnership because it is so different if they've never had that, find ways of sort of trying to stress test how you think they'll cope in a less corporate structure. 

Connor: Do you think there's not enough hiring from outside the legal industry? 

Sadie: I think that, yes, there is a lack of it. Certainly at a senior level. It's quite rare that you see a kind of senior manager or above potentially coming in from outside industry. I have an understanding of why that is. You need to be able to walk the talk with the partners and therefore having an understanding of law - really important, but you can train it. When I joined Eversheds in ‘99, I didn't even understand why I was joining. I had a conversation with my then boss about three weeks in, and I'd come from the insurance industry and I said, I've just worked out that Eversheds is a bit like the Norwich Union of the legal world, isn't it? And he just looks at me as if I got three heads and said, yeah. And I was like, oh, that's really interesting. And here I am, many years later, CMO. 

Connor: I think that's definitely the challenge. I say you knew from working with senior marketeers that one person from one of the big UK law firms once said to me, It's so hard to do this job because it's like a big oil tanker with like 600 steering wheels and one partner will steer it that way. And you'll say, Why are you steering it to the left? That person steering it to the right? I don't like them much. So it's difficult to manage. So if you're coming from outside, I think you're right. They really have to get their head around the legal side really quickly. We're close to finishing up, so just a couple more things. I know we're kind of running out of time. For other CMOs out there, are there any specific initiatives or programs you are running to try and equip your function as a whole or anything you want to add to what you were saying a minute ago? 

Sadie: Yeah, I think we talked a little bit about metrics and data and the importance of it, and we've mentioned about how you demonstrate you add value to the business. And that's really tough. Sometimes we probably don't get credited for that piece of work coming in, even though we led on the RFP, and then we followed and tracked the client and we invited them to 36,000 events and all the rest of it, and suddenly in pops some work. It's really hard to draw a line between that initial approach and support marketing gave, to the winning of work, because quite rightly, the partners have been developing those one to one relationships throughout the route. But I do think and something I'm really focused on right now is producing a scorecard that you benchmark yourself against as a function. Now, I have one of those. I've had one now for three years. We have a whole set of metrics within it. We try to capture anything we can. And the marketing version is about 17 or 18 pages long. But from that I create an executive summary scorecard, which goes up to the board senior management team and the global leadership team. And I get an opportunity to present on that in a few weeks time. And that, I think, is really important because you can draw a narrative about the value you are genuinely bringing to the firm. And it cannot be argued with because it's based in fact, it's not those anecdotal pieces. So I think to any CMO out there that's struggling with this, A, there is a genuine offer. Give me a call and I'll talk you through what we've done because it's taken a huge amount of work to do it. But, secondly, do genuinely think about what data you have and what you can support and align it to your firm strategy, which is what we do. And that strategy is constantly evolving. So we're constantly pivoting a little bit to kind of pull out the story around the value that we're bringing. And the other thing I've touched on previously as well is this horizon scanning for your clients. How can you help them anticipate need? How can you make your clients look great within their business? What can you do from a marketing and business development function that gives them something for them to take to their own boards and say, we think we need to be worried about this, or we need to be considering how we're going to return to work and the issues of workplace displacement and the tax issues around it. And here's a really easy to understand guide. Those type of things I think are gold dust to your clients. 

Connor: That's really interesting. Just that point. Make those jobs easier for your clients, make it easier to make them look good internally. You can do that. Then you're kind of doing your job. 

Sadie: Yeah, absolutely. 

Connor: So finally, Sadie, we always close our podcast with this one question. What will be your one piece of advice for those legal professionals looking to equip their teams and people for success? 

Sadie: I'm not sure I got one piece, Connor, but a few things. Learn that it’s never personal…

Connor: I had a feeling you were going to say that. 

Sadie: Yeah. Learn that it's never personal any feedback, positive or negative, I think that you have to have a certain amount of resilience. So build resilience in your team, believe in your team, listen to your team and never just take the first piece of information you're given because there's always shades of grey in any piece of feedback. So I think that's one thing. Secondly, learn that silence is golden. Love it, embrace it. Don't worry if you're not hearing too much about your team, I think that's really important and it is a challenge as we think about the sort of different needs of the five generations of workforce that we have within our teams to this day. So, sort of pivot as well as a leader in your function, and I think finally lead by example, make sure your team aren't getting burnt out, make sure you're not getting burnt out and try to always be your most authentic self.

Connor: Great stuff. Sadie, it's been amazing having you. Thank you so much for your time and for joining us and have a wonderful weekend. 

Sadie: You're very, very welcome.


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