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| 13 minutes read

CMO Series EP48 - Katie Cramond of McDermott Will & Emery on thinking internationally - a route to law firm growth

International expansion has been on the cards for several law firms in recent years, but few firms manage to truly think globally when it comes to their growth efforts.

We're very lucky to explore this topic with Katie Cramond, Director of Business Development International at McDermott Will & Emery on this edition of the CMO Series.

Katie joins Charles Cousins to discuss:

  • Why an international outlook is so important to the growth of a law firm
  • Katie’s career and deep international experience and how that has informed the opinions around the importance of an international approach to growth
  • The moment when the importance of thinking internationally became clear
  • How law firms are approaching this topic at the moment and opportunities for improvement 
  • How the idea of an international outlook plays out at McDermott Will & Emery
  • The practical steps in getting the firm to think internationally
  • Advice for other marketers and BD professionals looking to think more internationally


Intro: Welcome to the Passle podcast CMO series.

Charles: Hello, and welcome to the Passle podcast, where we discuss all things legal, business development, and marketing. Today, we'll be exploring how thinking internationally can support port law firms in their growth. International expansion has been on the cards for several law firms in recent years, and one of the key challenges these ambitious firms face is how to truly think globally when it comes to their growth efforts. To discuss this in detail, we are very lucky to be joined by Katie Cramond, Director of Business Development International at McDermott, Will and Emery. How are you doing, Katie?

Katie: Yes, really good, thanks, Charles. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Charles: And it's good to get you on here. We've had Storm Eunice, bank holidays, and Covid get in the way of us recording. But we're finally round to chatting.

Katie: Definitely.

Charles: To kick things off. What does it mean to think globally and why is this important to the growth of a law firm?

Katie: So being global is really about servicing the international needs of your existing clients so you can look at doing other work internationally, but primarily it's got to be client led. So you want to be able to help your clients and be their trusted legal adviser anywhere in the world, wherever that they do business. I think law firms want and they need to go where the business is. They're targeting their clients needs and aligning themselves with their clients strategic priorities, which increasingly are involving international growth expansion. Clearly, the world is more interconnected than it's ever been. I think through globalisation of the business world and together with factors like the rise of the geographically agnostic tech sector, it means that lawyers who can help businesses to navigate international legal issues are increasingly in demand. I think there's no doubt that the surging business is driving the global elite law firms to expand internationally.

Charles: So it sounds like you've got to be operating on this global scale because it's what your clients are demanding.

Katie: Absolutely, Charles. That's exactly right.

Charles: So, in terms of your career that's obviously featured some international experience, what's been your journey in legal, BD and marketing so far, and how do you think that's informed your opinion of views around the importance of this international approach?

Katie: Yeah, so I was fortunate enough to join a Magic Circle firm in 2012, and I worked with a senior partner who became my mentor, and he really impressed upon me the importance of thinking internationally. When I first joined the firm, I was working on their local counsel program, and I really realised how much I enjoyed building relationships with law firms all around the world. I was lucky to move to Singapore in 2014, and that was a really critical moment for me. I spent the next five years there. I worked all across Asia. I was travelling to Hong Kong and Tokyo quite regularly, and I also did a short comment in New York. So I really understood the firm's international strategy. And that international message was really part of the fabric of the firm. And I was thinking about it and I thought there are three key things that I learned when I was at that firm. The first one was that this senior partner always used to say to me, Katie is not about offices. And what I mean by that is, I think we all know for some clients, having an on the ground presence in that country where they're doing business is really important. But I think for the majority, it's really about the lawyers’ experience of working in that market, then being able to navigate the local legal environment, understanding those cultural nuances, and also having really close relationships with local counsel in jurisdictions. And what this firm did so well was that it really enabled them to provide the same quality and consistency of service across markets, despite them not being their own physical offices. So I really learned that it's not all about offices. And the second thing I learned was our clients, kind of what I was saying at the beginning, our clients think internationally, and so should we. So those kinds of really sexy, complex cross border transactions and disputes, they naturally command higher fees. And they also really help in terms of getting talent in the market because lawyers want to work on those really exciting high profile mandates. And you get really high calibre lawyers by working on that type of work. And then the last thing was you can't underestimate the importance of being culturally sensitive and attuned. And I know that sounds really obvious, but I think what I learned being on the ground in Asia is working with Chinese clients and Japanese clients. It's very different to working with a European client or a US client. So really being aware of that, and as I say, culturally sensitive is something that I think is really important to think about.

