Rachel Shields Williams, a long-time member of LMA, has served in a variety of leadership positions, including president of the Mid-Atlantic region for 2020. In this interview, Rachel discusses how her certification in organizational consulting and change leadership aided her in transitioning from Sidley Austin’s Marketing and Business Development Department to the firm’s Knowledge Management team. In her new role as senior manager of experience management, she oversees the implementation, integration, and execution of Sidley’s Experience Management tool and streamlines the daily needs of users across the firm. She works with global team members across all firm offices to facilitate the adoption of these programs through training best practices.
You have an executive certification in Organizational Consulting & Change Leadership from Georgetown University. What was that program like and would you recommend it to others in our industry?
Looking back, I found the program to be very helpful in viewing the way we work within a law firm. But if I’m being honest, at the time, I had a problem seeing the applicability. The program helped me understand organizational change and how it impacts people, and more importantly how I show up in those situations. It forced me to take a deeper look at myself via feedback triads, personality testing, implicit bias testing, required self-reflection and a variety of other tools. It’s a lot of feedback and it’s not all easy to hear, but the goal is to understand yourself better so you can lead and support change within your organization. Overall, I think it was a worthwhile program and I learned a lot that has contributed to my success and enjoyment in my current role.
You’ve seen a lot of change unfold during your 10 years at Sidley. What’s kept you at the firm?
I get this question a lot. Within the last 10 years, our department doubled in size to meet the changing needs of the industry. Like most legal marketing teams, I saw us move from “party planning” to becoming true trusted advisors. Amidst this change, there has been a lot of opportunity for me. Through a mix of skill, timing, hard work, communication, trust and teamwork, I’ve been able to grow and change roles during my tenure here. Also, Sidley has met me where I needed to be at different times in my life. Sometimes I needed an opportunity to be an individual contributor, like while I was finishing my Masters degree or when I was doing the program at Georgetown. Other times, I wanted to apply what I learned in those programs, lead teams, and lean into new projects, practice groups and initiatives (like my current role). I believe the firm was able to accommodate these needs because I communicated with department leadership on where I was trying to go and how that idea added value to the firm.
How did you decide to focus on knowledge management after several years in business development? What has the change been like?
I saw how hard it was for my BD colleagues and me to get information about what our lawyers do and how frustrating it was for our lawyers. I knew getting information had to be easier. So I started volunteering for various technology and knowledge management projects within the department and eventually my role evolved into what it is today. It has been an amazing change. I will tell anyone that this is the hardest, yet most fullfilling thing I have done in my career to date. I am a part of a team that is helping one of the world’s largest law firms change the way it shares and analyzes information. It can be overwhelming at times, but it’s also so rewarding to watch the steady improvement for our clients, lawyers and professional staff.
What would your advice be to someone looking to pivot from a traditional legal marketing role to something more non-traditional?
Take the training we provide lawyers and “bust silos.” Look for opportunities to work with other professional departments in the firm. When we create cross functional teams, we have the ability to look at problems differently and bring a variety of skills and viewpoints. Sometimes we get so caught up in what we are doing we forget that everything in our firms is connected.
What advice would you give to your younger (professional) self?
There is enough room for everyone to shine – you don’t have to do it all by yourself.
What are you most excited about for our region this year?
That’s easy – our regional conference. It is such a wonderful opportunity to see old friends and new and celebrate their successes and growth. It puts a smile on my face to see people who were once new members of the LMANEXT group now serving as leaders and presenting about new and innovative ways to tackle some of our industry’s thorniest issues. It also reminds me of how far we’ve come as a region over the last several years. This program started as a half day event and now it’s a full day with pre-conference programing!
What does it mean to you to be a mindful marketer?
I see it as a riff on how Jon Kabt Zinn describes mindfulness, “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” When people come to me with an idea or goal, I try to be present with them, and not judge the idea or the way the message is being conveyed. I strive to dig deeper to understand the larger “why” or driving force behind their goals and ideas. It also means not taking things personally when they don’t go as planned, reflect on the situation, learn from it and move on. Don’t carry yesterday’s failures into today’s opportunities.
By Jennifer Bonesteel, Manager of Regional Business Development at Littler