This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
hero image of people sitting with documents near table


| 18 minutes read

CMO Series EP94 - Katie Munroe of Zuckerman Spaeder on Creating a Culture of Client Service Straight out of the Gate

By shifting the business development mindset from asking for work to offering assistance with problem-solving, you will not only deepen relationships, but improve your likelihood of generating new business.  

Whether a new entrant to the associate ranks or a recent lateral hire, all lawyers have an opportunity to make a positive impact on their firm’s bottom line with this approach. On today’s episode of the CMO Series, Ed Lovatt welcomes Katie Munroe, Chief Marketing Officer at Zuckerman Spaeder, to discuss their method for cultivating a service-oriented mindset and why Zuckerman Spaeder is investing in a BD training program to shape the next generation of lawyers.

Ed and Katie discuss:

  • How Zuckerman Spaeder brought in new work historically and how has that shifted in the last few years
  • The importance of investing in developing new firm attorneys – whether junior lawyers or lateral hires
  • The new business development curriculum for lawyers Katie is developing and how it supports good client service
  • The generational differences between junior associates fresh out of law school to those who’ve been in the role for a number of years and how to tailor business development training to meet their expectations and leverage their strengths
  • The importance of networking opportunities for attorneys eary in their career and how distinct that approach is at Zuckerman
  • The ideal mix when it comes to more traditional, in-person approach to BD in a digital-first world
  • Advice for marketing and BD leaders looking to develop the next generation of lawyers in their firm


Ed: Welcome to the CMO series podcast. Today, we are going to be discussing uh creating a culture of client service out of the gates. Today we welcome Katie Munroe, Chief Marketing Officer at Zuckerman Spaeder to discuss their method for cultivating a service oriented mindset and why Zuckerman Spaeder is investing in a BD training program to shape the next generation of lawyers.

Welcome, Katie, to the CMO Series podcast.

Katie: Thanks so much for having me. 

Ed: I know we've been back and forth and discussed this a few times now and it's great to actually finally get you on and I know we pinned down this topic a while ago. So really appreciate you coming on to uh get the readers a little bit of info out of the gate. Could you tell us how you uh got to where you are the path that took you there to Zuckerman Spaeder?

Katie: Sure. Well, like most legal marketers, I did not set out to do this. I actually thought that I might become a lawyer and happened to graduate into a recession when job opportunities were slim. Although my prior employer wouldn't be thrilled at this I'll admit that I found my first law firm marketing position posted on Craigslist. So that may not be familiar to our ‘Gen Zers’ who are listening. But, it's an unusual place to find something so professional. I did apply and it happened to be a marketing-oriented position, which just at the moment seems like a good way to get my foot in the door as it turned out, it was something that I really enjoyed. The folks at Covington and Burling took a chance on a pretty, not just junior but, uninformed candidate at that point in time. And I think my eagerness and excitement about getting to work was hopefully what set me apart and I ended up sticking around there for about 13 years growing from a Coordinator to Manager to Assistant Director, which was the last position I held for just about six years overseeing the firm's litigation and investigations, marketing and business development efforts for about 650 lawyers, which was a lot of fun and it was not an easy role to leave. But one of my great friends in the Legal Marketing Association, Diana Courson was making her next step out of Zuckerman Spaeder and mentioned the opportunity to me and fast forward here we are. It's been almost 2.5 years.

Ed: I should think that 2.5 years has flown by.

Katie: Very quickly.

Ed: Yeah, especially with the COVID kind of taking a few of those years away from you as it were.

Katie: Yeah. None of time makes sense these days.

Ed: No, there's this thing now called the COVID Years. 

Katie: Yes. Are they still going?

Ed: Uh, no, I think they're over now. Fortunately. So now we're, we're maybe in the clear and sort of back to normality.

Katie: Okay. Knock on wood.

Ed: Yes, definitely. Katie, Zuckerman Spaeder as a litigation boutique has historically brought in new work, and how have they done that? And how has it shifted in the last few years, maybe including the COVID years.

