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| 27 minutes read

CMO Series EP47 - Kate Pearch of Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP on being an agent for change as a legal Marketing & BD professional

Law firms are notoriously governed by precedent and what has come before. So how do you approach managing multiple different stakeholders and voices involved in making change? 

Marketing and BD professionals are, in fact, uniquely positioned to drive change and implement new initiatives that lawyers are often too busy to undertake. 

Someone experienced in effecting change is Kate Pearch, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP.

Ali Bone is lucky to have Kate on the CMO Series to discuss her approach to developing effective programs that have driven change across the firm and the learning she has gained along the way.

Kate and Ali explore:

  • Kate’s journey to CMO and the moment she realised she could drive change as a legal marketer
  • The role of the CMO in effecting change and how to balance change-making projects and business as usual functions within the firm
  • The long-term mindset required for change-making and the processes required for that
  • The programs that stand out as having been executed really well and impacted the firm
  • The programs that held potential but never progressed as far as they should have and the learning taken from those experiences
  • How to approach managing the multiple stakeholders and voices involved in making change
  • Advice to other aspiring marketers trying to build their own skills and lead change within their firm


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series

Ali: So welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast where we discuss all things business development and marketing. The nature of law and the legal industry means that law firms are, and will always be, hugely influenced by precedent. Modern challenges and modern competition has seen firms understand the need to change and the advantages of being the firm's set the precedent for innovation. At the heart of that change, many firms are marketing and BD teams more aware of the commercial realities than their colleagues with legal backgrounds. Marketers and BD professionals have the opportunity to become drivers of success and change in their firms. You've all heard my dulcet tones before, but today we're really lucky to welcome someone who is really setting the standard for how marketing and BD professionals can drive change in their firm. Welcome to the CMO Series, Kate Pearch, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Morris, Manning and Martin. Kate, welcome.

Kate: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me today.

Ali: No, pleasure. We're really excited to have you on and obviously discuss what we're going to chat about today. And certainly from that perspective, it sounds like obviously, just speaking off air, you just come back from your partner's retreat, and I'm sure you're just brimming with lots of exciting ideas of some of those priorities that you're willing to input in the coming weeks. I'm so excited. It was a great retreat. It was great to have everyone back together again. It's really been a long time. You get so much energy being in the same room together. Yeah, exactly. It's fantastic, that energy giving and just kind of bouncing ideas off of each other and really understanding kind of where you want to take things. And that's why I'm super excited about the conversation that we're about to launch into. And actually, I think just to set the theme for our listeners and give some context to the topic, what is your journey to being CMO been? And when was it on that journey that you realised that you could and should be driving change as a legal marketer?

Kate: Well, I'm fortunate that when I discovered legal marketing, I was hired by a firm where I had a lot of opportunity for growth. And I think being given that chance maybe gave me the confidence to take some of those risks. I started as a marketing coordinator and worked my way up to manager and then director with two different titles, and finally CMO about twelve years later. And I've been the CMO for about five years now. When I was hired, I was like the third person on the marketing team. It was tiny, and we really didn't have a lot of definition for what we did, and we've grown since then. We have nine members on the team we’re hiring a tenth, it’s very exciting. And when I look back, kind of how things have changed back then. A lot of the law firm leaders didn't really know what to ask us to do or even who to ask to help them with certain projects. And I honestly saw that as an opportunity. So I volunteered for as many off the wall projects as I could. It may have not been a traditional marketing function, but I saw it as an opportunity to get to know more people in the firm, more firm leaders, and that really gave me broad exposure to the firm, to its operations, and I was able to apply that to my role as I continued to work my way up. And I think the first time I realised that I could drive change was about five or six years into my career, and we at the time had a female managing partner, and she wanted to start a Women's Initiative. They didn't know where to start, so they went to marketing, and I volunteered to help. And through that project, I got fantastic access to her and to the other senior women of our firm. It was really focused on the women partners at the time, and through that opportunity, I was able to learn about their practices, but also their challenges. What did they face in their career along their way? What was really driving them crazy right now? What were the opportunities between these practices? The women at the time were very spread out between the practices at our firm. So it gave me a chance to work with everyone at one time, which I had never had before, and it was a great opportunity. So I tried to help identify opportunities for them to collaborate together, to go after new business together, to train the women associates, to make sure they had a clear path to partnership. So it gave me a really big picture view of what was going on with the women at our firm, which I was then able to scale to the firm as a broader whole. We were able to set some goals for the Women's Initiative during our first year, and they were five year goals, and we surpassed them in the first two years. And I think at that moment, I thought, okay, wow, we really are positioned here as legal marketers to help drive change, that the partners don't have time to deal with, or maybe they don't even know how to start. And I think if we're willing to take the time and the risk and raise our hand, we can really own something.

