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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP106 - Jennifer Becker of Marshall Dennehey on keeping busy lawyers engaged in business development

Building a book of business is crucial for lawyers, but engaging them in business development can be a challenge. Many lawyers receive little to no exposure to marketing and business development during their education, making it difficult to naturally embrace this vital aspect of their careers.

Today, Cam Dobinson is very lucky to welcome Jennifer Becker, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Marshall Dennehey to discuss how to engage busy lawyers in the critical function of business development.

Jennifer and Cam discuss:

  • How Jennifer came to her role in legal marketing & business development and the moment she realised the importance of engaging lawyers in BD
  • The attitude and approach that lawyers have to marketing & business development 
  • How to successfully approach engaging lawyers in BD
  • How to cater to different personalities and approaches across a large number of lawyers
  • Key programs that have engaged lawyers and produced good results
  • Advice for marketing and BD leaders looking to engage their lawyers in business development


Cam: Despite the importance of building a book of business, few lawyers naturally engage in business development. Lawyers, typically receive little to no exposure to marketing and business development during their education. Today, we're lucky to welcome Jennifer Becker, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Marshall Dennehey to discuss how to engage busy lawyers in the critical function of business development. Jen, welcome to the CMO series!

Jennifer: Thank you, Cam. I appreciate it.

Cam: Excellent. So Jen, how did you come into your role in legal marketing and business development?

Jennifer: I came to it in a bit of a roundabout way, which is probably the answer you hear from a lot of CMOs. I was originally a public relations and political science major in college at Syracuse. And in my junior and senior years, I took a couple of law-related classes like constitutional law, first amendment, that kind of thing. And I really liked the classes and frankly, I also didn't know what I exactly wanted to do after I graduated. So I decided law school would be a good idea and a way to kind of postpone adulthood for another couple of years. So I went to law school at William and Mary right after graduating. And the whole time I was in law school, I liked the academic challenge of law school. I made a ton of really good friends, but I didn't necessarily want to become a lawyer and I kind of always had it in the back of my head, is there a way to get back into marketing and somehow combine these things? And so post-law school, I actually worked for a PR agency for a little while, they had a big law firm as one of their clients. And I saw that as a great way to get back into the world of law firms and legal without becoming a lawyer. So, it was a nice combination of my two backgrounds. I went in-house at Patton Boggs or what was Patton Boggs at the time, in Washington DC. I've been doing it ever since.

Cam: I'm guessing having come from a sort of PR/ law school education background, it will be pretty early on that, you realize? When was it at that stage that you realized how important it is for lawyers to engage in business development?

Jennifer: Yeah, it was probably later than I would like to admit to. Because I never, I guess I never fully thought about the business of law and I think that's part of the challenge of our jobs is that a lot of lawyers don't consider that until they're really in it. I sort of knew, you know, tangentially that law firms operated as businesses that they had PR people and marketing people, but I didn't really think about it until I got out and was working for this PR firm and talked to their in-house marketing folks and was like: “Yeah, this is really like an interesting job, a challenge to get people to appreciate this.”. I really, I like that challenge and I just like the intersection of those two things of marketing and communications and law firms.

Cam: How would you describe the attitude and approach that a lot of lawyers have to marketing and business development particularly early on in their career?

Jennifer: I think early on the attitude is for most of them, not all but most, it's pretty much nonexistent. I mean, again, you don't really learn it in law school. I didn't learn it in law school and I don't think things have changed all that much since I was there. You go and you learn, you know, you read a ton of case law, you learn how to think like a lawyer, but you don't learn necessarily the day-to-day and you certainly don't learn the day-to-day. It's like the business of law. You don't learn billing, you don't learn timekeeping, you don't learn marketing. And so I think with particular young associates, it's just not on their radar until we put it on their radar. And how you do, that really matters and how you speak to them, I think, and get them to understand the idea really matters.

Cam: And do you think that sort of attitude exists purely from the education perspective, and sort of, the lack of awareness at that stage? Or do you think there's any part of it, that is to do with sort of being nervous coming into the sort of big corporate world as well?

Jennifer: Yeah, I think it's probably both. I think no one really goes to law school because they want to be a salesperson, right? You wouldn't do that instead you'd go into sales or into marketing. So I think when associates come out and recognize that there is this business development part of their jobs, it's a little daunting because that's not what they were trained in and that's not what they think they're good at. And so they come at it, I think from a little bit of a place of fear and just the unknown. And so our job is to help them understand what that means, what that looks like, and how to make it work for them. 

Cam: Yeah. You've already mentioned sort of, the difficulties or challenges getting lawyers to engage in business development because on the one hand, you know, they are incredibly time-poor, they are very busy and possibly unfamiliar with what they need to be doing. But on the other, it is central to their success in their career. And how does your team approach, engaging lawyers in business development, and how early on after sort of joining? Do you look to engage with them?

