Boston-based Catherine Alman MacDonagh is the founder of the Legal Lean Sigma Institute and the developer of both Legal Lean Sigma® and the award winning Legal WorkOut®, a collaborative method for lawyers, business professionals, and clients to engage in process improvement together. She was inducted to the LMA’s Hall of Fame in 2017 and is also a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.
As part of our interview series with leaders in the LMA Northeast region, we asked Catherine for her thoughts on the best career advice she ever received, how the LMA has impacted her career development and how she achieves balance in her professional and personal lives.
What is the best career advice that you ever received?
Have a guiding mantra. Mine is “gentle persuasion relentlessly applied.” I got it from a consultant I worked with in my very first year of practice, which was in a law department. He helped me to form a vision of my role and developed my abilities as a change agent. As I’ve become more (ahem) senior, I sometimes change that first adjective as I’ve realized that gentle is best if it works but may not always be the most effective approach!
What do you wish you could tell your younger professional self?
YOU’VE GOT THIS. You’re making the right decisions. You’re making your children a priority while building your career. Keep going, believe in your vision and continue to be bold about innovating and launching first-to-market initiatives, even if no one else sees or believes in them. They’ll catch up eventually! And there will be a time when you can sleep again.
How did you get started in legal marketing?
When I first started in legal marketing in the mid-90s, there were maybe a couple dozen people I knew who had roles in the industry. It is so true that we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us. One of them was a customer of mine (I sold Counsel Connect at the time), and I thought her work was so interesting. It seemed like a great way to combine and apply my seemingly random skills and experiences – several years of practice as a corporate counsel, outside sales experience, a year in advertising in between college and law school, concert/event promoter, band manager, college radio manager and DJ, etc. I’ve never forgotten what she said when I asked if she thought I’d be good at legal marketing, “Any firm would be fortunate to have you join them.” I now repeat those very words when I speak with someone who’s considering a move into legal marketing or a new position to which they are well suited. Having someone you respect believe in you makes a world of difference. I’ll always be grateful for that pioneer marketer’s encouragement and her give of the confidence boost.
How has the Legal Marketing Association aided your career development?
I’ll never forget going to Boot Camp (QuickStart’s original name) and hearing Norm Rubenstein introduce the agenda by saying “If you’re doing your work correctly, you should be prepared to get fired on a daily basis.” I knew I was in the right place. Finding NALFMA (LMA’s original name) was like finding my tribe! I am profoundly grateful for the recognition I’ve received, particularly my election to the Hall of Fame last year. Being honored by our professional association is incredibly important and I hope all LMA members strongly advocate for the continuance of these programs. LMA has provided learning, leadership and skills development opportunities, but the highest value and membership benefit always has been and always will be the personal and professional relationships that get forged in the LMA family. From the many years of involvement comprised of serving on boards, committees and task forces, I have developed some of my most cherished, deepest friendships and bonds. It’s quite telling that I share many friends in common with my friends!
How do you achieve a work/life balance?
To me, this expression is a bit silly. I’m always a mom, always a daughter and sister, wife, aunt, always a lawyer and business owner, always a professor, always an author, speaker, creative professional, mentor, mentee. I schedule travel and so that I can be where I want for the people and things that are important, like my kids’ baseball and soccer games. Now that I’m on the verge of becoming an empty-nester, I have few regrets associated with not being present. I know what I like to do and am good at; I built and rely on a supportive team of people and collaborators who enjoy and are good at other things (like bookkeeping, I’m truly horrible at it!). Overall, I tend to not compartmentalize too much. Rather, I advocate for doing what you love and then it doesn’t feel like work on most days; it’s simply part of a wonderful, fulfilling life. I LOVE my work, am passionate about it, get immense personal and professional satisfaction from it, and find it the greatest privilege to be entrusted with the work I do.