Katie: It's an interesting firm in that we focus as I did in my last role on litigation and investigations. And it's also interesting in that the firm began just 50 years ago, which 50 does sound like a lot when you think about it. But the reality is that we still have many of the founding partners practicing within the firm. And that's a beautiful thing for many reasons. But one of them is that they had such strong networks at the time that they banded together to create Zuckerman Spaeder that those relationships they've had have paid dividends throughout their careers and throughout the history of the firm and resulting in tons of referral work for new matters. And that's been the lifeblood for our practices for decades. But as they get into their senior status, we do have a number of junior partners who have come up through the ranks during a time where competition between law firms has grown immensely and they really do need to reconsider their approach to marketing and business development. So we're seeing a new group or a new generation of lawyers, both at the junior partner and the associate levels, really thinking critically about what it is they can be doing to lay similar groundwork and make sure that they get out there. In the pandemic, not being able to rub elbows or take friends to lunch or at a happy hour, we really, I think turned to a more central business development-focused process. So identifying targets pitching for new work being opportunistic, monitoring the news things that I think are more commonplace for bigger firms with more institutionalised business development.

Ed: I think, I'm just remembering, I think first met towards the end of 21 which was probably the first time that people were getting back into face-to-face meetings and then it kind of died away again for a brief moment, didn't it?

Katie: Yes, a little bit of a restart there.

Ed: So with this shift, why is it so important for the firm to invest in developing new firm attorneys, whether junior lawyers or whether it's lateral hires?

Katie: Not only are new attorneys impressionable as you're working to help, you know, embed them in the firm culture, but there's a lot that you can do to create strong business development behaviors if you start at the beginning and as you bring in new lawyers, whether they are associates, junior lawyers or even lateral hires, you really have a unique opportunity to set the stage in the cadence of communication. Whether you're introducing training programs or having regular meetings. Whereas it's harder to introduce those types of behaviours when you have people who have been around and what they've been doing has been working well for decades.

Ed: It's probably a bit of a juxtaposition as to what's been working well for decades. And what you can bring in that's new. 

Katie: Senior lawyers can be a little bit incredulous that some of these efforts are necessary because they haven't had to do them themselves. And so taking advantage of the impressionability is key in my mind.

Ed: Definitely, you mentioned that you're implementing a new business development curriculum for lawyers. Can you tell us more about that program? And how it supports the notion of good client service?

Katie: Absolutely. We're so excited about this. But to the second part of your question about how it supports the notion of good client service. You know, my sense is, and this is true of our more senior lawyers at the firm that there's this allergy to the idea of pitching or asking for work. And it's my strong feeling that if we change people's perspectives out of the gates so that they're focused on how not to bring in new business, which is a nice side effect, but how they can help their clients and support their network, whether it's their referral sources, prospective clients, co-counsel, et cetera, that you really create a strong foundation for relationship building. This is something I think the Passle team is incredibly effective at. But recognising that those relationship investments can really pay dividends. 

So the crux of our training curriculum is focused on the different elements that bring those ideas together. We are creating different components like focusing on business intelligence. So how to get to know not only the firm and your colleagues, but your client so that you can anticipate their needs. Look out for them, fostering connection being a good friend in your service to your client. You know, it’s a golden rule that seems like such a silly thing. But recognising that our clients are not just profit generators, but there are people too who are working to fight through complex challenges. Writing for an external audience, remembering who the people are that are consuming your content. Again, I think this is something particularly relevant to Passle and making sure that people are getting what they need from the content that you're creating, using the news and social media for prospecting, checking in to see who's in need. You know, the thing that comes to mind right now is the Silicon Valley Bank issues. Do we have other clients who are scared about that? Can we offer them reassurance? Can we help them navigate through challenges based upon prior experiences? And preparing people for leadership. How can they be a strong leader, both on their own teams but also in service to their clients? And so there are a number of different components that we're working on and we draw on people both internally and externally to help us enrich these training conversations.

Ed: You mentioned right on earlier in that in that answer and you said the word, ‘allergic’, I think you said, not probably a word that you would like to use but it's definitely how it comes across sometimes, isn't it?

Katie: Yeah. And I think especially when we look at generational differences, it's something that a lot of our more experienced lawyers really haven't had to focus on because the nature of how you marketed a business was just very different actually following on from that.

Ed: Have you noticed generational differences between junior associates fresh out of law school to those who've maybe been in the role for even just a handful of years and then even more years.

Katie: Yeah, it's so interesting because I know that a lot of law schools don't focus on business courses, which is unfortunate because the business of law is a huge part of what they'll be expected to understand, especially if they go into private practice. But I've been so excited and energised by the enthusiasm that our associates have expressed for learning more about marketing and BD. And it could be because they're more of a social generation. They're used to using social media. They have a comfort level engaging with people online in a way that their predecessors may not have. But we've had such great participation. And I think genuine interest in attending these different programs, strengthening these skills and looking for ways to add value to the firm, not just through their hard work and billable hours, but with the potential of bringing a new business. And that's something that in the last nearly 20 years I really haven't seen. So I'm excited about that. 

