Podcast: Ready for a New Chapter? Legal Executive Coaching Might Be for You and Your Firm with Jan Anne Dubin, Founder and CEO of Jan Anne Dubin Consulting

Episode 94

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why legal marketing became a legitimate business function in the 90s, and how Jan was at the forefront of this new field
  • Why Jan patterned her early legal business development materials after the architecture industry
  • How a sense of belonging impacts people’s work, and how law firms can cultivate that quality within their business
  • How the pandemic highlighted the need for resiliency within lawyers and law firms
  • What strategies Jan uses to work with her clients, and what qualities to look for in an executive coach

About Jan Anne Dubin:

A legal marketing industry pioneer and thought leader, Jan Anne Dubin is an award-winning consultant and executive coach with global experience leading, innovating, and serving as a change-agent, and connector. Jan has led hundreds of cross-functional legal teams which have helped to build and deepen client relationships generating in excess of $100 million in revenue.

For more than three decades Jan has occupied a unique niche in the legal services industry, where she has worked with leadership of global, mid-size and boutique law firms and corporate law departments, with law firm marketing professionals and other senior professional staff, and with law students. Jan concentrates on providing value-driven business solutions focused on business development, client service, marketing, branding, and strategic communications.

Jan serves as an executive coach to hundreds of leaders and managers, including high potential individuals and those seeking both to work at a peak performance level and to achieve the next level of career development. As a career-long champion of diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging, Jan is passionate about working with women and diverse individuals and helping them achieve their career objectives.

Offering goal-oriented, practical executive coaching solutions, Jan provides perspective, guidance, tactical suggestions, and strategic networking resources for individuals and their organizations to determine and achieve goals and objectives. Her philosophy of executive coaching is to focus on the core skills of leadership development and executive presence; strategic communications; client service; business development; and enhancement of a personal brand, profile and visibility in support of an individual’s strengths while improving weaknesses that otherwise may hinder performance.

Jan serves as a strategic partner to the Association of Corporate Counsel where she helped to create their in-house counsel executive coaching program and career skills workshops. She is a business partner with the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute and helped co-create and chair their Women’s Transformative Leadership: Empowerment by Improving Participation and Representation forum.

Additional resources:

About podcast:

If Covid taught us anything, it’s that agility is necessary for long-term success. Law firms and individual lawyers sometimes need a shot in the arm to move to the next level, and that’s exactly what Jan Anne Dubin specializes in. As Founder and CEO of Jan Anne Dubin Consulting, she helps individuals, and therefore their firms, become the best they can be. She joined the podcast to talk about her time at the forefront of legal marketing, the trends that emerged during the pandemic, and how she helps her clients step into leadership roles. Read the episode transcript here.

Episode Transcript:

Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today, my guest is Jan Anne Dubin, Founder and CEO of Jan Anne Dubin Consulting. She is an award-winning consultant who assists clients by helping them develop long-term relationships. She has coached thousands of lawyers, law students and marketing professionals and garnered many accolades along the way. We’ll hear more about the work she does today. Jan, welcome to the program.

Jan: Thank you, Sharon. I’m delighted to be here with you again.

Sharon: Jan, tell us a little about how you started working with lawyers because, as I remember, you’re not a lawyer, but I know you’ve worked with so many.

Jan: Thanks, Sharon, for asking that question. Yes, I started my career after graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism thinking that I might want to go law school down the road. I felt the best way to get some experience was to apprentice as a paralegal at a law firm and gain real insight, and then make the decision to go to law school. Subsequently I got hired by a firm in the early 80s to head up their recruiting work and do some paralegal work. So, I gained the skills, as I used to laugh and joke about. I got to do big, paralegal-type projects once and then never again, such as attending a bankruptcy hearing on the last day of the year when you’re helped with a very large multi-million-dollar real estate closing. My challenge after 3:00 p.m. was to somehow convince a teller at a bank that they had to accept the funds before 3:00 p.m. so the closing could take effect on the current year. 

