Venable’s Director of Marketing Paul Bonner entered legal marketing in the “typical” way, that is, unintentionally. A J.D. and an MBA, he worked in the technology industry before finding his footing in the legal profession and never looked back. This year, Bonner continues his long history of service to LMA by leading the Mid-Atlantic Region Board as president. In this profile, he discusses his background, how LMA has been instrumental in his professional journey, and his outlook for the region in 2021.
How did you get started in legal marketing?
My start in legal marketing was similar to many legal marketers. I stumbled into the profession. After getting my J.D. and MBA degrees from Emory University, I landed a great job in the technology industry working for a leading wireless network that was spun out of a Motorola and IBM joint venture. There, I worked my way up to lead the market planning and strategy group. We focused on the development of B2B and B2C wireless data and email solutions. We were regulars at high profile wireless tradeshows, such as the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. My final CES was very memorable. We were launching a new product, but unfortunately the company's finance department announced the company's Chapter 11 reorganization the same week, which tanked our product launch. Ultimately the company closed its East Coast operations. So there I was like many technology workers from time-to-time – laid off with a severance package looking for a job. I came across a blind job posting from Korn Ferry looking for somebody who knew legal, knew marketing, and knew wireless. I checked all three boxes. I'm a lawyer, I have an MBA with a marketing concentration, and I recently had written white papers on wireless technologies – so I applied. Nine interviews later, I got my first legal marketing job, and there you have it – my legal marketing career was born.
You’ve worked in a variety of roles from business development director to running your own consultancy to now leading the marketing team at Venable. How has LMA positively impacted your career path?
LMA definitely has had a positive impact on my legal marketing career path. I became a member very soon after starting my first legal marketing job. Thankfully that firm, and my director, simply expected me to join. Initially LMA was instrumental in helping with my transition from wireless. The differences of how a partnership operates versus a technology company were vast. LMA was the bridge that got me from one side to the other. Since then over the years LMA has continued to be a constant support. The consistent educational programming, outside perspectives, sanity checks from colleagues, best practices, and most importantly, the camaraderie keep me moving forward as well as maintain perspective (and sanity).
You served on the editorial committee for Strategies Magazine for eight years. How was that experience and what kind of resource is it for LMA members?
Strategies is an incredible resource, and I encourage everyone to regularly read it. I know from being on the editorial board for eight years how purposeful and thoughtful the board and the issues editors are at approaching the topics of each issue. In many ways it is the first virtual programming that LMA offered. It brings together thought leaders from coast-to-coast to focus on specific issue topics with the goals of providing information, actionable best practices, and resources to legal marketers at firms of all sizes regardless of location. I consider it one of the big value-adds that LMA delivers.
You’re coming in as president of the LMA Mid-Atlantic Region at an interesting time during a pandemic, but with a light at the end of the tunnel provided by vaccines. What would you like to see happen in 2021 to be able to call it a successful year for LMA and its membership?
I'm confident that 2021 will be a successful year for our Mid-Atlantic region – just look at what was accomplished in 2020! We came together, rallied, and pivoted to a fully virtual world. An impressive amount of programming was delivered to our members, and, as we became comfortable being remote, we networked virtually. The tremendous work of our volunteers directly built this success. It is truly impressive.
Success will come this year by us continuing to focus on fulfilling the mission of providing value and community to our members. Our 2021 LSC leaders and regional board of directors are an extremely strong group that, along with our region’s legion of willing and talented volunteers, will no doubt deliver. We’re meeting our members where they are and providing opportunities to educate one another and to connect. We've started off virtually and when we get to the light at the end of the tunnel that the vaccines have started to shine, we will reintroduce in-person events – in a safe way. We are a strong community full of resilient and dynamic individuals who always rise to the occasion, and we will do so in 2021.
What are a few things that you attribute to your career success?
Hard work, luck, and a great network of allies are three key things that have contributed to my career success. The first sounds like a classic cliché, right? While it might be, I think it rings true and is a price of admission for legal marketers. We’re torn in a million directions by a never-ending firehose of work with competing stakeholders all thinking they are right. However, it is that complexity that energizes me. Luck has come in many flavors to me. I was fortunate that my first marketing department was led by an industry all-star and my marketing partner’s instincts and skills are such that I would not be surprised if she also invented sliced bread. Finally, the network of allies and supporters that I now have – past co-workers, bosses, fellow law firm business professionals, lawyers, and industry consultants and vendors – are key. The support they have both knowingly and not knowingly given has been a blessing.
What advice would you give to your younger self as it relates to your career?
Be willing to embrace change, remain open to new possibilities, learn some honest self-awareness, trust your gut, and, finally, change occurs at a measured pace in firms. (Wow that's a lot of advice … Maybe I should go easier on my younger self!?!)
When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy doing?
Outside of work, I’m an active and engaged father who loves to spend time goofing off and having fun with my first grade son. The past year has involved a lot of trampolining with him in the backyard, watching movies, talking about cars, and puzzles. Very recently we … I mean he came in second in his first Cub Scout Pinewood Derby race. My wife and I are looking forward to the post-vaccine reopening so we can get out of our darn house and catch up on travel. So far, we have our 10th anniversary trip and a big end-of-the-year bucket list type trip booked.
Profile by Scott E. Pacheco, marketing and communications manager at Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chtd.