Ali: That's absolutely amazing. What an amazing opportunity to have been able to ultimately be seen as more of a strategic advisor throughout those sort of twelve years that you've had. And as you say, it's a complete mindset shift from maybe what you might typically think of you're doing within marketing. And I guess taking that forward, it'd be really good to understand how much you think the role of the CMO should be about driving change. And when you consider that, how do you think CMOS can balance change making projects whilst also maintaining some of those business-as-usual functions within the firm that obviously fall upon your plate as well.

Kate: Sure. And it's definitely a delicate balance. But I think as the head of marketing, whether you're a CMO or you're a director where you have some influence, you're really in a unique position to help drive that change. Our roles are to work with all of the Department leaders. So you're working with the CIO, the CFO heads of recruiting and HR, and also all of the practice leaders, and you're working with them on a regular basis. And because of that positioning within the firm, we have, like this 360 degree view of what's going on in the firm, and not many people have that. I think law firms can just naturally be more siloed within the different practices departments, and it's because we are working across the firm. I think we can help see things that others may not see in their day to day work. And we know the partners and the associates, we know their clients, we know what their areas of expertise are, and we can identify where all of those pieces can come together to help grow the firm. And I learned early on even identifying maybe one or two areas for improvement can have a real impact on the bottom line. Just 1% growth can add several million to the bottom line of your form. And when you see that, you really can see that incremental change can be very effective, and it is very hard to carve out time for those kinds of projects. There are so many things thrown at our plate, and it's definitely something that I struggle with as well, but I think it's something I've gotten better at. And I want to share one kind of piece of advice that a woman gave me a few years ago. She's a former CEO of a very large company. And she said, Kate only do the projects that only you can do. By that she meant delegate the things that don't require my skill set or my expertise. And because I did spend the majority of my career in one place, it was very hard for me to let go of the things I had typically always done. But I've focused a lot on building a strong team around me, and I have. And so they're able to help and kind of handle the daily projects that our team needs to manage. And I want them to feel like they have ownership over what we're working on as well. It's giving them an opportunity for growth, and then it allows me to have a little more space to work on those projects, to think a little more creatively and strategically. And I think over the last several years, that's really made a difference in my career and in my own happiness in my career.

Ali: Yeah, I can imagine. I bet that piece of advice from that former CEO really kind of helped to shape that. You say when you've been somewhere for so long starting to work out, actually, where am I going to go with this? How can I start to delegate projects elsewhere when you've got the opportunity to sort of sit with the rest of the C suite, meet with them, talk with them, and then really focus on those big projects? It must be a really nice position to be in. Actually, I was just interested. I mean, how often do you actually sit down with the rest of the C suite and talk about that? I guess off the back of, for instance, a partner retreat you've just had big level conversations will be coming out of the back of that. How often will you make the time to sort of sit down with them versus again, that sort of business as usual work that you're doing within the marketing team.