I think our mid-level lawyers and our junior partners have not necessarily been introduced to the same concepts as the associates. And I think that's really unfortunate but somewhat like our associates, they're a little bit more comfortable with the more the less traditional forms of marketing. And by that, I mean, referral source cultivation and more comfortable reaching out to their law school network or thinking about people, their kids' soccer friends’ parents who may be in-house and being a little bit more opportunistic about reaching out to offer help to those folks. And so I'm really encouraged about the direction that we're going in. And I think there's so much potential on the business development front and client service front because of that.

Ed: Definitely huge amounts of potential. Is it something, and perhaps, this is me being a little naive and ignorant, is it something that is actually taught in law schools, the business development side of working in a law firm?

Katie: It's very rare that I've heard students have exposure to these concepts. I do recall that the George Washington University here in DC had a short-term program but I haven't heard or seen anything more about it in recent years. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but I think it's more unusual to have those courses than it is commonplace unfortunately. 

Ed: So how do you tailor business development training to meet the expectations of these new hires straight out of law school?

Katie:  Coming right out of law school. What we are working on doing is implementing regular recurring training sessions. We've started with, I think a relatively ambitious curriculum for this year with eight different programs. We're trying to get one in every other months. So we may not get reach our full goal before the end of the year. But I think getting our associates together in person has worked really well for us, for example, in anticipation of this recent ABA White Collar Crime Conference to which we sent a number of our associates, we got together in person groups to do of a speed dating exercise where they get to know each other's practices, help them fine-tune their elevator pitch and get them ready for interacting with people, including honing their listening skills so they can pick up on what the person they're speaking with is saying about their role, their scope of responsibility and how they might be able to help them and adjust what they're saying accordingly. And I think it sounds kind of silly and there are some things that we take for granted because we may not think that we need to actually work on those skills. But watching the confidence grow for these associates as they come out of it has been really wonderful and then getting to see them in action, sort of like, you know, reaching their potential is really rewarding. That kind of success, although small is something that they find energising and bring back to those next sessions so, so far so good. And we're looking forward to continuing our series.

Ed: I bet it works. And I must admit I wasn't expecting the word ‘speed-dating’ to come up in today's podcast.

Katie: Yeah. Well, we got lots of fun stuff going on.

Ed: I bet, I bet. When we spoke before, you also mentioned about investing in network opportunities for attorneys early on, is that distinct to your approach at Zuckerman? And why is it so important do you think? And does it also apply to laterals?

Katie: I do think that it's distinct to Zuckerman Spaeder, it's a really special place to work. But one of the things that I love the most about it is the size. As a boutique litigation firm, our associates do have greater exposure to stand-up responsibilities than I have seen at larger firms with whom we're competing. And so that means that they are getting more significant experience earlier on and maybe playing more critical roles than some of their peers at other firms. With that in mind, I don't want to keep them hidden away. I want them to be out in front and meeting peers, but also getting comfortable talking with partners at other firms or senior leaders in-house because they are out in front of them and they need to feel comfortable building those relationships. 

As I mentioned just a moment ago, you know, we sent a number of our associates to a large conference down in Miami Florida and they really do shine there. You know, their comfort level is evident. And I think the groundwork that we've laid to help build those skills has really helped and we are gonna continue to look for ways to get them out in front of people. We do encourage folks to participate with their law school classmates, presenting at conferences, getting involved in different bar associations. And I think starting early on and all of that, will result in greater success and more confidence, no matter what it is they choose to do. It's not that different for our laterals. I do find that lateral hires tend to bring their own book of business and their own approach if we're lucky, but making sure that they feel encouraged and supported and identifying external opportunities to connect with clients, prospective clients and others is a really important part of our lateral integration plan in our playbook.

Ed:  I think we spoke last week very briefly about your trip down to Miami and you said you'd had some really good feedback from people about the team that you had down there. Is that a really good indication to you, does it really hit home for you that it's working?

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just as much as I hope they take energy out of it, it's energising to us and to our team to see the impact of our work and it gives us more ideas coming out of those conversations for how we can continue to support our associates. So we're really excited about how that went. And as I mentioned, we'll continue to look for opportunities to get them out there. 

Ed: Sounds good. And if you have the answer to this, I'm sure there are a few people listening that'll be like, “Wow, Katie knows the answer to almost the golden question” is there an ideal mix when it comes to the more traditional in-person approach to BD in a digital-first world? And maybe it mostly applies to you at Zuckerman Spaeder as opposed to a blanket approach.

