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| 22 minutes read

CMO Series EP44: Part 1 - Amanda Bruno and Debra Hare of Morgan Lewis on how to innovate for legal marketing and BD success

It’s often thought that law firms are traditionally slow to move and innovate. Legal BD and marketing professionals know that doesn’t have to be the case. The most successful firms are those that can balance long term thinking with agile innovation.

To talk about this, we welcome Amanda Bruno, Chief Business Development Officer and Debra Hare, Director of BD Coaching and Training, both at Morgan Lewis, to the CMO Series. In part one of the conversation, Amanda and Debra discuss how their unique experiences and approach to innovation ensures future BD success at the firm. 

Listen in as we explore:

  • Amanda and Debra’s journeys to their respective roles at Morgan Lewis and their current remits
  • The unique perspectives they each bring to the firm, and the specific experiences that add value to their roles 
  • Amanda’s responsibility for driving business development throughout the firm on a global scale and the enablers that help her do that
  • Training initiatives and programs that have been particularly successful


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series.

Ali: Welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast where we discuss all things business development and marketing. Considering today's episode it is often thought that law firms have traditionally been slow to move and innovate. That said, those in business development and marketing functions will know that to be untrue. What is true is that law firms are driven by precedent and must think long term. But top firms and those working to grow them are used to balancing that long term thinking with agile innovation. We're lucky that our guests today are among the industry's best at it. Today I welcome Amanda Bruno, Chief Business Development Officer at Morgan Lewis, and Debra Hare, Director of BD Coaching and Training, to discuss their approach to innovation and how they're innovating today whilst ensuring success in the future. Welcome, Amanda and Debra. 

Amanda: Thank you. Glad to be here. 

Ali: It's a pleasure to have you both on. And certainly today it's a slightly different approach to maybe how we've done some of the previous podcasts where it's typically the one individual. So it's a real honour to have both your expertise today, Amanda and Debra. So thanks for making the time. So the way that we're going to do this today is actually we're going to break it down to a few different parts just because there's so much rich content that we wanted to cover with you. And from those conversations we've had previously, there's a huge amount that we discussed. So I think probably to really start things off in terms of the first part around kind of that context and the bigger picture. What would be really great is to actually understand how you both arrived in your respective roles at Morgan Lewis. Maybe, Amanda, if you want to kick us off, and then we can hear from Debra as well. 

Amanda: Sure. Happy to. So I have been with Morgan Lewis since 2004. It's coming on 18 years now. I started off as a litigation associate in our Philadelphia office and I practised law for approximately ten years. And then I switched over to the business side of the firm and I had a couple of different roles before taking on my current position about four years ago. So same law firm but various different rules while I've been here. And it's been great. It's been a great 18 years.

Debra: In my case, Ali, I was asked by a colleague and friend who joined the BD team in September 2019 to apply for this current role. And she said, Debra, this was written for you. And so I went through the process at the end of 2019 and joined Morgan Lewis in February of 2020, right as the pandemic circumstances were changing, how we were going to go about training and coaching at Morgan Lewis. So it was very different in terms of what I was expecting. But my career in legal marketing started in 2003 and I had a separate career, which I can talk about later and how that helped me pivot into my current role. 

Ali: Yeah, it's really good to understand. And I think it's so interesting how within law firms and particularly those sort of BDM marketing areas, people are really starting to come from those different backgrounds, which clearly both of you have, and really they're quite unique career paths. So bringing those different backgrounds, perspectives and firms must have been of huge value. What would be really good to understand is actually can you point to anything specifically that adds value in those current roles that you kind of feel is really helping to elevate what you're doing at Morgan Lewis? 

Amanda: You know, for me, I think and I'd love to hear Debra’s thoughts on this as well. For me, I think the institutional knowledge that I bring, having been here for 18 years, I can bring a lot of institutional knowledge to our team and to the role in particular, and also my perspective in that I've been on both sides of the house, so to speak, meaning I've been a practising lawyer and I've been on the business side. So I have literally been in the shoes of the practising lawyers. You know, I know what they're trying to accomplish. I know what they're trying to sell. I know the pressure points that they're dealing with. So having that perspective, I think, is also really helpful. 

