Midwest Regional Conference 2019: Key Themes and Actionable Takeaways

By Richard Marsolais and Jennifer Shankleton, Co-Chairs, 2019 LMA Midwest Regional Conference Planning Committee  

The theme for the 2019 LMA Midwest Regional Conference in Detroit this June was “Insight – Interaction – Inspiration.” By the end of our two days together, we walked away with a pleasant reminder of why we do what we do, a strengthened sense of community and a name for our unique roles on the inside: intrapreneur. Presentations at the conference positioned legal marketers as the ultimate change agents in our firms.

What follows are themes and key takeaways from sessions. Whether you joined us in the Midwest or you’re looking forward to your own LMA regional event, there’s something for everyone to learn here.

Client-Focused Culture: From a unique vantage point, marketers can start to ask questions and frame information to other departments so the focus is on clients versus the firm. One example is putting together client teams, which can improve internal communication and coordination among those working with the client, a better understanding of the client’s needs, business and industry, and set the tone for intentional service or pipeline growth.

From the Client’s Lips to Our Ears: Midwest Regional President John Byrne moderated a stellar general counsel panel that aimed to highlight the positive, titled, “The Best Thing My Lawyer Ever Did for Me.” Featuring Erin Pawlowski, corporate attorney at Carhartt, Josh Sherbin, general counsel and chief compliance officer at TriMas Corporation, and Adam Wolfe, senior vice president and chief compliance officer at United Shore, provided several candid, tweetable gems:

  • The best relationship partners understand that the client is also in the service business.
  • When it comes to fixed or alternative fee agreements (AFAs), pull the curtain back and show the client how you arrived at the structure.
  • And finally, a crowd favorite from Erin Pawlowski at Carhartt, “We want expertise to be certain… but we need more.”

People to Products: When we get out of our comfort zones and question the way things have always been done, that can result in innovation. Whether it’s a value-added program, product or pricing, the key is showing expertise to help engineer solutions specifically designed to serve clients and solve problems that aren’t necessarily always legal problems, but business problems.

Big Ideas/Small Firms: You don’t need to be a marketer in the AmLaw 200 with unlimited resources to demonstrate your contributions to the firm in a creative and sophisticated way. Marketers at Kegler Brown in Ohio produce a fully-branded annual report highlighting all of the projects, wins and developments their department had a hand in throughout the year — including all the juicy ROI that firm leadership is looking for. My team added this project to their to-do list immediately.

Young Professional (YP) Business Development (BD): It’s never too early to start our young lawyers on the path to success, because their reputation starts now. Instilling rainmaker behaviors early will pay dividends for years to come. Start today by providing associates with safe, internal opportunities to participate in marketing and business development activities, such as introducing a speaker, creating materials for an upcoming partner presentation and practicing introducing themselves at firm events.

PR, Meet BD: Traditionally, business development (BD) and public relations (PR) have been distant cousins. When firms can figure the right formula to help PR drive BD efforts, it has a way of bringing everyone together. Best practices include identifying the target client and the work you want. Pinpoint how you differentiate and highlight issues where mutual interests exist between you, the client and the aligned media outlets or organizations. PR outcomes can be turned into collateral and also create touch points. Then leverage PR to drive your firm closer to target clients and prospects. Now that is one big, happy family reunion!

The S Word: Cross-selling is complicated. Whether it’s an innate practice that your firm engages in naturally, or it is a foreign concept, an alternative to cross-selling may be account management. The key components are accountability and active management, a genuinely client-centric approach, cohesive teams with dynamic member roles, clear rules and expectations, intelligence-driven client growth, flexibility and adaptability. More importantly, a firm needs an engaged and emotionally intelligent leader; curious, respectful and responsible team members; business development conversation skills; a strategic “client domination” plan; a commitment to “client care” and a supportive infrastructure at the firm. This just may be your pilot project of 2020.

High-Performing Teams: Lead marketers from Benesch, Bricker and Dykema shared advice for cultivating a collaborative, high-functioning BD or marketing team. Methods for achieving this goal looked different at each firm, but the common thread was encouragement, mutual respect, support and teamwork. Notable pieces of advice included:  

  • Advocate for a professional development budget for your team. This is important for their future growth and effectiveness in their roles.
  • If your firm does not have the funds to send marketing and BD staffers to out of town conferences:
    • Take advantage of local LMA or ALA programming.
    • Assign a team member to lead a department meeting and create the agenda.
    • Ask team members to design and lead a training session for the whole group.
  • Celebrate the successes of your team. Tell them when they do a great job, and communicate that to leadership on a regular basis.
  • Suggest that your team keep three lists continually updated: recent successes, kudos received and ideas. This is a great reference tool for review time, as well as a way to keep the team and others updated on the work each person is performing.

Taking 10 to Be Zen: Due to the very nature of our fast-paced, over-stimulated, technology-driven lives, no one is immune to stress and anxiety. The legal industry is prone to intense environments, high-stakes, long hours and … burn out. Whether you are a legal marketer or an attorney, finding a way to practice self-care will allow you to be a more creative, energetic, optimistic and engaged human. Taking time to take care of you first puts you in a much better position to serve others.

What can you do to affect change in your firm? Start with any of these inspiring ideas above. We are all rooting for you.

Editor’s Note: Ready to keep learning? There are more educational opportunities coming to an LMA region near you! Visit legalmarketing.org/regional-conferences for this year’s schedule.
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