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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP52 - Erin Dimry of DLA Piper on growth, mentoring, and the role of the CMO

Growth, mentorship and developing the team is arguably one of the most important roles of the CMO in a firm. 

Someone who has experience in successfully growing and progressing their team is Erin Dimry, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at DLA Piper.

Ali Bone is lucky to welcome Erin to the CMO Series to share their approach to mentorship and development at DLA Piper, and some of the success stories from their development programs.

Erin and Ali explore: 

  •  Erin’s journey to her role at DLA Piper and when she realised how important mentoring is
  • The firm’s investment in mentorship and development and the return on that investment
  • The best way to discover what development path for individual team members 
  • Client centricity and the development programs DLA Piper are implementing across their teams
  • How to manage a development and mentoring program with a large team
  • Where marketers can turn to for career advice and support
  • Advice for legal marketers building their career

The full transcript

Ali: As listeners will know on this podcast, we've covered campaigns, careers, leadership styles, and philosophy. But we've not before covered one of, if not the most important role of the CMO growth and mentorship of your team. We're so lucky today to welcome Erin Dimry, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at DLA. Piper. 

Erin: Good morning. Thank you for having me. 

Ali: Absolute pleasure. And thank you so much for making the time. I know it's obviously a very early start for you over on the sunny shores of Los Angeles, so I appreciate you taking the time to join us.

What would be really good to understand, Erin, is a little bit about your background, and it'd be great to understand how did you come to be in your role at DLA Piper, and was there a particular point in your journey to CMO that you realized how important mentoring was? 

Erin: You know, my career path has been anything but linear, and it actually is a testament to the power of mentorship. I majored in Political Science and Women's Studies as an undergraduate, and I really wasn't sure what was next for me after college. But I was hired as a program director at a not-for-profit organization that supported intervention programs for at-risk youth and pipeline development programs aimed at providing high school students with exposure to legal careers.

I was fortunate in that role that I was immediately thrown in front of the organization's board of directors, many of whom were partners at some of the country's largest law firms, and they took an interest in mentoring me. So I ended up applying to law school at the end of the year. There, I had a great deal of advice and opinions on where to attend and where I should work as a summer associate. 

I began my career as an associate in a global law firm before moving into in-house roles with more entrepreneurial organizations.

So for me, mentors have really continued to play a role as a sounding board for me as I accept new challenges and opportunities across my career and the fact that I returned to a law firm ten years ago, which is when I joined DLA Piper, was actually the result of a mentor sharing a job and encouraging me to consider another career pivot. 

Mentorship is absolutely instrumental in how I landed where I am. It's interesting how impactful that mentorship can be, and that brought you all the way through the full circle back to DLA Piper and it's absolutely clear that your team, their progress in their development is something that you're really invested in. 

Ali: So do you think that investment paid dividends for the firm?

Erin: I hope so. As the Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, there are obviously a number of external metrics that we hold ourselves accountable to brand content, production, share of voice, client engagement, et cetera, et cetera. 

But another set of metrics that I actually watched carefully, and I'm very proud of our internal metrics. And you've touched on that. I'm really proud of our retention rates. 

Ensuring that my team sees our firm and our department as a place they can grow and develop is really important to me. If you were to look across our department over the past few years, you'll see I've had the privilege to promote a number of new directors and others.


The firm, I believe, benefits from both their institutional knowledge and their continued growth and development and contribution. But we also never stand still. We believe that if you have a culture of collaboration and growth, this also helps attract new talent, including talent from outside our industry that's willing to take a chance on a law firm. And we learn a lot from them as well.

Ali: How have you actually found that kind of introduction of people from outside of the industry bringing them in? I'm sure that they've been able to share some really interesting insights when they've come in. 

Erin: We've learned a ton from people outside our industry, and often there are others, whether in professional services or other businesses that have digital skills or analytics data visualization skills that we don't find within our firm. It is a balance because there's a certain culture and style within a law firm and you want someone to feel comfortable in a very matrix organization. 

But we also benefit, as you said, from a very fresh perspective and people coming in and teaching us things we didn't know. So again, mentors can be really helpful. I have mentors outside the industry that when I have senior positions where we're looking to bring on a new skill set, I will go first to my network and say, do you know who I should be talking to? Sometimes we hire those people and sometimes they advance us on our journey by introducing us to others or helping me frame out the job description that I'm looking to build, especially if we're bringing in a new skill set. 

Ali: I imagine that really feeds into everything that you're already doing. I know from the conversations we had previously just how proud you are of some of the individuals that you've promoted to directorship. 

Considering that, what's the best way to discover what development path will fit a member of your team? I imagine there are different ones for different people, and what we spoke about feeds into it. 

Erin: Sure. I think at its most basic, provide a wealth of opportunities and then listen, let people raise their hand. In fact, we were on an all-hands call last week with my entire department, and one of my directors was presenting, and she noted in front of the whole department that the project she was presenting on was technically outside her day job. But it was something she was very passionate about. 