Subsequently I got involved in marketing and business development in the mid-80s, when I was asked to take on a role in decisional recruiting but not to tell anyone. At the time, I was maybe the eighth law firm marketer in the country. I’m number 32 according to my LMA number, which is ironic, given the profession is somewhere upwards of probably 10,000 people today. For me, it was an opportunity to learn. Subsequently I made a choice not to go to law school, but in the early 90s while working full time at a firm called Rudnick and Wolf—which is today known DLA Piper—I went to business school full time while working full time at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. That was my journey into law firms. 

What happened also along the way was that I was given some extraordinary opportunities to be the first coming in to build the department and build the function of recruiting and then marketing. When I got to Rudnick in the early 90s, my job was also to start delineating, within the construct of marketing and strategic communications and business development, each of those separate functions as they were evolving with the profession. I felt really fortunate to be at the ground level. Legal marketing has sparked a very complex half-forward as it has over the years. 

Sharon: Are you a natural networker? How was it that they said, “Can you handle marketing?” Did they even know what marketing was then?

Jan: To answer the question if I am a natural marketer, my parents are probably smiling down at me from heaven saying, “Yes. You have to say yes.” As the record reflects, I was once known to have sold rocks and notebook paper to my parents’ neighbors, which they thought, as endearing as my parents were, absolutely horrifying. I also had a lemonade stand at the end of my driveway, which was the sort of gatekeeper for the beach. Every car was stopped by a police officer who used to park at the end of my driveway. He would pull people over long enough to ask if they had a beach sticker and allow me to sell them a nickel cup of lemonade, which I did often.

After that, at a young age, I was very outgoing. I became shy, but I used my tools of people skills and knowledge and the power they brought to get more comfortable as I progressed in my career to network with people. I was good at listening to people, understanding their needs and, conversely, thinking about insight, information and the other people I could connect them to. Stringing those dots together is probably one of my superpowers, if I have any.

Sharon: You say you come from a family of architects. Did you see a lot of focus on business development with them?

Jan: Yes. In my early career in the 90s at Rudnick and Wolf, it was a confluence of things that were occurring: the globalization of the world and certainly the legal profession, the advent of technology and the computer being used beyond a secretarial function, the world growing such that the lawyers that historically had relationships and allegiances to firms changed. As lawyers were leaving with portable business and coming in as laterals or joinders with other firms as a result of groups leaving, the pressure for business development increased. 

I remember in the early 90s, also with the failure of the savings and loan industry and the development of the FTC and the FDIC, a lot of firms that historically had done real estate work found themselves now doing the same work for the government in workouts and restructuring of failed bank loans. I think some of the first proposals I worked on were very labor-intensive government proposals. The first time I saw one of these documents, I had no earthly idea what to do with it. I remember calling a colleague of mine who was the director of marketing at the accounting firm Laventhol & Horwath, which has been extinct for probably 30 years, to ask him about it. Then, I actually went over to my father’s office. Architects typically pitched business on spec, and they were very familiar with the whole process of pitching as a result of the business development process. 

I looked at what those responses to requests for proposals or information looked like and began to pattern our business development materials after that. Little by little, we created and grew a library of documents very similar to the pitch materials that law firms use today. Today they’re more sophisticated. They’ve got many more areas of practice specialties as well as nuances that delineate one firm from another, but it certainly was the beginning in the 90s, probably five to seven years before a lot of firms were engaging in pitch activity. I started to do that, and I loved that work. I loved the thrill of new business and helping lawyers solve problems. A lot of times in a pitch scenario, you have to create hypotheticals; you have to create financial models to demonstrate pricing. I liked the puzzle aspects, thinking through the challenge and figuring out unique solutions to win work. 

Sharon: You were way ahead of your time there. One thing that really intrigued me—well, a lot of things intrigued me while we were talking—but you talked about how you helped lawyers and other executives in this business so that people found their fit within an organization. I thought that was really interesting because, to me, it’s like the organization is a static animal; you can’t come in and change that as much as you have to come in and find your place. You fit here and that’s it, or you don’t fit. How do you help people find a fit?