Kate: Our C suite meets on a weekly basis, actually. We meet with the managing partners and then all the administrative heads, and that's really more just to talk about what we're working on, what we might be struggling with, and find those opportunities for connection. One example, it actually just came up at the partner retreat. We were talking about just kind of a client management issue we were having with one of our larger institutional clients. And I was speaking to the head of HR, and I said, I really think this practice needs a client relationship manager, a legal operations person, someone who can help manage all of the different matters that are going on and different moving pieces, make sure everything is staffed appropriately. The partner really doesn't have time to do that, in addition to all of his legal work. And she said, okay, we actually just hired one of those in another practice, and this is what they're doing. And I thought, okay, great. Now I have a solution that I can go to this partner who I know is struggling with this and give him an example of how this might affect his clients positively, help him grow this relationship. And I wouldn't have known about that probably for several months if I didn't have regular conversations with the head of HR. And I'm fortunate I sit on the management committee. And so each month I'm able to sit with all the firm's most senior leaders and hear what's on the firm's plate. What are we facing? What are our biggest issues, who's doing well, who may need some extra help? And then I can filter that information, but obviously apply it to what my team is working on. A practice is low in hours. Can we come up with a creative business development idea for them and help them implement it? Or if we know that another group is maybe really overwhelmed, maybe we lay off trying to push them on a project that we're working on. So I think that helps us be more effective and spend our time in the best places as well.

Ali: Thanks so much. It really just shows that holistic approach to it and how to pick up on what we're talking about earlier, that being a strategic advisor and actually working out where you can fit certain things into that ultimate big puzzle. And I know that from the conversations we're having previously that you really looked at everything with that kind of long term mindset. And it seems so critical for a law firm. But so many of those discussions on change don't tend to mention long term mindset. It's all about sort of the here and now. So why do you think that is, and what is your process for making sure that the long term is considered when it comes to those projects? And I guess in some ways that's a great example you just mentioned.

Kate: Yeah. I think as a law firm, we're selling people and we're selling expertise, not a product or a process. So while law firms have evolved and we are reliant on new technologies now for our business, when you look at the basic model, it really hasn't changed drastically in a long time. So all the change that has occurred, I think, has been slow, except for with the exception of COVID, which I think accelerated the change in so many ways. But if you look at the long term history of law firms, they haven't been quick to change. And then I also think part of it is just the unique model that is a law firm. If you think about corporations and big, successful businesses, they're very hierarchical. There are very few organisations where you're going to be answering to 100 executives or more. And because we do have so many people who have a true stake in the business, you have to be able to build consensus for anything large scale that you want to implement in a firm. And that's just naturally going to take time. And so when I'm approaching a big project or an idea, I try to identify a handful of partners that I think this change could really help those have a challenge that maybe we can help solve through this change. And I spend time with them. I use them as a sounding board to test ideas and processes and kind of narrow down what our big priorities are going to be. And I also like to ask them how we want things to look down the road. So if we are able to implement this change, how do we want the firm to look or how do we want their practice to look in maybe five years, how will this have changed things? And then I back out the goals from there. So kind of what's our long term objective, and then what are the steps we need to take to meet that objective? And I try to set annual goals, I think in a law firm anything faster than that can be a challenge. Certainly there are exceptions to that. But when you're talking about large scale projects, I think that works well. And I like to report back to them on an annual or biannual basis on kind of progress around that. But for myself and for my team, I'm looking at monthly goals. I'm doing smaller steps, but they don't need to be involved in all that. They don't need to know every little thing that we're doing because they don't have the time to deal with it. I let them know what their role is going to be, what I need from them, try to make sure I give them enough time to be able to build that into their own workload and then pull those pieces together and report back, as I said, kind of on an annual basis.

Ali: Yeah, of course. Feedback loop is so important, isn't it, in terms of when you start to implement the project, just being able to kind of give those check ins, as you say, sort of bimonthly or whatever it might be, it's them understanding, you know you've built this trust with them to actually go along with this project. And it's kind of sharing, actually, these are where we are along that path.

