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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP121 - John Eix of Crowe & Dunlevy on Making an Instant Impact in a Regional Firm

The path in legal marketing and business development is diverse, and shaped by the size, culture, and ambitions of the firm.

Today on the CMO Series Podcast, Charles Cousins has the privilege of talking to an experienced professional who is bringing a wealth of marketing and BD expertise from various professional service backgrounds to a regional firm.  We welcome John Eix, the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Crowe & Dunlevy, to the series to share his journey and insights on making an instant impact in a regional law firm.

John and Charles explore: 

  • John’s career journey to his role now at Crowe & Dunlevy
  • The first priority and the instant impact projects John’s working on now at the firm
  • The differences between working in a mid-size regional firm compared to the larger firms, and how to leverage your team and resources to compete
  • The team approach and examples of how that has made an impact from a business development perspective
  • What’s next for Crowe & Dunlevy to generate more quick wins and successes
  • Advice for marketers and BD Professionals climbing the ladder on how to make an instant impact in their role


Charles: A career in legal marketing and business development can follow many routes. The size, culture, and ambition of a firm will no doubt shape the opportunities for professionals to make an instant impact in their roles. Today, we're lucky to chat with someone bringing his vast experience in marketing and BD from a range of professional services to a regional firm. We welcome John Eix, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Crowe & Dunlevy, Oklahoma's second-largest law firm.

Welcome John.

John: It's great to be here. Thank you for having me, Charles.

Charles: And we've got an exciting topic to talk about. We're talking about making an impact in a regional firm and I couldn't think of a better person than to come to you. You've worked across some of the big boys: Holland & Knight, Hunton Andrews Kurth, Haynes & Boone, some of the larger law firms as well, some of those consultancies; PWC, EY, and Grant Thornton. So it's really gonna be interesting to find your take on starting in a regional firm and how you make that instant impact.

John: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to visit this with you. I look forward to hopefully revealing some gems and having a great conversation.

Charles: Brill. So maybe to kick things off, can you tell us about your career journey to this role at Crowe & Dunlevy and what attracted you to a regional firm?

John: Well, as you commented, you know, my experience has been mainly in big law and Big Four accounting. And I think for me, the opportunity to come and work for a regionally focused law firm that also has a Dallas presence was really, really important to me coming out of environments where I was in law firms that had 1,200, 1,500 attorneys or a consulting firm that had 17,000 employees. You know, that, that makes you feel like a minnow in an ocean. And I really felt like I wanted to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. And for me, it's to bring my experience to a firm where I can have a greater impact. It's not that I wasn't successful in my previous roles, but, you know, when you're working for a firm that is that size, your opportunities to have an impact are only in buckets. And I feel like the firm that I'm with now at Crowe & Dunlevy, they've brought me on because they want me to have an impact firm-wide and that was really appealing to me.

Charles: And you talked about having a sort of impact. Can you tell us about the first priorities you've identified and the sort of instant impact projects that you're working on now?

John: One of the things that I was charged with, even during the interview process, is our firm does not have a CRM, which is, you know, as many folks know, it's your kind of how you do your outreach to your clients, prospects and your friends of the firm. And, you know, we were kind of antiquated in the sense that everything was on Excel spreadsheets and emails and those kinds of things. So, you know, we have, in my 1st 100 days, signed on with a CRM provider and we're very excited. We have a number of events coming up and then we also have a number of holiday events coming up and the ability to promote those effectively through a CRM tool. And then also be able to use it for other outreach, such as client alerts, and those kinds of activities really have me excited because to come from no CRM to a CRM in my first 100 days, I think it shows the commitment of the firm to moving forward in meaningful ways. Because as many of you know who are listening, CRM products are not cheap but they are kind of a necessary evil. And I'm happy to say that we have that necessary evil just in time for Halloween. 

Charles: That’s incredible. I feel like we could do a podcast called Implementing a CRM in 100 days with John Eix.

John: You're very kind.

Charles: We’d get a few listens for that. I obviously appreciate that it is probably a bit more straightforward to do it at a regional firm than it is at one of those larger firms we mentioned earlier, but still very impressive nonetheless. Well, I appreciate that again, it was kind of a necessary evil. I want to make sure that our firm is working efficiently and effectively as we go to market. So, in terms of what it's like working in these mid-sized regional firms, how does that compare to when you worked at those larger national or global firms? How do you leverage your team, and resources to sort of compete at that level with these sorts of big, larger global firms? 

John: That's a great question, you know, I think for, you know, mid-sized regional firm, you know, you're always competing against your fellow firms that are at a regional level, but you're also competing against the, you know, AMLaw 100 firms. And I think the important part of being able to go to market as a regional firm is the relationships you have, because I think as a regional firm, you have a unique opportunity to cultivate relationships at a local level. You know, regional firms tend to be in smaller markets. So again, there's a greater opportunity to be visible and to build those relationships. In a market such as Dallas, there are hundreds of law firms, you know, it's hard to rise above the noise, but in markets like Oklahoma City and Tulsa where we have a significant presence, you know, we're seen as a leader in the law community. One of my charges is to continue to elevate the profile of Crowe & Dunlevy in Oklahoma, but also in Texas, we have, you know, a sizable office here in Dallas and IP practice down in Houston. And all of that, you know, takes relationships. You know, we're in a unique environment in Oklahoma and Texas where the industries that are big for us in the sense of opportunity, like healthcare, and financial services, you know, and others, there's just those are relationship-based industries. And I think in order to really cultivate opportunities within the industries that we're focused on, you have to be relationship-driven yourself. 

