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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP57 - Shanon Lazarus of Bressler, Amery & Ross on transforming the firm's approach to BD from the ground up

As functions, marketing and business development are maturing in the legal industry, firms have come to rely on these functions to deliver advantage and provide direction for growth.

That maturing did not happen overnight, nor did it happen without the hard work and expertise of dedicated marketing and business development professionals. Ed Lovatt is delighted to welcome Shanon Lazarus, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Bressler, Amery & Ross, to the CMO Series to discuss her journey at the firm.

Ed and Shanon cover:

  • How Shanon came to the role at Bressler, Amery & Ross and how the business development team functioned at the beginning of her journey
  • The gap between the current state of the firm's marketing & BD function at the beginning to where it is now, and how Shanon closed that gap
  • The actions and resources that were crucial to those efforts in the early days
  • The point when things began to move in the right direction
  • How to get support from the wider firm
  • Where Shanon and the team are headed next
  • Advice for those trying to move towards a more modern, effective marketing and business development function


Intro: Welcome to the Passle podcast CMO series.

Ed:  Welcome to the CMO series podcast from Passle. Today we're going to be discussing the transforming of the firm's approach or the transformation of the firm's approach to BD from the ground up. As functions, marketing and business development are maturing through the legal industry, firms have come to rely on these functions to deliver advantage and provide direction for growth. But that maturing doesn't happen overnight, nor did it happen without hard work and expertise of dedicated marketing and business development professionals. We're privileged today to welcome to the CMO series Shanon Lazarus, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Bressler, Amery & Ross. Welcome to the CMO series, Shanon.

Shanon: Hi. Thank you.

Ed: So without hesitating too much, I'd love to dive straight in today about the story of how you and your firm are building a modern, effective marketing and business development department. Hopefully, we'll cover the success, the challenges that you faced, and some of the lessons that you're taking as well throughout the process. I met Shanon at a conference down in Florida, but for those of you who are not familiar with her, perhaps let's start with how you came to be within your role at Bressler, Amery & Ross, and how the business development team functioned when you began the journey.

Shanon: Sure. So out of law school, I started working as the social media person at a local law firm, and from there, I kind of grew within the legal marketing space at a law firm nearby to Bressler's office in Fort Lauderdale. I was getting to the point where I was a manager over there, and some friends who work at Bressler came to me and kind of said, we have an opportunity here at our firm. We don't really have a marketing department. We don't really have a full marketing team. I think there's a lot of opportunity for you to step in and kind of take the reins. So I met with folks over at Bressler and a few years ago decided to begin the journey over here as their director of marketing and business development. And when I came to the firm, it was kind of like my predecessor had left. They had a few people who are doing marketing support type roles, just kind of helping to keep the firm moving, but there was really no senior professional in there to steer the ship. So I came in with a lot of opportunity and kind of started from there.

Ed: Wow. It sounds a little bit like jumping right in at the deep end. A little bit.

Shanon: Yeah. I had been through kind of growing a marketing and business development department at my former firm with my boss/mentor. He and I kind of worked on building the reputation and the legal marketing function of their firm. So it was an opportunity for me to kind of now take the lead, be the front woman if you want, and kind of put everything into practice that I had learned and developed at my previous firm, but now with a new firm and a new markets and new people, new attitudes, new culture, new everything.

Ed: Well, amazing that you had that opportunity and that you also grabbed it with both hands and ran with it. What were the first couple of months like, jumping straight into that role?

Shanon: Yeah, it was overwhelming and scary, but it also left me with kind of an odd sense of composure. There were a lot of ways that I felt like I could make small wins within the department for the firm. I had friends who were here. I just spent a lot of my time listening and trying to figure out what was really needed. I met with all the different leadership people, I've had all the different offices. I went around kind of talk, listened, and I paid attention to their communication styles, paid attention to the influencers with the firm, and kind of just started formulating a plan, started to see different ways that I could slot in and really get those small wins so I could get eventually, some of those bigger wins.

Ed: In those early days, right at the beginning, are there any actions or any steps that you took that you can now look back on and see, wow, that was really crucial to where I am now? If there are, can you detail them a little more?

Shanon: So, yeah, I guess initially, at the beginning, there was a lot more in action than action. I spent a lot of my time just waiting and listening and doing research on the ins and outs of the firm. Listening, taking notes, trying to understand what everyone before me was doing in this role and what wasn't working, and what was working, if it wasn't working, why it wasn't working, and if it was working, what they thought we could do better. I relied heavily on my relationships with the people who had brought me into the team and people on my team who had that kind of legacy information. Starting from scratch isn't always starting from ground zero. There were people who had better insight into the different partners, their communication styles, their disposition, their treatment, their temperaments. And I kind of just tried to navigate that and use that to give me insight into what would make my role here at Bressler successful and make it a little bit easier as a transition as we built back up.

