Kelly MacKinnon, LMA International’s current president, took the helm during one of the most challenging years imaginable. She is guiding LMA to find new and creative ways to connect and provide value to members as we struggle through COVID-19.
Kelly is drawing on her division one field hockey and ice hockey playing experience to guide her in her roles as both Director of Business Development at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and this year’s LMA president. She shares with us her game plan and vision for LMA, LMA’s new website and her truly international background, including a rather unusual job in a faraway land.
LMA: You have always been actively involved in LMA. How did you get started?
KM: I have been involved since I first started in legal marketing as a newbie analyst at Paul, Weiss and was lucky enough to be chosen to attend the 2008 annual conference in Los Angeles. A couple of New York chapter leaders took me under their wing at that conference, and before I knew it, I was on the chapter’s programming committee. The rest is history.
LMA: What have you valued most about LMA through the years?
KM: There are so many experiences, friendships, learning opportunities and memories that it is tough to choose what I have valued most. But if forced, it would be the friendships and all the people whom I have gotten to meet and work with over the past 13 years. Relationships are at the very core of our industry and what we do for a living, and this organization has so many thoughtful, smart and fun people. It truly has been a gift.
LMA: How has LMA helped you in your career?
KM: LMA has really been a cornerstone of my legal marketing career, providing the education, insights and connections that have been so pivotal in getting me to where I am now. Prior to joining Paul, Weiss, the majority of my career was spent in magazine publishing and professional sports. While I learned a ton from those opportunities, I had only a year of professional services marketing as a foundation when I arrived at the firm.
In stepped LMA with thoughtful and timely educational programs, inquisitive thought leadership, connections (soon to be friends) with insights, and volunteer opportunities that would allow me to learn and become the best version of me. I still learn every day from this organization and all of the smart people who make up our membership and headquarters team.
LMA: So, now you are president! How do you see your role and what is your vision for the organization?
KM: As the president, I am responsible, along with the international board, for the strategic direction of the organization. I work very closely with our amazing Executive Director Danielle Holland and HQ team to execute on that strategy. As to vision for the organization, it all ties back to our overall strategic direction, which is to be the “authority for legal marketing worldwide providing our community with thought leadership, professional advocacy, and personal enrichment.”
More specifically, we want to 1) create that cohesive legal marketing community, 2) advocate for our profession and foster collaboration among those driving change industrywide, 3) provide professional development opportunities, and, of course, 4) continue to elevate the overall organizational infrastructure to increase member value. All of this sounds a bit formal, but these are truly the drivers behind our initiatives and projects keeping us on task while allowing us to pivot for curveballs.
LMA: What would you like to accomplish and what is your game plan for getting it done?
KM: Tied back to progressing our overall strategic plan, this year the International Board and I are focused on continuing to advance our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts, launching a new website, increasing membership and membership value, and mostly connecting people. This last piece is so important to me and to our association. We are a resilient and resourceful community.
We have stood together and risen up for each other over the past year through the pandemic, social injustice events, and increased pressure in our roles. We draw strength in connection and shared experiences, and, if I have the ability to facilitate that (in a safe and responsible way of course), I want to do so for learning, laughter, elbow bumps and friendships. And I cannot do this alone. I have an amazing LMA headquarters team and a large stable of impressive volunteer leader talent.
LMA: Did you always want to lead the organization or did that idea develop over time?
KM: No. When I was a newbie legal marketer I was just happy to be surrounded by so many smart, passionate professionals. As I got more involved over the years, I wanted to give back for the countless resources and lifelong friendships this organization has given me, so I continued to raise my hand. Fast forward to 2021 and I am proud and humbled to have the opportunity to be the International President and continue doing the good work of those who preceded me.
LMA: COVID-19 really knocked everyone for a loop. How has it impacted your plans for LMA?
KM: Yes, it has! And I am so impressed with the resiliency of this organization and our members. We have seamlessly transited into virtual for both our education and networking with a very successful virtual conference at the end of last year. For the first half of this year, we will continue to focus on leveraging technology until it is safe for us to be together in person. Fingers crossed, that will be sooner rather than later.
We are looking forward to getting together (hopefully!) in Florida in late October for LMA’s annual conference. I’m looking forward to seeing many colleagues for elbow bumps, laughter and lots of learning.
LMA: Tell me about your role at Fried Frank. What do you like the most? What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
KM: As the Director of Business Development, I oversee the business development support for all of the firm’s practices with a global lens. I work with my team to focus on growing our client base, tending to our institutional client relationships and increasing our visibility. I have the most amazing team members. They are smart, inquisitive, hardworking and truly bring a smile to my face every day that I get to work with them. As for the most challenging aspects of my job, I wish I could give my partners a 26-hour day. They are so well intentioned – they just need a few more hours in their day.
How do you see the role of legal marketing and communications evolving over the next few years?