Charles:  I like those three points. It's a nice way of thinking about it. And I haven't actually thought about that idea in terms of growth and attracting talent. But is that idea that actually having this international work on offer is going to bring you the best people through the door, does that become a bit of a focus and a way of justifying it?

Katie: I personally think so. This is obviously in my opinion, but I think if you're reading about something in the newspaper or you're working with really exciting clients, I think it will attract the best talent because they want to be working on those types of mandates, and not just from a remuneration, money perspective. They like to be part of those high profile mandates. They like to be involved in things that get the front pages. So I think you do kind of attract the best talent by working on those types of mandates.

Charles: And I also like your point about saying it's not about the offices, because I guess it's saying you can't just plunk an office in a new market and expect it to do all right. Really what's behind that is having the expertise and having those close relationships with the relevant people in that market. So there's more to it than just having a presence. You have to have that expertise as well.

Katie: Definitely. And I think we see so many times that people have the kind of letterhead and they say they have an office, but it's a man and his dog is often the phrase that I heard people use. And I think actually having people you might not have an office there, but having people that are familiar with the market and the legal environment, I think that's much more powerful than just having someone just sitting there just to say that you have an office.

Charles: You talked about your time in Asia, it may have answered my next question, which was, was there a specific moment or time where that importance of thinking internationally became clear?

Katie: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, it wasn't at the previous plan that I was at because I got exposure to some significantly impressive international mandates that involved ten jurisdictions. And I think I realised the power of coordination across multiple jurisdictions and seamless international delivery that was so key to building relationships with clients. And clients saw that service as invaluable. So I think at that firm I really learned a lot. And also I was lucky enough, my mother spent ten years in the Middle East back in the day before she had me. So I've always had an international mindset. And although I never thought that I'd get the opportunities I've had to go abroad, I think I was always kind of meant to. And I think I've always had that international outlook.

Charles: I like the idea of an international mindset. So my next question is I don't know how much you want to jump into it, but how well do you think law firms are actually doing this at the moment? Where do you think the industry could improve with that idea of having a bit more of an international mindset?

Katie: So, over the past few years, we've seen a high increase in international legal spend and fueling this is really as new markets open up, there's a demand for products and services that widens. Organisations are seeking advice in an increasing number of countries to meet their needs. I think it's clear that the opportunities on the international stage are plentiful. However, I think how you develop these opportunities successfully is where ability becomes critical. So the most important factor for law firms when seeking business in new overseas markets is to be really honest about their abilities. I think there's a strong temptation for firms to tell potential clients that they have capability in certain markets to stand a better chance of winning the work and appearing to be truly international, and in my experience, this can be more harmful. So I think firms have taken different approaches, some open offices wherever they need or want to do business. And as I've kind of alluded to before, other firms work collaboratively with local counsel. In my opinion, I think this works really well because it gives the international law firm the flexibility to choose a local firm that has the right expertise for that particular matter in question. And it also enables the local counsel to experience working with an international firm. And I've seen lawyers make lifelong friends this way. You've got lawyers in London or in the US or in Singapore, and they're working in places like Hungary or Bulgaria or all these amazing places. And it's always amazed me when I've gone to big events like the IBA annual Conference and the spread of representation from sole practitioners to large-scale law firms. There are people from all over the world coming together to share knowledge and network, and I think it's really powerful.

Charles: So, in terms of this international outlook, how does that play out at McDermott Will & Emery? How does it impact the sort of big picture of the firm, but also the day to day of what you're doing?