Katie: Yeah, you're setting me up. This is a tough question. I think it really depends on the person. You know, I mentioned that we have these generational differences where we have senior lawyers who are active for them. You know, it may not be in person but picking up the phone and talking with their former colleagues or friends is really an effective approach, especially as they continue to navigate some of the COVID-related concerns. But I think no matter what you do, there needs to be a solid mix between in-person approach to BD and digital. I have to say that seeing folks in action at conferences in the last few months, however, has been really encouraging and the genuine connection that comes out of those meetings is something that can't be replaced. I guess I would put it somewhere at 50/50 because if you have the opportunity to connect with people in person and then to maintain those relationships virtually, that's such a great way to carry on the conversation into the future to remain in touch and to keep in mind the things that the person shared with you in person that interest them so that you have something relevant to say, moving forward.

Ed: Pretty good answer. And I don't think many people will hold you to that for their blanket approach that I said, it's not going to apply to everybody in the same way. Katie, part of the podcast is the quick-fire round here. What is your favorite business and your favorite non-business book?

Katie:  I have to admit I'm not a huge business book person, so I guess I would say one that combines a couple of elements of each. I fell in love with this book called The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown, probably six or seven years ago, which is not only a wonderful story, but it's about an unlikely set of young men who band together against elite competitors in the sport of rowing to disrupt tradition and international order by combining their commitment, their determination and their optimism to compete on a really global level. And it's just a good true story. But I think it really reminds us of what we can accomplish if we set our minds to something.

Ed: Good answer. I've written that down. So I'll, I'll be reading that one at some point. I've got so many book recommendations from this.

Katie: It's so good. It's by Daniel James Brown. I'm not sure if I mentioned the author's name.

Ed: Perfect Katie. This is quite an interesting question. What was your first job?

Katie: It's not something I like to brag about, but I was a cater waiter in high school, which is a job that's definitely not for the faint of heart, but it's a great crash course, and the intensity of delivering high-quality service under pressure. You don't wanna fight with a bride on her big day.

Ed: Absolutely not. It's terrifying that idea. What is it that makes you happy at work?

Katie: I don't want to sound too pat. But seeing people set goals and achieve their objectives is probably the most rewarding thing about being in these roles. You know, we are not rocket scientists, which I think a lot of people say. But just watching people implement the processes, they need to achieve their plans is such a rewarding experience. And we had a couple of those feel-good moments watching our associates interact at a recent conference and employing some of the strategies that we helped them to work on beforehand. And it's just great to see the work in action and reaping the benefits that we're looking for.

Ed: A solid answer actually. Is it that you're listening to at the moment? And that can be a podcast or an album,  perhaps an audiobook as well.

Katie: Right now, I am deep in the throes of the Smartless archives. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the podcast, but it's hosted by Jason Bateman. Will Arnett and Sean Hayes, all of whom are just hysterical, but they have the most impressive, interesting, funny, talented guests and they're the perfect commuting companions.

Ed: I've not heard of it before. 

Katie: You have to look it up.

Ed: Now. Finally, in the quick-fire round, what is your favorite place to visit and why?

Katie: Anyone who knows me will roll up their eyes at this answer because there's really only one -Cape Cod. I am happiest at the beach up there and get up there every chance I get.

Ed: I had a feeling that was your answer already. We normally get to the end of the podcast and ask the final question which we sort of have as a bit of a standard one, but it's going to apply specifically to this topic. What's your one piece of advice to marketing and business development leaders looking to develop the next generation of lawyers within their firm?

Katie: Well, as we tell our associates don't underestimate the value that you can bring to the firm, keeping an ear to the ground connecting dots, you know, flagging issues and opportunities for our clients. These are all things that we can do as marketers from the get-go. It doesn't require decades of experience to pay attention and cultivating those kinds of behaviours early on can really improve client service and result in some seriously valuable contributions that help you shine in your role as a marketer.

Ed: Solid piece of advice. I'm surprised actually that you managed to pin it down to maybe one thing because I feel like there's multiple different things you could add to that. But thanks for pinning down one piece of advice.

Katie: I'd like to say I'm not a rule follower, but this might be the exception.

Ed: Katie. It's been fantastic to get you on the CMO series podcast. I know we've talked about it for a while, so I'm really happy that we got you here to record today.

Katie:Thanks so much for having me. It was fun.

Ed: Absolutely. I know that there's many topics that we could have covered and I'm sure that there's even a part two somewhere down the line. But thank you very much for coming on today.

Katie: Well, I'll look forward to it. Thanks so much.


cmoseries, passlepod, e2e, professional services, marketing