Kate: Absolutely. And I think you hit on a keyword right there, which is trust. And I think giving them an update, giving them an insight into what you're working on and the progress that you're making as a firm helps them trust you. They see, okay, Kate's really owning this. She's working on it. I can trust that she can run with this. And I've found that as much as I can, those black and white facts and figures can really help them see how we're moving, even if some things I know can be difficult to measure. But if you're trying to launch a new industry area for your firm, talk about how many new clients are we working with now in that space or how many attorneys even are coming to the meetings, how many articles or press mentions were you able to get in the trade publications? And they can see that progress, even if financially revenue wise, we haven't seen the impact yet. They can see that we're taking the steps to get there. And I think that helps them see progress. But it also helps you see progress. Helps me see progress. When you're feeling like maybe you're not really getting anywhere yet when you're talking about that long term, I think measuring yourself and seeing the improvements that you're making helps keep you going when you can get frustrated, too.

Ali: Sure. I think picking up on what you said there around the trust as well, I know before the podcast and some of the conversations we've had, you shared that actually when you're coming up through the marketing function and when you got to marketing director, you were actually given the opportunity to run with a project that you'd come up with yourself. And actually the partnership turned around to you, and I said, look, go run with it. We trust you to do it. Obviously, it turned out to be a success. So I'm sure that when you're bringing in these new initiatives, these new programs, people are really receptive to it because you actually have built that trust formally with them. And I think to that, it'd be really good to understand whether there were any particular programs that sort of stand out as having been executed particularly well and having had an impact on the firm for you.

Kate: Absolutely. I think the one you're talking about is our firm’s strategic plan. And that is certainly something I'm really proud of. As you mentioned, as I came up through the firm, I saw a lot of just I think they're typical law firm challenges, growing pains, things that I thought could be eased or made better through a more cohesive strategy. And I would bring it up, and I got shot down a lot, honestly. It took me about three years to convince people that we needed to do this. I think they had done it before I got there, and it hadn't gone well, and they were burned, and they thought that it was just a bunch of buzzwords and we don't really need it. But I knew that the firm was different and leadership was different, and I really believed that a clear strategy could help us achieve our growth goals. So I would go to our managing partner, and I would say, for instance, we were considering renovating or moving our offices, and there was a lot of debate around that. And I asked her, what was the strategy for new space? How would it support the firm's future? And she didn't have a clear answer. And so I would say, okay, here's an instance for a strategic plan would be really helpful. So finally I convinced her, and she presented an opportunity for me to present my case to a group of senior partners. And it was terrifying, honestly, to go before this influential group of partners and tell them that I thought we needed to do better. But thankfully, they agreed it was worth a shot. Let's give this a go. They were like, okay, we'll let you run with this. We'll let you try. And it really was a success. It brought the firm together in a lot of ways. It helped us clarify where we want to go. It helps us identify ways to work together to achieve those goals, as opposed to kind of more at the practice level. We added a level at the top at the firm. And I think that plan, in many ways, helped keep us together over the craziness of the pandemic when everything in the world fell upside down. It helped us find our guideposts. And I really credit that clear strategy and leadership among the firm as a whole. I think it helped get us through that and be stronger than we honestly have ever been before, kind of shed the things that distract you from success and focus on your priorities.

Ali: Definitely demonstrating that cohesive nature, I suppose, in terms of taking everything forward. And it's great to also hear some of the successes there. But I know the audience would also be interested to understand maybe where things haven't worked out so well. And I know that, again, for speaking previously, that the firm's been actually really receptive to if it doesn't go well, people holding their hands up saying that this didn't work out and we can move forward. So actually, are there any programs that you feel sort of held a lot of potential but never progressed as far as they should have? And if there are, was there anything that you learned from those?