Debra: In addition to Amanda's institutional knowledge of the firm, which really helps drive a lot of our programs, I also think the benefit that she brings is understanding the client and really addressing client needs in a way that adds a lot of value. And how I take that into my role is that I rely on Amanda's understanding of our client platform and our BD platform to help them form different training programs and how I approach the one on one coaching that we do. In my case, where I draw a lot of inspiration, is my first career, which was doing business development for other professional services firms. I was the business development leader, going out and finding opportunities for new business and developing the relationships and forming those opportunities that eventually led to new work and new revenue. And then coupled with that, when I started in legal marketing, I participated in a training program conducted by Mary Kaczmarek, who's the President of Skillful Means Marketing and learning scientifically how to coach lawyers one on one in business development. And so taking my organic BD skills and background that I formed in my other career with the training I went through with Mary really helped position me to be effective and successful as a business development coach and trainer. 

Ali: Yeah, I can imagine that's really quite a unique position. Actually, listening to you both there, I think, if you don't mind me kind of using the term, it really shows what a great double act you are in terms of that institutional knowledge that Amanda has. You can then really start to bounce off of that with the experiences that you've had to implement. That coaching and that training, I think, actually would be really good to understand a little bit more. But from my perspective, but certainly for the listeners is actually if we could delve into a little bit around what each of your current roles entail at the moment, I think that's a really nice way to tee up in terms of what we're going to discuss for the rest of the pod. 

Debra: And this is, again, a testament to Amanda's vision in terms of what the firm needs. And she noticed or realised that there was a gap in having someone dedicated or having different options available for the lawyers to bring their business development skills to a higher level. And there are a lot of lawyers, so the opportunities are boundless. But when she identified the gap of having an internal business development trainer and coach, that's when this position evolved, in addition to working with outside consultants as well. And so my current role is twofold. I conduct many different BD focused training sessions for a variety of audiences, whether it's a different level of lawyer, new associates in the summer who are just learning about law firm life and highly successful equity partners and everywhere in between. I also conduct training, specifically practise groups or different offices or even different lawyer networks such as our Women's Lawyer Network or the Hispanic Latino Lawyer Network. And then I also couple that with dedicated one on one business development coaching, where I really start to understand the strengths of what the lawyer brings to the table and how they can successfully leverage those strengths to build new business. So it's a fantastic role. I love it. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to do what I love at Morgan Lewis. 

Ali: Yeah. I can imagine it's so unique being in that position to have sort of an internal coach within the firm and working state, whether it be with the associates through to the partners is such a fantastic position to be in. Amanda, it'd be great to hear a little bit more around your role as well. 

Amanda: Sure. Can I first just pick up on something that both you and Debra kind of commented on, Ali? 

Ali: Yeah, of course. 

Amanda: So you said and I completely agree with you that it's unique to have someone in Debra’s role inside a law firm. And I agree with that. And it was a risk and a chance that we took to make that argument to firm management that we should dedicate someone in this role, but it has really paid off. Tenfold. Debra came in and she said right before the pandemic hit, it was a challenging time to start a new law firm in a role where it's critically important to build trusting relationships with the lawyers. And she's done a fabulous job at that. We'll get into this later, but I just think it speaks volume to how successful she has been in this role that the demand for her services. The list is so long, it's just spread by word of mouth. And she's been so successful in what she's done that people are clamouring to get her help. But I totally agree with what you said that not a lot of firms have someone dedicated in that role, particularly three years ago, and it's really paid off for us.

Ali:  Amanda, can I actually just ask because I think it would be really interesting for anybody who is listening to this is actually how did you manage to present that to the sort of managing partners and that internal sort of, I guess, C suite within the firm that you wanted to have an internal coach? I'm sure there's plenty of people who would absolutely love to do that themselves. And it's not necessarily something they've been able to kind of get over the table, so to speak. 