Jennifer: We engage with them pretty early in the process. And it's a little different depending on where they are in their career. So if it's a group of first-year associates, we're gonna have a different approach as opposed to a lateral partner. For the first years, the real introduction for them is I will do a presentation with them. That's just a straight overview of marketing and business development and law firms and it's a little bit of what we do in our department and then it's also what they can do. So things like updating their bio, and making sure their LinkedIn is up to date. They have a headshot all of that kind of basic stuff, the ground cover, if you will, of marketing. But then talking to them on another level of, you know, know what, who your network is. Keep in touch with people, keep in touch with your law school classmates. Those people can give you business one day if you don't think that they can right now and they, I'm sure are not in a position at that moment, but by 10 years from now they could be in-house counsel. You don't know what's gonna happen. And then to your other point of like, how do you engage them? I think a really big part of it is to meet them where they are. So, if they are introverts recognize that they're not the type of person who's gonna want to go to a 200/300 person conference and work the room. Some people are going to be great at that. We have attorneys who absolutely are gonna want to do that and they're gonna crush it. But we have other folks that are gonna, like, sweat, even thinking about it. So, for them, something else like, you know, maybe writing an article is more appropriate, maybe they want to do a podcast. There are some people that are gonna be like 1 to 1, there are some people that are gonna be more outgoing and want to get out there in front of dozens of people. It's just figuring out what works for each person individually and what works for their business.

Cam: Yeah, I think there's the sort of no one size fits all approach and actually, to the next point in terms of how do you cater those differences across a larger number of lawyers? Is it possible... you get a large number of associates every year, I'm sure, is it possible to engage with those all individually? Or do you sort of have to give them a program and then see how they get on for the first six months or so and then try and tailor it from there?

Jennifer: Yeah, I think it's more the latter to give them an introduction and then see how they go from there and find the ones that are most interested in marketing and business development and work with them. You know, the fact is there are always gonna be holdouts, there are always gonna be some partners who you or associates that you almost never hear from. And you know, to a certain extent that's OK. You're not gonna work with everybody. So you kind of find the willing participants and the engaged people and you work with them. Hopefully, it trickles down to the others as well, but there will always be some you just, you don't work with and, and that's, you know, again, that's to a certain extent fine. So yeah, it's focusing on the ones that are interested that seem to want to get out there, help that, you know, it's like help me - help you, situation a little bit.  And I think it's also important, to make it palatable to them. So again, if you've got that person who's really introverted, don't push that big conference on them because that's not what they're gonna do. Find something that's more in their comfort zone initially get them out doing that and then eventually, you know, they can expand their efforts a little broader.

Cam: Yeah, and it's always a case, through sort of different fractions of focusing on the winners as well. If you know that someone's engaged then really giving them the tools as, as much as possible is a lot easier than trying to drag someone along who perhaps hasn't been.

Jennifer: Yeah. Hopefully, the people who aren't as engaged will see the people who are engaged and will see the success that they're having and the opportunities that open up for them and they'll come around to it. In some ways they have to see it, I think, to understand what it is and how it can work for them. And that's fine if somebody, you know if it takes them a little bit longer to come around to it, that's all right. We'll work with them whenever they're ready.

Cam: In terms of the successes that you mentioned. Are there any particular programs or examples of what your team is currently doing that you've seen good results from or have been particularly working well? 

Jennifer: We've been doing a series of webinars that my department puts on for all the attorneys in the firm. So across levels, across offices, it's 30-minute marketing, it's, you know, pretty quick and easy. It's always over lunchtime. We actually have one tomorrow. I think we've gotten good feedback because it's, again, it's half an hour. So it's not taking too much billable time from the attorneys. It's over lunch. Everybody's gotta eat lunch anyway. So why not hop on a quick webinar and learn something while you're doing it?  And it's on topics that they're interested in. So we've asked for feedback on topics people are interested in, you know, updating your bio, talking about awards and rankings, talking about how, you know, event attendance, all that kind of stuff.  That's been pretty successful. So those webinars have been good, not only for attorney training and learning but also for our own PR, you know, we're always trying to market the marketing department because the more we can help them, the more that helps us, those have been useful. I think we've also had a lot of success with team meetings, we have weekly team meetings and we talk about what everybody has seen in their particular groups across the firm. So again, if somebody is having success in one area, somebody else can leverage that in their department. And we have a lot of meetings with the shareholders about their business development and about collaborating and people will, you know, sit around a room and talk about what clients they've been visiting, who they've been talking to, and the partners or shareholders, we call them shareholders here. Will say: “Oh yeah, I know somebody there!” and then, you know, they make concrete plans for how to follow up with those clients. And that's always, I think the most effective way to develop business.

Cam: And Jen, you've already mentioned, a couple of really pertinent points here. Number one that I was just picking out there is understanding the sort of place of the attorney and what they enjoy doing when it comes to business development, whether it's writing or whether it's engaging with a room full of people. If you had one piece of advice for others who are trying to engage their busy lawyers in marketing and business development, what would that one piece be?

