Deborah Brightman Farone has been a leader in the field of law firm marketing and business development virtually since its inception. Deborah has received many honors for her work and contributions to the field, including the first-ever LMA Legacy Award. The former CMO of both Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Deborah is as well-loved and regarded in our community as she is accomplished. She will be moderating this year’s LMA New York CMO Forum on March 21.
After more than two decades building world-class marketing and business development departments at two of the world’s leading firms, Deborah recently took her vast experience and accumulated wisdom and hung out a shingle. Her schedule these days is no less busy, filled with clients in the U.S. and London, as well as lecturing and teaching at law firms and to other groups on issues involving business development and what women can accomplish through rainmaking.
Deborah's highly anticipated book – “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing” – has just been published by PLI Press, a division of the Practicing Law Institute. Its sober and comprehensive title underscores the reality that Deborah is a true leader in our field, and that she has now literally “written the book” on how to do this.
Thanks for making the time for us! What motivated you to leave Cravath, branch out and open your own shop?
I had built the Cravath team from a group of two to a team of close to 30. A number of lawyers reported to me, as well as several highly-skilled and well-trained business analysts, an in-house PR operation and a solid range of marketing communications people – many of whom we mentored into their roles. It was a terrific team of which I was very proud, a very well-run department at the top of their game.
At the same time, there were so many exciting changes going on in the legal profession. Between the many shifts happening in-house with operations, procurement, measurement and analytics, and developments on the providers’ side with new processes and innovative ways of handling legal work, it seemed like the perfect time for me to explore something new.
I have always been an advisor to leadership, whether in-house as I was at Cravath and Debevoise, or as an outside consultant, as I was earlier on in my career. I had been thinking about taking the step and at the same time, PLI approached me with the opportunity to write a book. It was a scary prospect, but I’ve always loved a challenge.
That’s great timing. Can you tell us a little bit about the process involved in writing your book? Were there any surprises or interesting anecdotes along the way you can share?
I love big, multi-pronged projects, and this was certainly one of those. I started by asking myself what the questions were that I wanted to have answered: “Why were some rainmakers more successful than others?” “What were the factors that impacted a firm’s culture?” “What new technologies were changing the way we were marketing?” I organized the questions into chapters and thought about who the best minds were on each topic. Those are the folks I approached for help and insight.
I was extremely gratified by the enthusiasm of the community I found. Visionaries such as Steven Brill, the founder of The American Lawyer, and David Perla of Burford Capital, were willing to help; as were others who today are facilitating great, positive change in the profession such as Stephanie Scharf, Chair of the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession, and Dan Troy at Glaxo.
I also really enjoyed getting to work with firm leadership at many of the larger firms such as Dechert, Orrick, Gunderson Dettmer, Weil Gotshal and Wilkinson Walsh, but I also saw very exciting things happening at smaller firms, like Pryor Cashman in New York, Sherman Wells Sylvester & Stamelman in New Jersey, and Scharf Banks Marmor in Chicago. So many remarkable and accomplished people agreed to interviews and helped to make the book more valuable.
You have led the marketing and BD efforts at two of the top “BigLaw” firms in the world. The active practice of marketing legal services began only shortly before you entered the profession. What has changed the most from your vantage point since you jumped into this world? What new trends and developments do you have your eye on?
Marketing as a serious function has become an integral part of the business. When I first started out, it was a “nice to have” feature, and lawyers looked at it as something that they often didn’t want to admit that they needed. They didn’t understand the difference between a party planner and a marketing professional. They often had large marketing committees led by self-selected partners without marketing or management expertise.
Today, lawyers understand that the legal profession at its core is a business like any other, and the competition is fierce. Not only is market share harder to hold on to due to competing law firms, but clients are in the driver’s seat having forced change in how they procure and pay for legal services, and there are now so many alternative ways of getting work done. Firms must have strategic business acquisition and retention goals and practice plans to survive. They need to properly onboard their newly minted and lateral partners in order to set them up for success. They need marketing departments, and they need to let them be run by professionals, given sufficient resources to do the job. Marketing is no longer a “nice to have” in law firms. These are some of the key areas where I am helping my clients.
Tell me more about the shift in control and the client being in the driver’s seat.
We are seeing an enormous shift between who is in control. Where once the traditional law firm drove the process, it’s now the client. Clients have more choices on how to curate what they need. They can hire additional expertise in-house, they can control costs by using their own legal operations people and they can go to various providers to get their legal work done. They have their choice of boutique law firms, legal process outsourcers, or accounting firms. Law firms can no longer afford to sell themselves as one-stop shopping for a client’s wide range of needs. As Dan Troy says in the book, “not every firm can be Wachtell in every practice.”
The legal profession is universally recognized as one of the most time-consuming and demanding fields in business. You have had a great run in several very demanding roles – now that you are a year removed from your work in-house, how is your typical day different?
With every client, there are a variety of firm issues, personalities and practices and each one is unique. The task can vary from helping a firm grow a practice area to working with senior leadership on strategic planning. I’ve also helped clients with a number of creative solutions for their marketing and branding challenges. I get great joy out of diving deep into the business issues and applying a fresh set of eyes to the opportunities.
The variety of situations keeps me engaged and excited – I’ll jump from meeting with IP lawyers focused on very specific technology issues to one with a firm leader impacted by jurisdictional challenges. In addition, I’ve been training new partners for client firms, which is something I have truly enjoyed. While most of that experience comes from working hand-in-hand with lawyers at Cravath and Debevoise, much of the book involved learning what skills great rainmakers utilize, and the research and writing process provided me with additional training and insights.
While much is new – a new office, a new way of getting the work out the door, and more travel – in many ways there are similarities to the way I worked at Cravath. The long days continue since my practice is busy and clients are based in different time zones. I’ve leased office space on Sixth Avenue and share a conference room with a few smaller law firms, a private equity shop, and an international energy company. I have hired a wonderful colleague who worked with me many moons ago at Debevoise and she is an enormous help.
What does the industry’s leading expert do to relax at the end of a long New York day?
It’s New York City. There is no end of the day. But seriously, if there is time, I love taking long walks in the City. I love the different sights that you just happen upon as you make your way down an avenue or side street.
Apologies for not getting to it until now, but there were a lot of exciting new “work” related things to cover! So that members can learn a little more about you that we might not know, what do you like to do when not obligated by clients and work?
Well, I care a great deal about New York City’s historic preservation and architecture in general, so whenever I get a chance to go to a lecture on the topic or get involved in an effort that moves me, I try to jump in.
I also care about supporting other women whenever possible. I recently organized and moderated an evening of women writers who spoke about their love of literature, culture and helping others. It was held to benefit the Murray Hill neighborhood of New York City, a unique and historical little slice of New York which is worth visiting. I am also an informal mentor to a number of entrepreneurial and professional women, helping them to build their practices and businesses.
And while I am a complete amateur, I also love photography. My big moment to date was winning an amateur photo contest, with my entry featured as the “Photograph of the Month” in Westchester Magazine. I can often be found chasing seagulls around with my camera. I just think they are such beautiful and interesting creatures, and once you spend time with them and they learn to trust you, they are somewhat friendly.
One of my favorite places to go is Tod’s Point in Greenwich, CT. My husband and I love taking long walks along the beach in the spring and fall.
Thanks for joining us and sharing all you are up to. Congratulations on the work you’ve been doing and a big congratulations on your wonderful new book!