Amanda: Yes. So much like a lot of our programs or new roles start, I started to see the demand myself. We were sending folks - lawyers - to outside training programs, and we had a lot of interest in that. I had a lot of lawyers coming to me directly to ask them for help on training and coaching, and I'm certainly able to do that, and I'm happy to do that. But I don't have the type of training that Debra has. That isn't my specialty. And then we saw that there was such demand that we then hired an outside consultant, but she could only work with about ten to twelve partners a year. I started to measure the demand, and then I started to measure the outcomes. What were the metrics? So this is the investment we're making in time and dollars, and this is the return we're getting. And I used that kind of business plan or argument, and I presented that to management. And I said, listen, in the last six to twelve months, there has been the demand for these services. Here's how much we've spent, and here's what the outcomes have been to show them that this was a worthwhile investment. And they also were part of the interviewing. This was really important to them. They were part of the interviewing, and they also had a ton of confidence in Debra.  And she proved really early on how successful she was. There was a lot of feedback from the partners that they found that this was really valuable. And when Debra got here, we started to measure the demand that she was getting and the outcome she was receiving so that we were able to prove that it was a worthwhile investment. So I think if you're trying to get anything off the ground, you know, lawyers, they want to see the data. As an industry, lawyers are typically very sceptical, and they want to kind of see the proof. So I have found that in order to be successful, you really have to make your case, much like a lawyer would prepare for a trial. You have to make your case. You've got to show that there's interest and that there's demand and that there's ROI. What is the return on the investment going to be? And you've got to think of all those things ahead of time. You've got to anticipate the questions that are going to be asked and the arguments that are going to be made against it. You got to think of how you're going to respond to those. And you have to think like an owner of the firm, too, because at the end of the day, we're a partnership, and this is all the partners' money. And so you want to make sure that the dollars are finite. So how do you want to spend them? And you want to make sure that it's something that's worthwhile investing in and that there will be a large return on that investment? 

Ali: Well, that's really good to understand. I guess that also nicely plays into understanding a little bit around what your current role involves. I know we slightly got sidetracked there, but such a fantastic answer and really good to understand. 

Amanda: Yeah. So I work with the chair and firm management to kind of understand what the firm is trying to accomplish from a business development perspective. And then I lead a team of professionals like Debra to drive business development globally across our 30 offices. So that's kind of a 30,000 level view of what I do. 

Ali: Thank you very much for that. And that's fantastic from our perspective to really kind of understand that context and the bigger picture of where both of you sit within the firm. And that actually nicely leads on to really delving into the executing of the innovation and therefore ensuring that long term success. And actually, you mentioned it there, Amanda, that you're responsible for driving business development throughout the firm, and that's on a global scale. How do you actually do that and kind of delving into that a little bit more? What are the enablers that allow you to do it? 

Amanda: Yeah. At Morgan Lewis, at least, we have a lot of different programs that we use to drive business development programs and organisational structures. So we are organised technically by practice groups, which many law firms are. So that's one way we drive business development. We also have industries. We have twelve different industry sectors. And the business development team also drives business development through the industries. Working directly with the industry team, leaders work with partners to identify business development priorities, prepare a strategic business development plan around those, and then drive it through the execution. And then, of course, which is critical to the success of all of our programs, measure it on the back end. And we have a lot of different programs at Morgan Lewis that we use to enable business development. We have something called our client alliance program. We have an organised alumni program, which we use, of course, to keep in touch with our alumni. But it also ends up being a really good business development driver as well for our preferred panel arrangements with our clients. We have a really organised and coordinated approach around that and how to ensure that we are maximising the business that we do with those clients. As I said, we do a partner business development program every year. Debra can talk more about that, but that's really aimed at high potential partners who have shown a natural propensity for business development. And so we have these various different programs at Morgan Lewis that we use, and we use the word that you use as enablers to drive business development around the firm. 

Ali: Sure. I found it really interesting when we were talking previously ahead of this call. Just how many programs that you have. You've mentioned a couple of them there. Debra shared a few of the sort of more detailed ones as well earlier and just sort of on a high level. But what would be great is if actually maybe you could tell us a little bit more about those programs. Maybe there's one or two that you're particularly proud of that you wanted to talk about. 

