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Member Spotlight: Valerie Nelan
Name - Valerie Nelan
Law Firm Name - Baker Donelson
Title - Business Development Manager
In one sentence, describe your job:
I partner with attorneys to offer strategic advice and tactical execution to help them attract, retain, and grow their clients.
Why and/or how did you get into legal marketing?
I fell into it totally by accident. My first job in legal was as an office administrator's assistant at Stites & Harbison in Nashville, after having moved there from San Francisco, where I'd worked in publishing. After I had my daughter in 2004, my mom offered to watch her if I moved home to Memphis, and I couldn't get there fast enough. Lucky for me, legal recruiting is a small world, and the Stites recruiter knew of an opening as a Marketing Assistant at Baker Donelson. I applied, and the rest is history -- I've been at Baker Donelson for more than 13 years now.
What is a "typical" day for you?
"Typical" is hilarious, but that's why you put it in quotation marks, right?! I tell all my attorneys to think of me like a concierge at an upscale hotel: call me first with any and all business development and marketing questions. Either I'm the one who can handle the issue, or I'm handing it off to one of my amazing team members and then serving as the attorney's point person. All that said, a typical day consists of lots of phone calls and meetings, with the tactical work happening in between those. The calls and meetings can be focused on specific attorneys, broader practice groups, specific clients, regions, industries, or specific types of work. There's usually a proposal, RFP or RFI to pitch in on; lots of emails following up with attorneys on all sorts of things; research to request, review and forward with next steps; and lots of attorney content to manage in one way or another, be it blog posts, newsletter articles, webinars, conferences, or in-person events. Thankfully, I work with amazing people who help me provide excellent service to our attorneys and clients.
In your job, what is your biggest challenge?
Time management, hands down. But here's something I've started: Over the past six months, I've implemented a system of sorting my emails/action items by practice group/initiative, and then addressing that particular set of items at one time. Simultaneously, I've logged how much time I spend on each group/initiative. Being able to actually focus all my energies on one group for a sustained period of time (even if it's 15 or 30 minutes) has made a big difference in my efficiency. It's also allowed me to get a much better sense of where I'm spending my time, and I've been making adjustments to how I attack each day. So I'm getting better. Now, if I could just get attorneys to answer my emails on the first try...
What do you like most about your job?
My team members -- I think we've got the best Marketing & Business Development Department in the country and I'd put us up against anyone. The level of talent, sophistication, integrity, passion, respect and willingness to go the extra ten miles for each other, our attorneys and our clients is second to none.
If a college student were to ask you for advice about a legal marketing career, what would you say?
To first remember that attorneys are quite literally trained in law school to find what's wrong, and to never take their criticism personally. And then, if that didn't scare them away, I'd say this is the perfect gig for someone who likes to be creative, proactive, forward-thinking, and who likes to be challenged on a near-hourly basis. I may have been at the same firm for 13 years, but my job has changed a lot!
What books do you recommend to fellow LMA colleagues?I pretty much never read business books because I inhale fiction on a near-daily basis. But I've seen more than my fair share of Harvard Business Review articles and would recommend that publication. Plus any Malcolm Gladwell book, along with his podcast series "Revisionist History." Other than that...Harry Potter all the way. #Ravenclaw