Ed: A little sidebar, following on from that, were there certain people in the firm that maybe didn't have the patience immediately or maybe hopefully then developed patience? Do you think there were people that wanted an instant impact from you or with the majority of them willing to let you succeed and give you time?

Shanon:  Well, lawyers are naturally sceptical, so I think there was definitely some resistance to it. I don't think there was necessarily resistance to me personally or to the idea of the marketing, but everybody has a different temperament for it. And some thought it was about time and we absolutely needed somebody and needed to grow the marketing and BD function. And other people felt it was working, fine, if it ain't broken, don't fix it. But what I think is the time was spent trying to teach those that felt that way, why it was broken and how we needed to fix it, and that the ways we were doing it may have been, quote unquote, ‘working’, but they really weren't working. And they weren't going to work for a law firm that was coming into the new era of legal marketing with everything being online and digital and that just wasn't a thing at the time and some of the older contingencies of lawyers are used to marketing a different way and getting them to come around to the idea that it's not so bad and it's not so scary and there's something for everyone within our marketing and business development functions.

Ed: Yeah, there's definitely an importance behind it. And you said teaching them the why. Was there like a percentage of buying that you think you needed to get the whole company behind you? As in, did you need 60% of them to buy into your reasons or your ideas or was it higher than that?

Shanon: It was really I mean, I think they were all kind of bought into it beforehand before they brought me in. The firm is led by an incredibly bright group of attorneys who understood that there were ways that we could improve. I think there was buy-in. I think that the buy-in was already there. I think it was a kind of change management that was needed to kind of get some of the older leadership to understand that these changes were necessary and would ultimately help them in the end. But there wasn't any kind of resistance to the fact that we needed someone to do more marketing and business development. It was just different marketing and business development.

Ed: Good. I'm glad there was no resistance. Otherwise it would make your job much more painful.

Shanon: Oh, no, there was definitely resistance. There was definitely. But not to the point where I couldn't make changes. I was just making small changes. And then I had the support of the managing principal and our executive committee at the time to make those changes, and that really helped. If I would have had their support in their buy-in, I would never have been able to facilitate anything. But they were on board and there was a small group of people who helped kind of bring them into the light. And from there, it was a lot easier to make some of those changes understood.

Ed: So was there a particular moment or perhaps a specific project that you feel was a bit of a turning point, moving things in the right direction that you could really clearly see? Maybe for want of a better phrase, but light at the end of the tunnel. Was there a real specific turning point for you?

Shanon: Yeah, once I settled in and I talked to everybody and I put together the plan, it was pretty clear from my perspective, even kind of before the role. But then after taking on the role, we needed to start with the firm's website. It wasn't working as a business development tool. It didn't give the same impression of the firm that you get when you actually meet the firm's lawyers in person. You talk to anybody within the firm and their calibre, work and client. So that's kind of where I started. We worked really hard at the very beginning to put together a modern, clean website that was a reflection of the firm and where the firm wanted to go. And once that was kind of off the ground and we launched that, that really was kind of, I think, the turning point where I think a lot of our attorneys and staff could start seeing the results of the effort. It was a tangible way to say, hey, this is what it looked like before, this is what it looks like now, this is what we can do. And that was really where sharing that wind kind of helped the lawyers and the staff see that my win is their win and they begin to understand the connection between their efforts and my efforts and then the overall goals of the firm.

Ed:  I'm sure that there'll be a few people hearing this nodding going, yeah, the website is a key starting place.

Shanon: Yeah, it seems like an obvious start too. It was a huge project to tackle, but I thought it was going to be one of the easier wins to get under my belt because there was so much that we needed to do and it really came around in a tangible way that I think made a difference.

Ed: And I've been on your website and I think it looks great. So I would say that's a successful project. And I can understand why that might be the turning point from building the firm's BD approach. Again, a lot of people will be nodding when I say this, but there's a lot of hard work that goes into a project that big. Building a website for a law firm is never a simple project. How did you approach getting support from the wider firm? But also, did you build a team around you having jumped in with two feet? Did you have a team to help you build this website or start this project?

Shanon: Yeah, so when I started, it was kind of just me and a marketing coordinator who was here. And from there, right out of the gate, I approached, our management was like, I need resources. I need more people on my team who can help facilitate all of these things. So we were able to hire two more people who really dug in with me and this kind of became the full effort. It had the full weight of our marketing and business development team behind it. Working with the developer, we dug into every aspect of the website from the architecture to the user experience to the photos and the bios and all of that. And we spent a lot of time analysing what was working, what was not working and what we like from other people's sites. And from there we were able to show that we put in the time and the effort and the research and we showed that to our team, our leadership team, and they kind of helped pick and choose what they liked and what they didn't like. But we kind of put all of our brain power together to build the site.

