Herb Thomas is Chief Marketing Officer of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston. He previously served as Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer of Dewey & LeBoeuf and Chief Administrative Officer of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. Herb practiced law for 10 years as a securities litigator with Debevoise & Plimpton. In the two years following the 9/11 attacks, he left law to serve as Executive Director of a nonprofit operating several Baltimore City schools. Herb is author of The Superlative Man; a novel, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Business Development for Lawyers, a recent article in Legal Business World; a series of pieces on practical strategies for law firm innovation; and co-author of a book on insider trading.
Q: You’re an experienced securities litigator. How has that role benefitted your current role as Chief Marketing Officer of Whiteford, Taylor and Preston?
A: I practiced at Debevoise for 10 years, but I do not see that as any kind of prerequisite to legal marketing. I’ve worked with a lot of talented people in law firm marketing who never practiced law. I would say there have been times it’s been helpful to have first-hand experience of the pressure lawyers can be under to produce. I crested at 2,750 billable hours and at that level at which you’re basically always working and really can’t afford to waste time. But the single most important experience I’ve had was a year I spent on the post-merger integration of two large NY-based firms – LeBoeuf Lamb and Dewey Ballantine. I was a C-level, though not yet in marketing, and we spent an entire year working through what seemed like a thousand integration issues. All of them felt strategically important.
Q. For a brief time, you were Executive Director of a nonprofit in inner city Baltimore. What lessons did you learn in that experience?
A. I was Executive Director of a nonprofit operating four inner city elementary/middle schools. Walking up to one of the schools on my first day, I looked across the street, and they were filming an episode of The Wire. I had a first-hand look at problems that feel bottomless, seemingly all of which trace back to how we care for children. I moved on after two years, but the experience gave me a different perspective on some of the problems we work on day in and day out in legal marketing. Most are them are very good problems to have.
Q. You are the author of the novel, The Superlative Man, plus a series of pieces on strategies for law firm innovation. What would you recommend with regard to law firm innovation in 2019?
A. I find the business of law interesting and view business development as being at the strategic core of a firm. My advice is to focus relentlessly on what lawyers will find practically useful, and always be incremental. Yes, there are big disruptors out there, and more and bigger ones coming. But the question always comes back to what are you actually going to be able do about it? When a lawyer stops what she’s doing to hear what you have to say, will she immediately recognize it as useful and compelling? If not, it doesn’t matter if it’s the greatest innovation the industry has ever seen. She needs an opening to engage. Think doable. Be incremental.
Q. What advice would you give to those leading a team of multiple generations?
A. Nothing original, I’m afraid. Trust your experience, and be the best listener you can be. Listen for actual experience, especially when that experience may differ markedly from your own. The priorities we set often come straight out of the experience and capabilities of those around us.
Q. How have you leveraged LMA in your career?
A. I look to LMA for practical content that I can take straight back to Whiteford, content that the people I work with will recognize as useful. A great example is a session on succession planning at LMA Annual. Susan Saltonstall Duncan of RainMaking Oasis led a day-long session that offered a range of concrete suggestions for firms to organize its thinking around succession planning. It was directly relevant and useful to conversations we were having at the time at Whiteford.
Profile by Kim Trone, Marketing Director, Stock and Leader, Attorneys at Law