2019 Mid-Atlantic Your Honor Award, Business Development: Shook, Hardy & Bacon

The 2019 Mid-Atlantic Your Honor Award in the category of Business Development went to Shook, Hardy & Bacon, and its “Cannabis Law: The Next Wave of Litigation” project, a carefully deployed strategic communications campaign designed to maximize the impact of the firm’s brand equity in the new legal arena of cannabis law. For this profile, we interviewed Kim Rennick, the firm’s Chief Client Development and Marketing Officer.

This innovative campaign was designed to support the firm’s strategic decision to launch a specialized Cannabis Law practice, and signal to the marketplace Shook’s ability to help global corporations in traditional sectors navigate the cross-border complexities of regulatory compliance, supply chain issues, intellectual property and business disputes, and potential liabilities related to cannabis, hemp and CBD. More importantly, Shook wanted to differentiate itself, highlighting its particular capabilities when it comes to the plethora of legal questions and consequences that arise when a novel product is made readily available for public consumption, whilst not seeming to be jumping on the “proverbial bandwagon.”

“Working with leadership, we were able to build a communications strategy to launch the cannabis law practice which included creating content that would provide value for our clients and targets,” said Rennick. “We were very pleased with the results which brought in business and helped raise the profile of the firm in the cannabis law space.”

Fully aware of the challenge of launching a new practice group to little fanfare, the firm sought to leverage its forward-thinking vision of a practice that focused ahead on the expected wave of predicted civil litigation, as opposed to the current majority of criminal legal issues in the cannabis industry.

“To launch a new practice, most firms follow a predictable formula: build a web page and create collateral materials to characterize the attorneys’ legal experience in this space. Regrettably, that is often the extent of it. Practice group announcements usually do not warrant news coverage, and, most importantly, clients care more about industry expertise than law firm internal structures. The challenge was to build awareness of this emerging area and capability for the firm while attracting new work.”

Shook’s marketing team suggested that the firm leadership appeal to clients’ appreciation of fresh, enlightening content and develop a white paper to take the pulse of general counsel on this issue and disseminate the findings via content, media and social platforms

Unlike other papers and surveys explicitly geared toward cannabis growers and investors, Shook took a calculated approach that considered the wider implications of legalized cannabis, hemp and CBD products for traditional economic sectors, including the consumer good, food, beverage, dietary supplement, and life science industries. With its novel challenges, market participants are tentatively exploring this new market amid a high level of uncertainty as well as evolving regulatory and legal issues.

Partnering with attorneys who lead the new practice, the marketing department’s content and creative teams joined forces, and were responsible for setting the budget, managing the subject matter expert interviews, outlining and editing the content, and designing the final product. They were also responsible for lining up approvals from key internal stakeholders, including the firm chair and general counsel, before release.

“Working with American Lawyer Media (ALM), we surveyed hundreds of in-house counsel in an effort to capture the breadth of their concerns surrounding the introduction of cannabis products into commerce. As a direct follow-up and to illustrate Shook’s lawyers understanding of the issues, our attorneys were interviewed and quoted throughout the article to provide context and real-world experience.”

The breakout of GCs interviewed included food, pharmaceuticals, health and wellness, software and technology as well as financial and professional services and retail and manufacturing lawyers. The firm’s deep background in product liability and litigation gave the findings even more credibility.

Titled “Wild West or New Frontier? Global Cannabis Market Spurs Legal Spend Across All Sectors,” the white paper documented dramatic findings: More than half of in-house counsel planned to increase spending on legal services around the “cannabis conundrum” in the next two years.

The marketing department then used an internal channel—Shook’s Legal Trends Group—to build excitement around the new practice and introduce the new practice chairs to relationship partners with deep ties to companies with acquisitions in the cannabis market. Prior to the white paper’s release, the firm announced a “soft launch” at its annual CLE, “Update on the Law,” where a panel of Shook attorneys spoke on cannabis-related issues and legal trends to an audience of more than 700 people. The sessions were recorded to help develop Shook’s YouTube Channel. What has been most exciting for the firm is the number of media follow ups. The American Lawyer ran its own editorial coverage of the practice launch; Law360 has referenced Shook’s Cannabis Law Practice twice and now reporters from Law360, Missouri Lawyers Weekly, Bloomberg, and The Kansas City Star have all reached out to interview Shook lawyers about cannabis law issues. The white paper has been cited not only by these publications, but by other law firms looking to inform their own client base of these emerging trends. All told, on the topic of cannabis law, the firm has reached more than 36 million potential readers through traditional media alone. Recently, Missouri Lawyers Weekly selected Shook for its “Legal Innovation Award” due to the launch of the cannabis law practice.

From a client development perspective, a list of new client pitches/engagements have materialized as a result of the launch. The services needed are for large and growing clients and stretch across the breadth and depth of the firm including IP, risk assessment, regulatory and labeling issues. From a branding perspective, Shook is now recognized among the large firms as having expertise in cannabis law. The multi-pronged campaign, using content, video, media and social media, succeeded in not only bringing in new work but also raising awareness of Shook in an emerging area.

By Tara Marshall-Recas, Contract Market Specialist, McDermott Will & Emery LLP

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