Jan: I would challenge that comment a little bit in terms of organizations being static. I think if the pandemic and the responses to social unrest over the last 18 months have taught us nothing, it’s taught us that in order to survive and thrive going forward, we have to be nimble. I think that comes from organizations needing to shift course quickly and correct and adapt and those within them, their people—their greatest asset—having to follow suit and do the same. I think one of the interesting things that happens during a time like a pandemic is the volume of innovation that comes out of it. People also have to think of their careers from a resiliency perspective and truly think about what’s going to make them happy within an organization. 

Historically, as we look at the diversity, equity and inclusion spectrum, those were processes that firms put forward to retain their best people, but the dot at the end of the sentence of DEI is belonging. How do organizations help people feel like they belong? Equally important, how do people who are trying to manage and direct their careers over time seek out to find belonging? That’s a complex journey, and part of that requires us to figure out, sometimes with the assistance of an executive coach, what the means and what that looks like, so that people aren’t just parking time and doing an O.K. job, but they’re really thriving in the work that they do, and if they’re not currently with the right organization, taking the steps necessary to either turn their current function into one that’s tenable or finding the right next opportunity.

One amazing thing I saw over the course of the pandemic is the number of transitions that occurred. Over the course of the last 16 months, I’ve probably done 30 programs for the Association of Corporate Counsel, for Seyfarth Shaw. They have a program and a project called The Belonging Project, which is focused on a combination of career discussions related to finding resilience and strategic networking in this remote work-from-home environment. It’s interesting to hear stories from law firms and those in-house counsel that have onboarded with organizations and never actually met their colleagues until recently, and the comments that come out. I did a program for Women in the House for the Association of Corporate Counsel two weeks ago. One of the comments one of my panelists made was the fact that people were surprised that she was as petite as she was, given she had a much more dominant presence on Zoom calls. I think they were surprised when they actually met her, which is an odd thing to focus on. It’s interesting. 

To your point, some organizations are static. Some are, but I think they’ve found that they need to adjust and be more nimble, whether they are dragged into this process by individuals wanting or needing something different or by experiencing tremendous growth or transition. I think the dramatic change that we have endured has impacted organizations to be more flexible, and I think they will only continue to do so going forward.

Sharon: I do understand what you’re saying. What I mean by static, the corporate world is very different. The law firm world is very different than it used to be. I think everybody understands that they have to make—not concessions, but they have to adapt; they have to make people happy. When people are satisfied, they feel exactly like what you’re saying. It’s interesting; every organization still has a personality. As much as you bend over backwards or you have people work from home, there’s still a personality. I guess that’s what I mean by static.

Jan: Yeah. I think the opportunity over the last months has allowed for organizations to refine that personality and soul search as an organization to figure out the traditions that are valued, what’s their import to people, and what are some new traditions that need to be embraced. Looking at written and very thought-provoking conversations that have come out because of the social unrest this country has experienced, it is refreshing to see people who have concerns and truths that they don’t want to suppress any longer. I think the dialogue has become more raw, more real, and hopefully it paves the way for things that are meaningful and significant in firms. 

Firms are looking at old traditions that are outmoded and need to be replenished, or they’re looking at things that matter, things that are woven into the fabric of the firm. Having smart, talented management people to help organizations figure that out is critical, especially in light of this environment. People are beginning to return to work or some hybrid of work-from-home and in-office work, and they need to make sure that not only is the organization intellectually one that somebody wants to associate themselves with, but also one that’s safe and supports an environment that people are comfortable working in.

Sharon: Right, every organization today has to think about that, people feeling safe and comfortable. Those are important words. The other important word you used was one of my favorites that I ponder a lot. It has to do with resilience. You talked about how you kept all your resilience during this pandemic and how that meaning is going to change for lawyers, for professionals, post-pandemic. Can you tell us about that?

Jan: I think resilience is the watchword of this time that we’re in. Midstream during the pandemic, I interacted with two types of people. One was so stretched and they were doing the work of one-and-a-half to two people because their organization had a hiring freeze. They literally went from project to project and worked many more hours from home or a remote environment than they ever did being in the office. 