Kate: Well, of course, I think we all have to remember that success is the culmination of trying lots of things and failing at them and learning from them. I truly believe that. And I think each time you have something that doesn't work out, if you can learn from it, you can apply it moving forward. It's going to make you more effective. But it can be scary. And I know that one that comes to mind is this firm wide social media software. We wanted to increase engagement on social media with the attorneys, and we wanted to better position them as thought leaders. And I tried this kind of firm wide implementation of a social media kind of aggregator, and it bombed completely, totally bombed. The software required too much time from the attorneys, and they simply didn't have the interest. And I think it was also too big of a change all at once. This is an instance where maybe I should have done kind of a pilot group. So I certainly learned from that. And I think I learned to start smaller and how important it is to get some kind of easier wins under your belt to help sell something that is a bigger change. Another is a cross selling program. So our firm is heavily focused in a few industries that don't always have natural overlap. So I thought we may be missing some opportunities. And I tried to implement a new cross selling initiative in the midst of the Pandemic, and we got pretty far along in the process with some influential leaders. But it was killed right before we were going to do the firm wide rollout, really just because of timing, there were other firm priorities. Pandemic was definitely stressful. That one, I think, reminded me that timing is truly everything, and you really have to wait for the right moment to try to effect change. If people aren't receptive at that time or distracted by other things, it's better to wait until the time is right.

Ali: Yeah, of course, timing can be critical. With all of these things, I don't imagine trying to implement a new initiative during a pandemic was the easiest. So sorry to hear that one didn't work out. But she said there's always learnings from all of this.

Kate: Absolutely. I haven't given up yet!

Ali: I'm sure in time, because obviously cross selling is so important and without necessarily going into it too much. But again, a lot of the conversations we’ve had before. There's been some really cool things that I know that you've been implementing and working on has really helped with some of the innovation and thinking from some of those junior lawyers coming through to partnership on the way. Actually, they can maybe cross sell or start to look at things in a slightly different way. But maybe we're kind of helping off onto other topics there. But what would be great to understand is that I know that law firms are notoriously governed by precedent and what's come before. So how do you approach managing multiple different stakeholders and voices involved in making change? I know that some of the partners names are on the door are still walking the corridors at Maurice Manning, Martin. So it'd be great to understand how maybe you do kind of go about managing those different stakeholders.

Kate: I think any leader has their own network, their own internal network as well. I think it's important to tap into that. I certainly have going back to the word trust that we were touching on earlier, and those that I really have a strong relationship with that I trust, and I know they trust me. That's usually my go to when I am trying to launch a new program. I get their buy in first. I talk to them and use them as a sounding board to publish the idea and make sure all the priorities are straight before I put it in front of a broader audience. I believe it's important to have your research together. I think you have to show them how a change could improve a need and how are other businesses in other industries capitalising on this need or this trend, and how could we tailor that for our own firm? I do have a really close relationship with our managing partner. I really respect him. And so I talk through anything major with him before I take it on because I know he can help me identify how to approach change with certain groups or partners or also, are there potential roadblocks? How can I strategize around those if there may be an issue in the firm or something that's distracting people that I need to know before I try to push something forward? And I also ask this kind of I would say kind of my own personal board, the partners in the firm that I really trust and our managing partner. I ask them to help me identify ways to relate this change to other practices or to other partners where I may have a little harder sell. And then once I feel like I have the idea in good shape. I'll bring together a broader group of partners, maybe our management committee or maybe all the practice heads, and I'll discuss the project, kind of lay it out for them and get their feedback. And I found that can be really effective because you'll have some people in the room that are very excited and some that may be more skeptical, and those that are very excited about the project can honestly help sell it for you so you can talk through what the challenges are. You can build a little more consensus through this kind of sphere of influence. And then if you've done all that work ahead of time, the meetings can help you scale the project to the next level, help you identify who's the next group that you need to get in the room. How can you leverage maybe younger partners or associates to help make this project successful? And I found I'm a lot more effective if I have their buy in at the beginning.

Ali: Yeah, sure. And just picking up on that you mentioned at the very end there sort of having the associates and partners on board. I know in some of the initiatives you've done before, you worked with what was probably a senior associate group who have now come through into being partners. And I think that was around sort of some of the innovation stuff that you're working on at the firm. Has that been really influential in terms of, you mentioned I think, it's a personal board that you can go to. Has that been something that's been quite critical in terms of building those relationships when people may be slightly more junior and then they've come through into the partnership and you've got that nice rapport relationship with them where there is that trust that they can then, I guess, sort of the champions of certain things for you?

