Michelle Hauser has been with Katten for almost 10 years. In that time, she's held a variety of roles starting with Legal Executive Assistant in their Chicago office. From there, she moved to D.C. and got started with event planning and logistics. After spending some time learning about business development, she got back to her passion and created the National Events team, which she still leads today. Michelle’s current responsibilities involve planning and executing the Firm’s premier events such as its GC Summit, Annual Client Appreciation Event, practice retreats, and Financial Services Litigation Symposium. This role provides Michelle with an opportunity to interact with hundreds of the Firm’s clients and key internal stakeholders on an annual basis.
In this interview, Michelle shares tips, lessons learned and more.
How did you get started in client service/events?
My first experience with events in a law firm setting was at Katten’s partner retreat in 2012. At the time, I was working as a legal executive assistant and was providing administrative support at the retreat. Upon arrival, I noticed that the administrative support function needed a bit more organization and got to work, knowing that those responsible for the overall retreat had enough on their plates. I provided an update to the retreat organizers and offered to assist with anything else that they might need during the retreat. They were impressed with my initiative and work, because when a position opened up on the events team in the marketing department, they approached me about taking it. I’ve always been drawn to organizing functions at school and with friends and family, and jumped at the opportunity when it presented itself.
Tell me about a big client service success.
Our firm does a high-end client event in conjunction with the Phoenix Open every other year. The firm had hosted this event for many years prior to my first involvement with it in 2017. I knew going in that it was important that we continue to add new and thoughtful touches to what had become a “signature event” for our firm. I worked with our graphic design team and the partners to hone in on the details of the event – specifically the communications to our guests. Through this effort, we thought through all of the points in time when our guests would receive a physical communication from us or would need information from us while at the event so that we could make those experiences exciting and seamless. This resulted, for example, in us redoing our invitations so that information was printed on both the front and the back (instead of leaving the back blank) to convey a more luxurious touch, which reflects the feeling we try to achieve at that event. We also printed a number of other informational items for the guests, such as cards that we left in each guest’s hotel room telling him or her when the shuttles would leave for the Phoenix Open and other relevant pieces of information for the time they were spending with us. There’s nothing better than providing something to our guests before they even know they need it. In the end, this attention to detail resulted in a handwritten note from a client to our partner leading the event expressing his appreciation and gratitude. He closed the note by specifically mentioning the level of service he received, both at the event and in his daily interactions with our attorneys, as being a reason why he would continue to work with Katten.
What is a lesson learned that you’d love others to know?
At the end of the day, details really matter – big and small. They can take an ordinary interaction and make it a truly memorable experience that impacts the relationship with the guest, who are often clients or prospective clients. In addition, it is important that everyone attending the event – not only the attorneys – have the mindset of improving each guest’s experience. Just because you aren’t an attorney engaging with a guest over potential legal needs doesn’t mean that a guest’s interactions with you – both directly and indirectly – have no bearing on how he or she views your firm.
What are a few tips for successfully engaging with clients?
I always try to put myself into the mind of our guests when planning an event. I ask myself a number of questions, such as what will the guest’s experience be at the event, does that experience resonate with firm’s goals in hosting the event, does the event have a natural flow, and what would make this event stand out to me? To create an engaging event, you have to think beyond just the standard event necessities (e.g., a venue, serving food and beverages). Depending on the theme and purpose of the event, can you incorporate that into the food and beverages? There are a number of ways that you can engage the clients with attention grabbing videos and other thoughtful details that matter to your guests. I will also add that, if you have the budget, you can’t go wrong improving the quality of the food or drinks that you offer; no matter what else happens at the event, guests always talk about the food and drinks at an event.
What advice would you give to your younger self as it relates to your career?
The road to success isn’t linear and for good reason. The bumps along the way really do help you develop professionally and improve your skill sets. You aren’t your mistakes. Mistakes will happen; it’s how you handle those mistakes, and learn and grow from them that help define who you are and where you’re going.
When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy doing?
My husband and I just had our first child a few weeks ago, and we’re enjoying navigating this parenting adventure. Beyond that, we both enjoy dining and drinking wine. We travel pretty extensively to dine at restaurants around the world and try to visit Napa a couple times a year when our schedules permit.
Profile by Jennifer Bonesteel, Manager – Regional Business Development, Littler