KM: If only I had a crystal ball…. During my time within law firms, it has been fun and inspiring to watch the evolution of this industry and our roles. I truly believe that change is FAR from over. I see us continuing to bring an elevated level of business acumen that will contribute to the bottom line and a seat at the table will be the norm rather than the exception.
I see us further involved with client relationships and being their voice to help accelerate change within our firms and the industry. I see us as change agents driving the use of technology, new approaches and fresh perspectives so we don’t do the same old year in and year out. I see us as subject matter experts whose proactive counsel is sought after, listen to and valued. While all of this may sound esoteric, lofty and a bit Disneylandish – the opportunity to make meaningful advancements to evolve our craft is within all of us. It just takes a spark.
LMA: What do you think will be the biggest game changers for law firms and the legal industry going forward?
KM: I think we are square in the middle of it right now with the shift to a remote working environment and the focus on diversifying workforce. The legal industry is historically traditional and slow to change. Outside drivers usually light that spark. A global pandemic and broad spread social justice movement have been that spark.
2020 was a great catalyst for providing an opportunity for law firms to re-assess their “old” ways of doing things and adapt for the longer term. The ability to embrace change and remain nimble is essential to thriving in this increasingly competitive market. There is no going back.
LMA: You were a four-year division one field hockey player and an ice hockey player too, and you were a member of the U.S. Over 40 Women’s field hockey team that competed for the Masters World Cup. Where do you find the energy?!
KM: I’m a bit of an energizer bunny naturally. I draw a ton of energy from spending time with others so I seek opportunities to be in a team atmosphere, when possible. I have been so fortunate to be part of some amazing teams like the USA Over 40 Masters Field Hockey team, where the energy is so infectious and real that you just want to be around each other. I miss my field hockey teammates greatly and can’t wait to be together on the pitch (aka field) soon.
LMA: What life lessons have ice hockey and field hockey taught you?
KM: There have been so many lessons that my athletic career and experiences have taught me. There are four though that stick with me every day:
- Sweat equity pays off – Putting in the extra hours getting smart and building relationships will prepare you to earn your jersey and your shot.
- When opportunity knocks, open the door – Opportunity comes in all shapes and sizes and usually not in the manner you expected it. Always seize an opportunity and be open to where it leads you – it might just be the chance you wanted/needed.
- Authenticity never goes out of style – Being true to your authentic self is what makes you unique and special. Always find a way to sprinkle your personality. There is a reason the universe has you there.
- Every jersey plays a role – Every person has a role to play on a team no matter how many goals scored or minutes played. At the end of the day, there are no individual stats on the team trophy or a celebration.
LMA: You became the coach of the Chinese Women’s National Ice Hockey team. How did that come about and why did you decide to do it?
KM: I was working at the National Hockey League in its broadcasting department when the 2004/2005 season was canceled due to the labor lockout and I lost my job. While looking for new opportunities, I continued to coach at the New York Islanders practice rink (where I had grown up playing) and the team owner’s daughter was one of my students.
When the Islanders decided to sponsor hockey programs in China, including the women’s national team, Charles Wang, the owner, and Mike Milbury, the GM, thought I would be a good fit for the coaching spot. An early Monday morning call with the offer led to a whirlwind eight-day preparation to move across the world to Harbin, China.
As for why? Why not?! This opportunity came at the right point in my life when everything lined up to take the chance. As Kat Cole has said “If not you, who? If not now, when?”
LMA: How has being an athlete and an ice hockey coach for the Chinese Women’s National Ice Hockey team helped you in your legal marketing career?
KM: It taught me the value of resiliency and how to leverage more than my words to communicate.
LMA: Oh, and wasn’t there a language barrier when coaching the China team?
KM: Absolutely. I moved to Harbin, China in a matter of days after accepting the position knowing only hello, goodbye and beer in Chinese. And while I did have the benefit of a captain who spoke English, I had to rely heavily on my tone of voice, body language and eye contact to communicate. We did have some fun teaching each other our respective languages and I can still count in Chinese.
LMA: I heard that you grew up around practicing attorneys. How do you leverage that experience from day to day in your law firm role?
KM: I am the daughter of an attorney. My father taught me so many lessons from his multiple years representing clients, including to ask questions (and not to be afraid to ask again if you don’t understand) and then really listen, the value of a strong work ethic, and the skill of connecting with people.
LMA: You are such a positive person. What keeps you that way? What helps you to be so resilient?
KM: I have a sign that hangs in my bedroom that says, “It’s all good.” It reminds me that every situation is what you make of it and there is always a silver lining if you look hard enough. To me positivity is a choice – you can choose to find the good or seek the alternative, and in my experience, the good is a lot more fun. Being resilient and always searching for the good does take effort and energy, so I always find some time to refill my cup with quality family/friend time and invest in myself.