Kate: Absolutely. I think you're talking about our associate innovation committee, which I think we started in May 2015, and it was a group of senior associates who were really invested in the firm, as was I, and saw some areas of need that they wanted to improve and really focusing a lot on technology and culture and client service. The marketing team, myself and our associate director worked really closely with them to help identify a few projects and implement them throughout the firm. And we worked so closely with them on that. We are meeting monthly. We were commiserating together around the challenges of some of this. This was earlier on where I maybe hadn't implemented some of those larger projects. So it really helped me understand how to be effective with things like that. And we certainly built a lot of trust amongst our group. We had to present at an attorney retreat and in front of the partnership, and it was scary and completely bonded. Yeah. So a lot of those associates are now partners, and they really are a part of my personal board they are the ones that I know I can go to, and I know they're the more innovative thinkers as well. And so they're a great place to start when I've got an idea and I want to kind of see how we can make it happen.

Ali: Yes, I think that's amazing. I absolutely love hearing about it. I think it leads into understanding a little bit more about what you focused on as well. In terms of that throughout your own personal career, how important have you seen those change making skills to be? And if there are other people who are listening in our audience, what would be your advice to other aspiring marketers trying to build their own skills?

Kate: I think these change making skills, these projects have really been what have made my career. They helped carve out my role at the firm and secure a seat at the table, in truly every sense of the word. And it was scary. But because I put myself out there, I was able to showcase how I helped the firm to a broader audience. And I think after we launched the strategic plan the first time, they asked me to join the management committee, and that was the biggest compliment I could ever have. I was so excited. And because I've been able to be in those meetings, I have first hand knowledge around the biggest issues and opportunities that the firm is facing. And I also can weigh in on major decisions. I can remind them of some of our priorities. And then as I mentioned before, I can kind of filter that information and feedback and take it back to my team to identify where we should be spending our time. I think anyone considering taking a risk trying to create some change in their firm, I would tell them to do it by identifying a need and addressing it. You're shining a light on your work and on your value. And while it can be terrifying, I believe it's the best and probably the only way to really grow over time and stretch yourself. And if you measure your progress and you share your progress, even if the result isn't really what you originally wanted it to be, you're going to show the firm's leaders that you're there and you're ready and you can drive change.

Ali:  Yeah, that's so interesting. And it would really be great. The final question in terms of what we like to ask on the podcast, and it definitely just filters on from what you're saying there, because I think you almost wrapped up in one. But what would be your final parting piece of advice that you would offer to other marketers who are trying to drive that change within their firm? I mean, is it simply take that risk, or would there be any other sort of little Nuggets of information that you have there, Kate?

Kate: I think I would tell them not to give up. And our managing partner or former managing partner who is also my mentor would tell me all the time, Kate, progress is incremental. If you can get one partner to try a new process successfully, another one will give it a shot. So if you socialise your successes and ideas, you will have ripple effects. I thought that was really great advice and I always try to keep that in mind when I feel a little frustrated because I certainly have those days. But if you are measuring things, if you're even for yourself, you'll start to see that progress over time and it's really exciting and I think you can apply anything you learn moving forward which is just going to make you better at your job and I think you can apply all of that to the future whether it's in your current firm or it's a future firm and it's just going to make you more effective and more strategic and I think like your job more I really do.

Ali: I have to agree with you. I think it comes through very clearly from the conversation that we've had to do just how well respected you are within the firm and actually how you've taken such a great holistic view of everything and brought in all of these different aspects that you just mentioned there that's kind of shaped you to be the fantastic CMO that you are. And I must say that one piece of advice that you mentioned there where you said take a risk because it's going to shine a light on the value that you're bringing. The work that you're doing is certainly something that I'm going to take away. So I hope that our audience will take that as a great piece of advice away from us. But look, Kate, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It's been so many fantastic nuggets of information, really interesting to learn more about what you've been doing and how you've been implementing that change for the long term. So thank you so much for joining us.

Kate: Thank you so much for having me. It's my pleasure.

Ali: It’s been a joy.


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