Jennifer: I think it's to meet them where they are and understand that marketing and business development can be intimidating for lawyers because this isn't what they do on a regular basis.  It's not what they've been trained in. It's not what they necessarily thought they were gonna do when they came out of law school. So you have to come to them with that understanding of their personalities and their backgrounds and figure out the best way that marketing and BD can fit into that. And again, it's not gonna be one size fits all gonna be a little bit different for everybody depending on personality and preferences and their particular practice and client base, but there is something out there that will work for pretty much all attorneys.

Cam: I guess that, sort of the tailoring of that and the not having the one size fits all approach is sort of key to your role and how you engage with those people who perhaps are less keen to engage?

Jennifer: Yeah, think we take a lot of pride in my department on knowing our attorneys pretty well. Knowing them on a personal level as well as a professional level. So I can go to any of the marketing managers in my department and say: “Hey, what's this person like?” and they absolutely know - oh, they're a big golfer or they have this kind of client or this is how they prefer to reach out to people or something like that. And knowing that kind of information is really important because it just allows us to be that much more effective for each of them. 

Cam:  Perfect, so Jen. What is your favorite business and non-business book?

Jennifer: Ok, I'm gonna cheat a little bit with this question. Because I don't think either answer completely is what you're looking for. I will say my favorite business-ish book is actually The Elements of Style by Strunk & White, which isn't technically a business book, but it's about communications and writing and I think that's so important in any sort of business. So, that's gonna be my answer there and non-business. I'm also cheating and not giving one book. I'm gonna say it's a series of books that I read as a young girl or Tween teenager, which is The Babysitters Club. I'm probably dating myself with that, but it was huge in the nineties and maybe even the eighties and I read every one and I couldn't wait to read the next one. That really instilled a love of reading in me.

Cam: Well, I mean, the communications you sort of said is cheating but to an extent it's a crucial part of not only your job but everyone's job. So yeah, definitely wouldn't count that one down as cheating at all and taking it back then. What was your first job, Jen?

Jennifer: So, maybe not surprisingly given the babysitter's club answer. It was babysitting for my neighbor's kids. That was my first, sort of unofficial, like the off-the-books job. My first real job, like an actual paycheck, was as a waitress at a country club near where I grew up.

Cam: Any, good stories for either of those, any disasters or fairly plain sailing?

Jennifer: I will say working at a golf club really was a really good prep for working with lawyers as a career because a lot of our members maybe not surprisingly, were lawyers, doctors, business people. So I got kind of used to that personality that mindset being service oriented anticipating needs. I remember that was one of the big things we were trained on. You know, if somebody orders something with fries or wherever they might need ketchup, bring the ketchup before they ask. I still kind of think of that sort of thing in my day-to-day job. So, there was some kind of interesting member stories where they had, you know, maybe a couple of too many beers, but I'll leave those for another podcast.

Cam: You mentioned, you know a couple of stories that you could share. But in your day-to-day role, what makes you happy at work? What sort of gives you that fulfillment in your current role?

Jennifer: I think it's a combination of things. I mean getting results is always great. You know, seeing something come to fruition when we have a really cool idea of say a new event and we bring that from concept to actual execution is really awesome. But honestly, day to day it's just we're working with the team. We have a really good group here and seeing everybody collaborate and you know, figure out their jobs and one person might come up on a challenge and the way they handle that helps somebody else and something else. And I think that that's a really cool thing to see.

Cam: Brilliant. You've already mentioned favorite books… What are you, you listening to at the moment? Any podcast, audiobooks?

Jennifer: Yeah, I've been listening to the SmartLess podcast with Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Sean Hayes. It's, I think a pretty popular one. It's pretty funny. I'm kind of behind because I think I'm listening to episodes that originally came out in 2021. So I'm sort of late to the game, but it's funny they have cool people on the one I just listened to was Bryan Cranston. I learned a lot about his life and how he came to become an actor and become a really successful actor. But also the guys just really have a great friendship and banter between themselves. So, it's funny to hear that.

Cam: Yeah, I did hear a Bryan Cranston story not long ago about how it's sort of so strange for him because obviously he sort of came to stardom a lot later on in his career and sort of the dealing with that. So it is interesting that, that you pulled that up and I was talking about that not long at all. Last one here. Where is your favorite place to visit? And why?

Jennifer: So I think my favorite place overall is the Jersey Shore, I'm from Philadelphia, so it's not that far away. I think part of the reason why I love the Jersey Shore is it's just happy memories for me. We always went there in the summers when I was a kid. So I equate that with summer with nice weather with going to the beach and eating ice cream and riding your bike and all that good stuff. I also really love going to the Bahamas in the winter because winters here can be pretty brutal, so it's nice to get away.

Cam: Two fairly differing answers there, but both sound brilliant. Jen, that was absolutely fantastic loads of loads of great takeaways there for our audience. Thank you so much for joining.

Jennifer: Thank you. I appreciate you having me.


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