Charles: Yeah. And I really like on your LinkedIn, I've seen a few of your posts really sort of throwing down the gauntlet, telling some of those larger law firms that Crowe & Dunlevy are coming for a piece of that pie. I had a little chuckle looking at them earlier.

John: Well, and again, it kind of goes back to my competitiveness in team sports. And again, you understand what this is like, Charles, you know, I just, you know, I think one of the things I missed going into consultancy and then coming back into the law firm environment was the thrill of the chase, you know, going after new business and really driving revenue to the firm and I really am excited about that piece of the role. And as you're well aware, you know, the legal market share that's out there is being held by other firms and the only way to go get it, is go get it. And we're gonna be working hard to elevate the visibility, profile and expertise of the firm, not only throughout the rest of this year but well into 2024.

Charles: Brill. I'm going off-piste a little bit here. But I remember when we spoke before. One of the things you mentioned was the costs of using someone like Crowe & Dunlevy can sometimes be more affordable than using one of the bigger, larger law firms and we talked about this briefly but how do you sort of balance that being a bit more affordable but making sure that your clients don't feel like you're a cheaper option. 

John: But, and you know, you're spot on with the question, Charles. What you're trying to create is a value proposition. You know, you don't want to be seen as the cheapest because that means people or in-house counsel are looking at you only for the opportunity of a low price. And that's not how you really want to be seen. You want to be seen as a value and we have some of the most talented, skilled attorneys in this region. And we're able to compete and give them a higher profile because of our rates. You know, we have Oklahoma rates in Dallas and when you're talking about hundreds of law firms in Dallas that charge big market rates, you know, you're looking at 600, 700, 800, 900 dollars an hour. And even higher for those that have specialized expertise, you know, and we're coming in at like half that rate. And our attorneys are just as skilled, just as acclaimed, just as recognized, as some of the big law attorneys that are out there. But we're able to bring a value proposition that says, “Hey, we bring talent, but we also bring a billable rate that is gonna make your board happy. That's gonna make your CFO happy, that's gonna make your executive committee happy.”  And I think that's really an opportunity for us, but again, we just have to be sensitive about how we go to market with that, because we don't wanna be just seen as the cheapest, we want to be seen as the best value.

Charles: You talked before about the team approach alongside the personal impact you bring as an individual. Can you tell us more about that and examples of how that has made an impact from a business development perspective? 

John: Absolutely. You know, first of all, I wanna say that I'm being successful in my current role because of the leadership in the firm. Adam Childers, who is the CEO and president of the firm, and Will Hoch, who is the Marketing Partner, if you will, for the firm have been very gracious and very supportive of my new initiatives. And then I have an amazing set of colleagues, Tyler Elliott and Colleen Trammell, who are exceptional. I'm just blessed every day to have them on my team and we function as a team, you know, one of the things that made me chuckle when you talked about teams earlier was, you know, Colleen and Tyler are both very good about sending me little GIFs via teams that say, you know, that is all about team focus all about, you know, “we're better as a team” and “go team” and to be able to cultivate that kind of environment, I think that's why we're having such tremendous success under such stressful circumstances right now, as I mentioned earlier, you know, we have a number of events coming up and all of us are really stretched, but you can feel the enthusiasm and feel the energy, you know, even though there's a lot of pressure and things to do, because we can rely on each other, you know, we're all working toward the same goal and even though we may not be working on the same things. There's a vision and there's a divining rod, if you will, to success, that all of us see and we're supported by the firm leadership.  And I think that's what makes all of the things that we're accomplishing number one, very exciting, but also number two, very meaningful to the firm.

Charles: So looking forward to the next 6 to 12 months at Crowe & Dunlevy, what are the sort of plans to generate a few more quick wins? What have you got in the pipeline?

John: We're gonna increase the visibility of the firm here in Dallas. And we're also going to elevate the visibility of the firm in Oklahoma. I don't wanna give too much away, but, you know, you're used to being out in a boat. There are gonna be some big splashes. And I really look forward to the things that we're gonna be rolling out in 2024. Some of them are in partnership with other organizations, but there are a couple of things that we're doing that are gonna be our own initiatives. I really am excited about the opportunities to cultivate new business based on those efforts.

Charles: So that's very much a watch this space.

John: Very much so, stay tuned.

Charles: So finally, and this is a question we'd like to ask all of our guests.  It's one piece of advice, one key takeaway that you'd offer to marketers and BD professionals climbing the ladder on which route to take in terms of that regional versus national or global firms and how to make an instant impact in their roles.