Amanda: Sure. I think one that comes to mind is our Client Alliance Program, and we call it CAP for Short. That's really our version of a key client program, and we have 39 clients in it right now. And that number will vacillate a little bit, but it sticks close to that number because we feel it's really important to keep it to a manageable number of clients. It's not about volum, it's about the quality of time and resources we can dedicate to those client teams. So we hand select the clients to be part of those programs. And there's a combination of factors that go into deciding whether a client will be part of the CAP or not. One, of course, is revenue, the amount of business that we do with the client. For the most part, the 39 clients that are part of the CAP are some of our largest accounts. And then we also look at the opportunities. So it might be a small account now, but for various different reasons. Perhaps they have a new general counsel or they're conflicted out of having the incumbent firm represent them and we have an opportunity. There are a variety of different factors that we take into consideration, but if we see that there's a big business development opportunity with the client, we might also put them into the CAP. And then we choose the fee earners or the timekeepers that do a lot of business with these clients and drive a lot of the relationships and we make that into an internal client team around the client. And then someone from my team, someone from the business development team is devoted to that CAP team, and they really get to know the client and the partners and the players internally at the client and the business really, really well so that they can dedicate quality time and provide quality advice to support that CAP. Kind of consistent and on brand with what I've been saying so far, we decided to measure this. This program has been around for seven or eight years now, and so it predates me. But what I did when I took it over, probably six years ago now, is I really focused on at the time, the direction it was going in was they were trying to put as many clients in as possible. It might have been up to 100. And I thought it was really important to kind of bring it back down and make it a smaller program so that we could really dedicate the time and resources we needed to make sure it was a quality program. And we were accomplishing what we were setting out to accomplish, which, of course, is to grow more business. Like I was saying on brand and on theme, with what I've been talking about so far, we decided to measure the impact that we were having when a client was placed into the CAP. And what we found is that on average, once a client is placed in the CAP, that account will grow on average, 15.5% faster than a firm client that's not in the CAP. We really attribute that to the extra collaboration and coordination and dedicated resources. Those client teams are meeting regularly, in some cases more than once a week, just to make sure that they're sharing information. And it's always amazing whenever I attend those meetings to just hear people kind of bouncing off one another. They all have different inroads to the client and they don't always get the opportunity to organically check in with each other because they're all so busy. So having this dedicated time for them to meet up, it's always amazing to me. There are always three or four or five opportunities, additional opportunities, that come up when they get together and they just talk and share information about the internal conversations that they're having with their separate contacts. And then the person from my team, what they're doing is they're taking those takeaways and those action items and they're making sure they happen. They're making sure we follow up because as we all know that the partners are super busy, their hair is on fire. And a lot of times they have to deal with the urgent or they've got to deal with the client thing that's in front of them. So the person on my team saying, hey, wait a minute. So and so was talking to X client and they said they needed help with this issue in the Middle East. Let me make sure I'm connecting A and B to so and so in our Dubai office so we can follow up on that. And so that's a program that we're really proud of at Morgan Lewis, and we continue to measure that and refine it and tweak it annually and sometimes more often. And one other thing that we do with that program is every year we measure collectively across the 39 client teams, as well as individually, team by team, how we can improve. Should we graduate a team? Either because they're doing this on their own, they're meeting regularly, they don't even really  need us, or because maybe the opportunity really isn't there. Maybe it was premature or in some cases because the client team just does not have the time to devote to making sure it's a success. So in those cases, we graduate those teams and we evaluate new teams to put into the cap. So that's been a really great program. We have a lot of internal buy in. The partners are really dedicated. They see the value.  And whenever we communicate to a client that they're part of it, the clients are really thrilled to be a part of it, too. So that in particular, I'm really proud of, I mean, I'm personally really proud of all of the programs that we do. I'm very passionate about all of them. I could use the rest of the podcast to talk about all of them, but I won't, I won't bore you. But if anyone wants to talk about any of them, I'd be happy for anyone to follow up with me. And then one other that we launched three years ago almost to the date, our firm’s been around next year will be 150 years. We've been around for 149 years now. And that's a lot of alumni to walk through the doors. And we never had a dedicated alumni program, which really surprised me. So three years ago, well, probably four years ago when I took over this role, I said we really need an alumni program. So I took a year to kind of do all the research and make the business case. And when management approved it, we recruited someone into our manager of alumni relations role, and we built a program and we launched it about three years ago. And it's been great in terms of the glue keeping those alumni connected to Morgan Lewis. And it's also been a great business development tool. So I'm really proud of that as well. 