Then there was another approach of folks that had not enough to do, and they were all of a sudden seeking out new avenues. That was a lawyer looking for innovative ways to a go down business development path, trying to figure out how to stay in contact. You saw some creative things that came out of that, as well as the proliferation from law firms at the onset of the pandemic of more material in the form of more newsletters and webinars and podcasts than anybody could ever watch in one lifetime. Thank goodness, I think people have backed away from jumping on everything and throwing the kitchen sink at clients and prospects to being more thoughtful and strategic about what people care about, what aligns with their needs. 

I think firms have done some interesting things in the resilience area. You see more firms taking seriously the need of well-being and ways to create healthier lawyers and staff within organizations. That’s particularly important. Of this whole concept of well-being, resilience is a big piece of it. People being mentally, physically fit and feeling safe and secure in the environment they’re working in is important.

People also see this need to give back to others. There’s probably never been a greater need, certainly within our large urban cities. Homelessness has multiplied, and the challenges and demands they have are greater when you’ve got more people on the street. A lot of the shelters and single-room occupancy dwellings they historically would have stayed in were closed due to Covid. Figuring out how to fill those needs, how to help those that are hungry, has been particularly critical. 

For me, I came up with some random and some strategic acts of kindness that I felt needed to guide my path starting early in the spring of 2020. I was fraught with the challenge as I was furloughed from my law firm clients. What would I do? I worried about what would I do long-term to replenish that work and what I would do in the short-term to stay sane and intellectually challenged. I took on some pro bono projects that were meaningful to me. One was a project called Milkmaid, where I worked with friends of mine that were partnered with Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen. It’s a catering company out of Evanston, Illinois called Soul and Smoke. At this point during the pandemic response, they have donated more than 150,000 meals to those in need in the Evanston and Englewood neighborhoods of Chicago. At the beginning, I called them to say, “How can I help? I have time. I have money. I have limited money, but I have a lot of resources that I can bring to bear.” One of the first demands they had was milk, so I started by calling a number of bottling companies to identify a source for milk and getting nowhere quickly in that process. By fluke, about a week after I had started making those calls, I say a story on ABC Channel 7 News at 4:30 that talked about farmers that were frantically pouring milk back into the earth because cows need to be milked, but they had no demand and no distribution of the milk. I wrote the names down quickly and started to map out each of the locations for the various farms and their proximity to Evanston. 

On my first call, I talked to Max Tillges—actually, I talked to his wife first, who had to call to him out on the farm. I explained I was a small business owner, and I knew who he was. I was not looking to get milk at a discount, but I was looking to access a quantity of milk beyond what we could buy locally from any of the grocery stores. I needed pasteurized milk, and I needed to have it delivered in a safe, refrigerated manner to Evanston once a week. We started a project I called Milkmaid, which was the delivery of 200 gallons of pasteurized whole and 2% milk once a week. This program ran for a 12-week period. At the end of the 12 weeks we shut it down, as milk was back in plentiful supply at the local grocery and actually less expensive per gallon than the costs we were paying for milk. 

It was an interesting experience from my perspective. I never spent a lot of time dealing with farmers or understanding the challenges they had. I was also pleasantly surprised how easy it was to coordinate the resources between Tillges Farm and the Soul and Smoke folks, and their ability to coordinate with the Montessori School in Englewood, which was part of Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen project to get milk and food to people in need in the community.

Sharon: Wow! That was quite a project. I give you a lot of credit. That’s quite an undertaking, besides the fact that you were busy and trying to do what everybody else was to keep their own lives going. We talked about in-house counsel and that you work a lot with in-house counsel. It always surprises me. You’re an executive coach also, but what do you do? What is the presenting issue?