John: I think first of all, you know, go to a regional firm that is marketing and business development proactive. I'm blessed at Crowe & Dunlevy that I've got, again, leadership and colleagues that are all about, “Let's get out there, let's cultivate new business. Let's do what we need to do to bring in new business, let's drive revenue to the firm.” So I think that's an important component to looking at regional firms. But I think the other piece of it for me is, you know, regional firms. I think maybe need someone with experience, more than they realize because there's so much to do. I am a jack of all trades because I've got 20-plus years of experience doing what I do. And it's hard to bring on someone who's not familiar with law firms and doesn't have a whole lot of experience to lead your firm in a business development effort. So again, you know, I think now there are two things that I think have come into play. I think regional firms need to be more conscious of bringing on more experienced business development professionals because, again, there's just a lot to do. But number two, as a business development professional yourself, as you begin to mature in your career, look at regional firms. They are great opportunities for not only your own personal development, but also professional success. You know, I've done this for longer than my therapist wants me to tell you. But I can't tell you how happy I am at the firm I am with now.

Charles: It sounds like you've found a nice home at Crowe & Dunlevy.

John: I really have and, again, I thank the leadership and I thank my colleagues.

Charles: Brill. We're now at the part of the podcast where we jump into the quick-fire round. So here's a series of questions for you John which you can answer and this helps us learn a bit more about who is the real John Ikes. So we'll fire away. To kick off, what is your favorite business and nonbusiness book?

John: My favorite business book would be The Inspirational Leader by Gifford Thomas. You know, I really feel like that's a powerful boo,k even though it's not very long. But it's a good read, I think for anyone, not only who supervises people, but also just kind of leads teams or leads efforts. Because the leadership that the book touts is all about teamwork and building teams and being that kind of leader. And that's why I find that book very compelling and why it's probably my favorite business book, as for nonbusiness books I am an advocate and a strong advocate of anything by John Grisham. I just absolutely adore his books. I've read, and I think he's got like 37 of them out. I think I've read at least half of them. I wish I had more time and I'd have all 37 read.

Charles: Hey, and he's got a few that are in the sort of legal, that sort of sphere as well, hasn't he? So, yeah, I guess it's very relevant to your day job. What was your first job?

John: My first job was at Marshall's Department store near where I grew up. It was a really great experience for me. I worked there through high school and college even though I had a lot going on with both high school and college, it really taught me, you know, the value of hard work. The values of being someplace on time and doing a good job when you're there. I worked my way up through the ranks after five years of being there and once I finished college I finished my, quote-unquote, career, my job there. But it was really a good experience and had some really good leadership. That kind of molded me and shaped me into, you know, an adult worker if you will. And I really appreciate that experience. 

Charles: That's wonderful. And I guess you probably learned a lot over those five years.

John: I did. I did and, you know, I had three or four bosses at the time through those five years because, you know, store managers change. But all of them were fantastic and they really, really helped shape my work ethic between them and my dad. My dad had a big influence on me as it relates to my work effort. And I think between, you know, in that very formative time, the leadership of my dad and those at my Marshall's job,  really had a big impact.

Charles: What makes you happy at work?

John: I think what makes me happiest at work is achieving big results through team effort. You know, having a group of individuals be able to plant a flag of success because of them coming together and really doing something significant. You know, we all love doing our own accomplishments, but I think when we do it in an environment where there's been a significant change or a significant achievement and it's done in a team environment. I think those are my favorite moments.

Charles: And I can really relate to that, John, as you know, I'm a keen rower. So I'm all about the big results and team efforts and there's nothing more enjoyable than, you know, reflecting back with your team after you've just achieved something great.

John: I grew up playing team sports, I was a soccer player and a football player and ran track and all those kinds of fun things. So again, just having that team environment in the workplace, I think is not only important but essential. You know, I really think that's how you accomplish great things through teams.

Charles: What are you listening to at the moment? This could be a podcast, music, or audiobook.

John: I'm gonna, I'm gonna go out there, I'm gonna say, I've latched on to chill music by an artist called Melosense. And I listen to it in the car and I listen to it at home. It's just kind of ambient music almost, but it's still got a nice beat to it. It sometimes has vocalists and sometimes does not. And I just really kind of enjoy the relaxation that it provides. It's not, you know, it's not elevator music so it doesn't put you to sleep. But at the same time, it's nice background noise, nice music to have in the background. So I've really enjoyed that and I've just recently, you know, gotten into that form of music, and Melosense and some others have really been music that I enjoy.

Charles; What's your favorite place to visit and why?

John: Probably Hawaii because of its diversity, particularly in its topography. You have the beautiful beaches, you've got the mountains, you've got the volcanoes. It's just like going to another world even though, you know, it's just, I don't wanna say that it's a 12-hour flight but it's like going to a different planet. It's just spectacular and almost cathartic and inspirational and just how it makes you feel when you're there. 

Charles: And it's definitely on my bucket list. So one day I'll have to experience that for myself. I just wanted to say a massive thanks for sharing some of your insights on what it's like in a regional firm and some of the projects you're working on to have that instant impact. So thanks again John for coming on and chatting to us.

John: I appreciate the opportunity, Charles. It's been wonderful.



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