Ali: Yeah. It's so clear to use the word that you said, just how passionate you are about all of these facts. You're able to share so much about the client alliance program, your current alumni program that you've just launched. And obviously the benefits they are having, and it's sort of no surprise because of the amount of people that must be involved with them, the collaboration that's happening. And ultimately, as you alluded to, ROI 15.5% growth for those clients is huge. And I'm sure something that a lot of people would aspire to. 

Amanda: Definitely. 

Ali: I'm sure there'll be many people following up with you after, Amanda, to talk through some of these programs that you're doing and learn a little bit more about them. I guess that kind of plays into actually bringing Debra into it when you start to consider the amount of people involved. And Debra, on that sort of training and coaching front, are there any initiatives or programs that you feel were successful or that you're particularly proud of where you added that value? 

Debra: Yes, Ali, there are two I'd like to cite for the audience and for you. The first one, in 2021, was the launch of a dedicated business development curriculum for one of the largest practice groups at the firm. And we called it a Business Development University. And we conducted monthly programs that were held live two times during the day of the program and then recorded for on demand listening. They were structured in a way where I would give a general introduction to the topic and the curriculum built on different topics. So we continually added to the foundation of good business development best practices. And then we had a partner join me, and I was able to ask the partner very direct questions about the topic and how they addressed the situation from a business development perspective. So largely the audience was associates, but there were partners that attended as well. It was open to everyone in that practice group. And so we launched it last year and this year in 2022, we now have BDU 2.0, and we conducted a survey to solicit feedback about topics and the structure. And we did make some modifications to it, but they actually asked for some more high level type of topics in this year's curriculum. So hopefully the foundation we built last year is allowing them to now move to more advanced business development topics and really ramp up their BD activities. 

Ali: Yeah, no doubt. I'm sure you're proud when they come in and say that they want even more elevated topics than what they've already been through. It's a nice bit of feedback to have.

Debra: Definitely. And it's fun because then I really start to see the progression of their growth when it comes to business development. And everything about business development takes a number of steps and a number of outreaches. As we say before, you see success. So I like to think the training program builds on that. And statistics show that those that attend any trading program. And I know I'm guilty of this. You go and you listen and you're excited about what you learn, and you go back to your desk and you fall back into your same routine. And only 17% of individuals actually change their behaviour when they go to training. So I'm fine with repeating conversations. And then maybe by the third or fourth time, it will strike them that this is important and they should listen and they should change their behaviour. The other program that I'm really excited about that is going into our third year is a dedicated BD training program for those individuals who have been tapped to become partners at the firm. And Amanda actually received word from firm leadership in the chair in 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic, that the two of us were supposed to build this program and then work with these new partners when having face to face meetings or any sort of normal business development activities Was going to be paramount to them becoming partners and we really had to pivot quickly to understand how they could do this. And so we started this program in May of 2020. We conducted training programs. We worked with them to craft their business plans. We helped them prep for virtual interviews with firm management Where normally they would be in front of a group of people conducting their interview in person and doing any sort of presentation virtually requires a different skill set. We recorded them so they could review how they looked, how they sounded, how their answers were. And then we help them throughout their first year with other business development training topics including the importance of cross selling or internal building internal connections at the firm, leveraging thought leadership for business development and so on. So in 2021, we went back at it again and it was just really gratifying to see these people learn about being successful partners and they've all been genuinely respected and added a lot of value to the partnership but also growing their business development skills. So we're getting ready to do it for the third time. And I think this year we'll be able to do things in person. My fingers are crossed so that will be fun. To actually see them in person and watch them grow. 

Ali: Certainly sounds like with that latest program, the partner development program, that you're probably driving a slightly higher stat than the 17% in terms of change of behaviour that you mentioned before. It clearly demonstrates just how much respect that these individuals have for yourself, Debra, and Amanda, as well. So that's brought part one of this fascinating conversation to a close. Join us on the next episode of the CMO series podcast for part two where we will discuss how to identify the programs worth investing in, how to track and measure those initiatives and the impact the pandemic had on implementing programs across the firm.


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