She asked if she could pursue it and I said, of course, yes. Through working outside with others in the firm, outside of our department, and outside of her core function, she's really developed a tremendous skill set that's a benefit to the firm. It's a benefit to her as a leader, and I think it makes her better at her core job. She was able to develop those new skills because she raised her hand for something and we supported it. 

We said, of course, we want you to learn. We want you to try new things. The more aspects of our business that my team sees, the more tools they'll have to bring to their core roles. We've had coordinators who demonstrate a real talent for data visualization, so we continue to give them projects to run with, and they ultimately become analysts. We've had people leading content development who first were instrumental in our sales process.

That understanding of the sales process makes them better storytellers. So I can't stress enough the value of broad exposure to the business for our entire team. In fact, we send a small team to the national LMA Conference recently, and I asked them to each choose a session that they attended at the conference that resonated with them and to then present back to our department what they learned. They came from different groups within our department. They ranged from coordinator roles to senior management roles. Some of them chose sessions that they attended that were outside their core function at our firm, and they learned something new, and they hone their presentation skills as they shared their knowledge with the entire department and presented back to the group. 

So I think I am perhaps fortunate, and perhaps by design, I have talented directors who really enjoy mentoring, and they do a very good job of providing a broad range of opportunities to their teams, recognizing people's enthusiasm, and ultimately developing talent. 

Ali: Yes, certainly. And I think if I related to my past and we spoke about this previously, I was fortunate enough to play sport. It really does show you that kind of the sum of all your parts. Continuing to develop yourself. Surround yourself with great people and actually pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. As you say. That somebody looking at something that's outside of what they're typically doing has only added a huge amount of benefit to their role.

One of the things that I know we're seeing more and more of are those client-facing roles within BD teams. And I know that's also a great place to get some nice exposure, as you spoke about there. What I'd love to understand is whether that is something that you're considering as part of the development options for your team?

Erin: Absolutely. Client-centricity, understanding the client is a core tenant of our firm, so it's a core tenant of our department. It's critical that everybody at all levels, in all roles, continually strives to better understand our clients and their needs. It's core and fundamental to who we are. 

So across the department, we really invest in a number of tools and programs to secure client insights. I think most firms do. We run our own client feedback program. We purchase third-party research reports, we subscribe to data platforms. What we've really focused on the past few years is helping our teams use these tools and make decisions based on the information. For example, we share market intelligence and client feedback with the entire department. So it's not certain roles or certain levels of responsibility. It's everybody. And in some cases, there are managers that collaborate with attorneys directly on client-level follow-up. 

We also make the data platforms available across the department because we want to make sure that everybody is incorporating client feedback and data and client insights into their planning and execution, whether that's comms digital events, proposals, et cetera. So I think it is commonly recognized that having the opportunity to develop a more nuanced understanding of client needs and perception is critical to moving into these new client-facing roles.

We're taking that a step further because we believe that deep appreciation and understanding of clients is critical to all roles. So I think everybody is coming up with a foundational level of knowledge and ability to synthesize client insights. Then should they choose to pursue more client-facing roles at the firm, they're hopefully really well prepared to do that with a better level of knowledge and insight into the client's reality. 

Ali: One of the things that I wanted to pick up on there was something that's really important to the firm, that client centricity. Have you got maybe some examples of where you've seen people looking to be more client focused and actually you've had to maybe steer them away from that and look at something slightly different because actually, maybe their skills are better suited elsewhere, or it doesn't quite come as naturally to them as maybe some other people?

Erin: It's a good question. I think that there have been moments in time where you see people in client-facing roles which are really if you take that to mean a sales role and there are a number of different ways that business professionals face the client from a law firm.

In terms of sales roles, we have seen people move into sales roles, but then as they get into them, realize this isn't really for me, and perhaps we pivot. Some people face the client in terms of client feedback programs. I think firms have done an increasingly good job of employing business professionals who are really good at conducting interviews like this, having a dialogue with a client, really driving down to what the client experience is like at your firm, what the client needs are, how the firm can do a better job of partnering and collaborating with the client.

I think that role is really a listening-driven role. Some people develop really well into that. Some people may realize that this is not for me. So I think that it's pretty similar to any other job, that oftentimes as you move into things and you develop your muscle and you develop your understanding of the role, you may or may not find it a good fit, but I think we try very hard to look for where people skills lie and where those skills match to the needs of the firm. 

Because ultimately I'm a big believer that having a diversity of approach and perspective and talents and styles is really important in a leadership team and in a department. So there are ways that people fit in and contributions that they make as long as we look for that nexus between their skills and the strategic needs of the firm.

Ali: I think that final point there really hits the nail on the head, is actually just matching them up to the strategic needs. Actually, that diversity of thinking just adds to a much richer environment. That leads really nicely onto what I want to ask around some more around the programs that you're doing and how do you actually manage the development and mentoring program with such a large team? 