Ed: And now that you have a bit of a BD team around you, marketing and BD team working together in unison, do you think there was a little bit of resistance before that because maybe the managing partners and the partners wanted to see results before you had a team? Or were they quite willing to say, yes, let's start here and then we'll see results or do they want results and then they would grow? Does that make sense?

Shanon: Yes. And it was a little bit of both. At the beginning it was I couldn't just come in and ask for a menu of items that I needed to get off the ground. I was very strategic in what I would ask for. I would work with the managing partner on the firm's priorities and how they kind of lined up and tackled them in that order. And at the beginning it was kind of like I would take the support wherever I could do it. If it was a legal assistant that could help, if it was a secretary that was available, whatever it was, if someone could assist, I would do that. Working longer hours, later, nights, whatever it was, to try to make it a success. Now that I have that team, obviously there's still the resistance to any sort of anything that's new, but I have the support of a strong team behind me that can help take some of that burden off of me. It was all initially on me and then me on one or two people. But once they trained up, we were able to offer the results that I think the firm wanted to see. So we saw the small wins that then led to bigger wins. Not sure if that really answered your question. Sorry.

Ed: It does. So for the beginning of the answer, can you imagine if you had the ability to go in and say, I need six support staff, I need a budget. If you got that there'd be a lot of people wondering how and can you give us the recipe as to how you get that? That would be amazing.

Shanon: Sure. No, I was going to say we just kind of started with whatever it takes, we're going to make it work and we found a way to make it work.

Ed: Obviously these journeys very rarely ever have a bit of an end point where they're finished tickboxed,  because I'm sure in a few years time there'll probably be another website on the horizon. Where are you and the team heading from here? Do you have other projects that are in the works? Are the partners, the managing partners piling on the pressure?

Shanon: Yeah, we always have projects that are in the works and there's still a lot of work to be done. I think that I would like to get to a point where my team is able to be involved in more strategic and proactive firm efforts. Right now, a lot of what we're doing is kind of on the reactive side of things, but I'd like to be able to work with attorneys on their future approaches to things and I'd like to further be able to get our team more heavily intertwined with our other administrative functions, marketing and BD, more of the marketing but marketing side of things. It involves human resources with onboarding, it involves IT, it involves the finance departments and all the other administrative functions. So I'd like to get to the point where we're more involved in the firm's overall success in planning their approaches to that, their strategic planning for the future. And I just get us more overall, more formally integrated into the firm's larger plan so that we can be involved and touch all aspects of that feature growth.

Ed: And it's a bit of a follow on from that, do you think, the last couple of years, because of Covid, I know it's a subject that a lot of people are fed up of hearing, but do you think that gave you more of an opportunity to look to the future? Because there was maybe I don't want to say there was less going on, but there was perhaps more time to more time to take to look at things?

Shanon: I don't know. Yes, I think so. But ultimately when Covid kind of started and everything happened, it became kind of an abrupt shift in what we were already doing and trying to figure out how to market in a different way and reach our clients and build our network in a different way. And so I think a lot of our time and resources were spent into figuring out the ‘what now?’  I had not planned for. We had all of these social events and events seminars and webinars and all these things that were planned on the calendar and all that came to an abrupt stop. So figuring out how can we still reach our client, how can we still get in front of them, how can we still service them the way they need to be serviced in this remote world? And so a lot of my time and effort was spent working with our leadership and my team on kind of figuring out that new path.

Ed: Excellent. The way that we like to end our podcasts here at Passle is just to ask the one question, which would be what would be your one piece of advice for those who are trying to move towards maybe a more modern, effective marketing and business development function, but also for you, somebody who's maybe looking to transform the firm's approach to marketing?

Shanon: I guess my initial piece of advice would be, like, listen, like, a lot. Listen to what people are saying and listen to people what they're not saying. And then I've always had my own individual marketing and business development targets, my own KPIs. And I think that I've just kind of worked to strive to hit my own personal goals and then hitting my goals, generally, it aligns with them hitting the firm's goals, because if I'm succeeding, they're succeeding, and vice versa.

Ed: Makes perfect sense. And I love the listen part. My father's always told me, since I was very young, you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk.

Shanon: It's listening to what's being said. It's listening to the undertones of what's not being said. It's listening to who is saying it and what they're saying and how they're saying it and kind of putting together the big puzzle of all that information.

Ed: Perfect. Shanon, it's been wonderful to chat with you. Thank you so much for your insights and knowledge.

Shanon: Thank you.

Ed: We'll keep in touch, of course, but thanks again.

Shanon: Thanks. I appreciate it.

Ed: Speak soon.


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