Jan: Sure, it’s a number of things. Let me start. Throughout the last 30 plus years, I’ve had some relationship with the Association of Corporate Counsel. Initially it was through Rudnick and Wolf and then Piper, Marbury and DLA Piper, where I was the lead point person for that relationship. It’s extended beyond that up until today. About six years ago, they came to me as they were looking to develop their career resources for in-house counsel. Initially, it was to help those in-house counsel in transition with career needs. The first year we focused the executive coaching resources on career transitions. Subsequently, I found that more discussions related to those that weren’t looking necessarily to make a move out of the organization but were looking for ways to own their roles and strengthen their leadership skills and executive presence differently than they had done. So, we started to focus on that. In concert with that, I helped create a series of programs that looked at aspects of building a personal brand, developing thought leadership and a social media profile, strategic networking similar to what law firms do, but very focused on the in-house counsel audience. It was done with the understanding of how somebody in-house can build their network, both with others in a very large law department and with their internal clients who are the business units. In some instances, a general of a bank will have internal interactions with customers at the bank as well. It’s a lot of the same intellectual challenges that law firm partners and associates go through in thinking about how to build their book of business, but more with an internal focus. 

I’ve worked with ACC and its members for a number of years in the area. I am on the career website for ACC. I’m one of probably 20 coaches or so that are there. I do some gratis work for in-house counsel that’s interested in exploring something different. That could be, again, leadership development; it could be wanting to get to the next level of development with an in-house organization; it could be somebody that’s been managing counsel that wants to become a general counsel, and we’re talking through the steps to successfully accomplish that. For others it might be inculcating a more robust diversity program within the construct of the law department. If there’s any question about the evolution and how much law departments have changed, just looking at the launch of the organization clock which very specifically looks at the operations function. Historically, a role that a general counsel would have served in is now often supported by somebody that’s got a purely operations function and is looking at improved functionality as well as cost reduction. I think it makes the role of GC or chief legal officer of an organization even more challenging, and it starts to relate differently to other C-suites within the structure of the organization. That’s a quick overview of the type of work I’ve done with in-house counsel.

Sharon: Well, it sounds very interesting. Is it usually an individual who will come to you? 

Jan: It depends on the project. I get brought in by organizations. Often law firm leadership or law department leadership will bring me in to talk about the big challenges they may have. Sometimes it’s specifically regarding an individual they think might be stuck, if you will, in their career and needs some help. These are productive individuals that may need some improved skills in a specific area. It could be strategic communications; it could be hygiene, and when I say hygiene, I don’t mean body; I mean discipline in following rules. Things like timekeeping, where they work, how they interact with folks in the office. A lot of times an executive coach can be a sounding board to try to help an individual erode things that are in their way. Oftentimes, it can help them see themselves as others do. It can help them get out of their own way and allow them the ability to thrive in what they’re doing. Sometimes it’s unlearning habits and patterns that have been developed and adopted over many years.

Sharon: Jan, thank you so much. There are different feelings I’m feeling. First of all, your knowledge is amazing, and your experience is amazing, but I know there’s an aspect of frustration here. There must be so much satisfaction once you get past a roadblock or when a person sees the value you’re bringing and how you can make a difference.

Jan: Yeah, Sharon, you really hit it on the head. It’s an incredibly intimate process, to assure somebody that they can trust you and have confidence. I always say to people that are interested in hiring an executive coach, “Kick the tires hard on the person you’re going to meet to make sure they have the skill set you’re looking for and the personality to meet with you.” I know as a coach—and I learned this lesson over many years as a law firm marketing person—you can’t push a string. You’ve got to be met with the same energy that you as an executive coach bring to the table. They need to want to not just articulate change, but to put in the heavy lifting that’s required week after week to bring about the change they want to see. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience. Without getting into specifics, I can say the pinnacle of my opportunities came a few months ago, when one of my clients asked me to attend a senate confirmation hearing. They were a Biden appointee who has now been confirmed, and they asked me to attend their senate confirmation hearing, It really was one of my proudest moments, both for the this individual and also to be valued enough by this person to have them want me to come with them. It was quite exciting. 

Sharon: It was quite a compliment. I can see why. Jan, thank you so much for talking with us today. I really appreciate it. There is so much depth in what you say, so thank you.

Jan: Thank you, Sharon. You’ve made the conversation flow very quickly. Thank you for your time and for allowing me to share my thoughts.

Sharon: I’m so glad to have you. Thanks a lot.


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