Erin: Well, first and foremost, I need to give a shout-out to our HR and professional development team at DLA Piper. They do an excellent job of really providing us with a framework and ensuring we have the tools and support we need. They help run programs with us, and as I mentioned earlier, credit also to my senior leadership team. They share a collective passion for talent development and they work together to provide exposure and opportunities across functions in both informal and structured ways.

We've had people move from one group within marketing into another, from comms into digital, from PR into maybe a practice group role. So I think that my team does a great job of recognizing opportunities to mentor and develop people and we leverage some organic programs. We have a program we call Innovation Hour where a topic or problem is proposed to the entire department and typically that's done by a member of the senior leadership team. Anyone interested in contributing to the brainstorming session around that topic can join the Innovation Hour. Two of our most engaging social media campaigns, originated from a diverse group of team members joining an Innovation Hour to solve a problem and coming up with the idea to run these campaigns to really tell the story of who DLA Piper is. 

I think it goes without saying there are diverse perspectives and needs among our clients and the communities that we serve, and the same is certainly true of our colleagues. So mentorship is not a one size fits all approach. Really different team members engage in different ways and our job as a leadership team is to provide a variety of ways to engage and grow.

Ali: I absolutely love that. About the Innovation hour. I think it's brilliant in terms of giving everybody that opportunity to contribute. I remember when I had a great conversation with a good friend of yours, Katherine Zinn. She said something very similar when she was talking about her team and the opportunities in the firm, which is actually just giving everybody the opportunity to contribute because again, coming back to that diversity of thought and one size doesn't fit everybody. 

There are going to be kind of different ideas that people can kind of bring to the table and contribute and people shouldn't be shy of that. So it’s amazing that you say a couple of your most impressive programs or campaigns even have come out of that, which is pretty interesting to see. 

Delving a little bit deeper into it. If you were in the shoes of a marketer or a BD professional who are early in their career, where would you turn to for career advice and support?

Erin: A really great question, the answer we often hear given is to engage with someone who's sitting just a little further down the career path, sitting in a seat that appeals to you or in a place where you would like to go. I've made a few turns in my career, as we talked about, and I certainly wouldn't have picked up the phone years ago and sought out a mentor who is a law firm chief marketing and business development officer. I have a diverse set of individuals I consider mentors who have given me career advice and support, and most of them didn't serve in roles I aspire to fill, but they did have a measure of career satisfaction and a broad perspective and they are all strong big picture thinkers.

What they've helped me do is match my strengths and my interests with possible opportunities. So they helped me see where I fit. Multiple times in my career, I've called a mentor and said, how would you approach this issue? Or what am I missing from your perspective? I've also called and said, can we grab lunch? What do you think I should be when I grow up?

Ali: I think choosing people who you believe are really good big picture thinkers will help you see all of the different ways you can contribute in a way that's really authentic for you. 

I think people get so lost in the fog of these sorts of things that they forget actually what they are already good at and where can they apply that. 

So just to round things off and really do thank you for such a fantastic conversation, we always ask the guests what would be your one piece of advice for legal marketers building their careers?

Erin: Take every opportunity to learn and never be afraid to join a project that's outside your current job description or one that you're not quite sure you know how to do. I think every time I said yes to something that was a stretch or that scared me just a little, I learned some really phenomenal things.

If I look back at inflection points in my career, the moments where I made the most impactful decisions were the moments I said yes to things that were a little unsettling. The broader your perspective of the business you work in, the more effectively you can collaborate and contribute. That goes without saying, but also the more roles you're exposed to, the more you're able to explore, as we talked about before, where your interests lie and where your talents lie. 

You don't know if you're good at something if you're afraid to try. So I think the most fulfilled people I know really embrace a growth mindset, and they're also great team players. If you decide to raise your hand or say yes to a project, that's a bit intimidating. Being a good team player and being able to pick up the phone and understand who might have the information you need and ask them for their support and help is really important. 

People want to invest in you. We want to help those around us succeed. I know I've built a really talented team because I'm willing to hire people who are much deeper experts in their area than I am. I really appreciate that each of them is a subject matter expert in their area, and I learn from them each and every day. So my advice would be to take an opportunity, no matter how much it scares you, to pick up the phone and engage a few people on the journey with you who you think have the information you may need to learn and be a great team player.

I think if you do that, you'll be surprised, or pleasantly surprised, perhaps, of the turns your career takes and the next opportunity that presents itself. 

Ali: Those are really wise words to finish on. I must say, from this conversation and the previous conversations that we've had, Erin, I think that DLA Piper, and particularly the team that you're looking after there are incredibly lucky to have you being such a diversity of thought from your own background, but then really implementing that into the mentoring that you're doing with everybody in the wider team.

So thanks so much for sharing so much rich knowledge. It's been an absolutely fantastic conversation, and I hope you've also enjoyed it.

Erin: I have, and thank you for having me. It's my pleasure to join you. It's truly a privilege to get to lead such a great team and have the opportunity to talk about them and give some shout-outs to my leadership team and my colleagues across the firm. So thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.


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