Katie: So I think one of the key priorities for the firm is international collaboration. And I think the fact that I have my job is kind of a testament to that. I think, naturally we're a US headquartered firm, so a substantial part of our business is US focused. But I'm really excited that firstly, we've recently opened a Singapore office, which is obviously a market very close to my heart, and I think demonstrates that the firm recognizes the importance of Asia and the importance for us to have a presence there. And we've also had real significant growth in London over the last few years and across Europe. And I think the commitment by the firm to hiring laterals and growing my team really shows that they're dedicated to this and want to make this collaboration work. We have a very collaborative culture at McDermott, so we ensure that international partners are part of affinity group calls, providing different perspectives. We also, kind of going back to my initial point, we're very client led. We want to help our clients navigate their business critical missions wherever in the world they are, and also partners and lawyers playing their role in conversations they have with clients. So I know all BD professionals know cross sell is always such a hot topic, but it's not just cross selling other practice groups, but also thinking internationally. Have you asked your clients about whether they need help in France or Germany or the UK? And I think for me, that's always been the biggest thing, is trying to make a partner that's sitting in Atlanta who may not have any business outside of the US, trying to kind of educate them to think internationally and to think about their colleagues outside of the US. I think also I'm extremely proud to say that I've completely rebuilt the firm's European BD team. So we've got a really strong German team now. We've got a really strong team in Paris and they're in London. And it's really been really rewarding for me to see that the firm is really committed to that and wants to help support me build that team and we've got some fantastic talent. And then finally, the key thing our model is really around lateral hiring. We do hire a lot of lateral hiring. And so one of my key kinds of day to day jobs is how do we onboard those laterals and how do we make sure that their clients become part of our firm and how do we look to kind of service them in different markets, not just the market where they joined us.

Charles: I just want to pick up on something you mentioned a moment ago around building your team, and that's just touching on those practical steps. And what did you find was the most useful in getting your team and the rest of the firm to think internationally when you were building your sort of BD team across Europe?

Katie: So I have to be honest, I have tended to hire from other Magic Circle firms only because I think that the training you get, those types of firms, you have that international mindset embellished in the way you work. I think I found it quite interesting working at a US firm that a lot of my US counterparts based in the US have never worked at a Magic Circle or kind of an international firm before joining McDermott. And so I think they find it quite difficult, whereas I find people from Magic Circle or the global elite firms really do think that way. So that's definitely kind of helped in terms of the way that we think about things and also just being collaborative, sharing best practice, just always mentioning it. We have monthly calls. We really try and share best practice in terms of whether that be events or client targeting or client account management. So I think just kind of constantly banging the drum, which sounds maybe a bit nagy, but it's something I'm very passionate about. And I think naturally, the people I've attracted into the team also think that way.

Charles: Yeah. So it's just about establishing that best practice. So everyone's reading from the same song sheet, I guess.

Katie: Yes, exactly. Charles yeah. And in terms of it's something that you mentioned a couple of times. The idea of collaboration and also client led was another thing I jotted down. So this idea that actually, at the end of the day, everything you do in your team, the BD team or as a law firm, is really just centred around making that experience for your clients better. So you talked about cross selling, and it shouldn't be viewed as a bad thing at the end of the day, when you are able to cross sell, you're giving your clients a better service because you're helping them out in other areas that they need support in.

Katie: Yes, absolutely. I think you've raised that really well. I agree.

Charles: Finally, if you had one piece of advice for other marketers and BD professionals to take away from everything we've talked about today, what would it be?

Katie: So, again, I'm being a bit greedy. I love threes. I was taught this by that senior partner I mentioned before. He always said you should have three points.

Charles: Okay, you can have three.

Katie: The first one is very simple. It's just to start thinking internationally. The second one is, if you ever get the opportunity to work internationally and it's something that interests you, take that opportunity with both hands, because nothing beats on the ground experience. I know it's not for everyone, but if it is something that interests you, I really encourage people to do it. And finally, this is a little silly, perhaps a bit trivial, but be considerate of time zones. It sounds so simple, but when you're working in Asia in particular, having a call at 6pm on a Friday isn't the most productive. So being mindful of your colleagues' time and just thinking a little bit more about your colleagues, wherever in the world they are, I'm always really conscious of that having worked abroad.

Charles: Brilliant. I think they're awesome. Think internationally, get that mindset in place, get some experience if you can, and obviously be considerate of your colleagues that are in different time zones. Well, that's all we've got time for today. Katie, it's been great to chat and hear a bit of your insight around how McDermott, Will and Emery are thinking internationally. So thanks for coming on.

Katie: Such a pleasure. Thanks for having me.


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