LMA New York: CMO Forum 2020

The LMA New York local group’s annual CMO Forum on May 27 was itself a sign of the times. The virtual format, if anything, reinforced the challenges our panelists and attendees have faced since the event was postponed from the originally scheduled in-person luncheon on March 12 due to the pandemic.

This year’s panel featured three legal marketing veterans: Nora Shearer, CMO at Shearman & Sterling; Lynn Tellefsen, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A.; and Michael Hertz, White & Case’s Chief Marketing Officer. BakerHostetler CMO Despina Kartson moderated the discussion, which focused almost exclusively on the impact of COVID-19 on legal industry marketing. More than 200 LMA members and guests participated via video conference.

Shearer Nora 2020.jpg Tellefsen_Lynn 2020.jpg
Nora Shearer Lynn Tellefsen
Hertz Michael 2020.jpg KARTSON_Despina_2020.jpg
Michael Hertz Despina Kartson

 

The panelists set the stage for the forum by agreeing that their biggest challenge the past three months has been, as Ms. Shearer cited, “transitioning to a remote working environment,” which Mr. Hertz characterized as “an immediate move.” “There’s a strange cadence to the day,” added Ms. Tellefsen.

Personal contact with staff, lawyers, and clients was a recurrent theme throughout the session. Michael emphasized that his firm’s lawyers have needed to “make very personal contact” with their clients. He pointed out that emails are not enough, noting that a lot of clients felt they were receiving too many emails from their law firms.

All three panelists shared that their firms had created coronavirus resource centers, where clients can, in Lynn’s words, “stay connected to us and to our latest thinking.” Nora pointed out that her team has “to respond to both the coronavirus news and to the needs of our clients.”

Even in this unusual business environment, there has been a need to continue with business as usual. For instance, all the CMO panelists shared that they are proceeding with new initiatives they had either started or were about to start when the world changed. Michael did caution about being “careful about discretionary spending.” But he added that White & Case is still willing to move forward with projects that will help the firm, such as continuing with infrastructure upgrades.

Shearman is also looking ahead with its business initiatives. “The challenge now,” said Nora, is to ensure we continue on with projects despite the pandemic.”

Lynn shared a similar attitude, stating that Wilentz is “getting back now to projects on priority lists.” Her firm is looking closely at digital strategies that are “evolving very quickly,” focusing on digital tools and digital solutions. Technology investment and improvements were also priorities for Nora and Michael.

Technology, from a different perspective, is also likely to benefit the CMO’s firms – and many others. Each of the panelists quickly named technology as a practice area that will generate a lot of business for their lawyers. Nora cited capital markets as seeing increased activity and practices such as bankruptcy and restructuring are expected to be busy. Lynn said her firm will be “laser-focused” on regulatory changes, adding that health law practices will benefit from the shift to telehealth that is “here to stay.”

Michael shared a thought leadership initiative where White & Case envisions a growing emphasis on “Smart Cities.” He explained that “cities will have to grapple with how to become more resilient,” dealing with such complex legal issues as “how to share information while respecting data privacy.”

Each of the CMOs is taking a close look at how (s)he manages resources, human or otherwise. Michael said he had to reallocate some of his personnel. He gave the example of training some of his Events team to become BD team members since the pandemic has cut down sharply on events. Lynn said her firm has instituted a new call routing system to manage calls better while everyone works remotely.

The future workplace is very much on the minds of CMOs. The inevitable changes in the way we all do business raise many questions, particularly concerning social distancing. Lynn noted that her firm’s lawyers have attended annual conferences that have, because of the pandemic, been postponed or rescheduled as virtual conferences. “How do you connect virtually with a stranger, develop a rapport, and become a trusted advisor,” she wondered.

Michael said his firm is transitioning to become less sheltered in place. He said that White & Case has gradually been reopening offices, one by one, focusing on making them safe. But what the workplace will ultimately look like, “we don’t know yet,” he stated. “Nobody in their lifetime has been through this, especially with the technology we now have.”

One positive that has emerged from everyone working at home is the human element. Each of the CMO panelists shared examples of how relationships have been strengthened from afar.

Nora stressed that she has made it a point to communicate more by phone than email. Michael has established “Zoom office hours” to connect one-on-one with his staff. Lynn said she tries “to have a little fun in each call.” Before the pandemic, she held “monthly luncheon brainstorming meetings” with her staff and is considering how to restart those meetings in this virtual environment.

Nora echoed the thought by saying her team has “become a lot closer” and gotten “to know each other personally.” Michael added that the very human aspects have “knocked down some of the walls between people.”

This year’s unique CMO Forum was made possible in large part through the efforts of Rob Kates of Kates Media, which has continually supported our virtual programming, for which we are very appreciative.

To hear and see the entire CMO Forum, please click here.

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