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Episode 90: The Power of Client Service with Kate Stoddard, Chief Marketing Officer at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

Sharon:      Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Today, my guest is Kate Stoddard, Chief Marketing Officer of the law firm of Kelley, Drye & Warren with eight offices around the country. Kate has been with the firm for more than twelve years and is a well-respected and trusted member of the management team. We will hear all about her career and what she sees are the necessary traits to make a marketing professional successful in today’s environment. Kate, welcome to the program.

Kate:          Thanks for having me, Sharon, glad to be here.

Sharon:      So glad to have you. Tell us about your career and how you came to law firm marketing. I’m sure that’s not exactly what you would tell your parents you wanted to do when you were in kindergarten.

Kate:         That’s true. I think that that’s when I wanted to be a teacher. In college I studied psychology which I think gives me a great foundation for working with different people and different people’s communications styles and immediately after school, I had a job in sales at CEB which is a provider of best practices and talent management insights. After about a year working on the sales side, I decided that I wanted to shift into more of the marketing strategy role. So, I took a position at a boutique marketing agency in Washington, D.C., where we developed integrated marketing strategies for professional services firms and that was a great opportunity to work on a small team and really get exposed to the breadth of marketing strategy from sort of brand building, PR and media, advertising. And after several years there, in 2008, the world was shaken with a financial crisis and that was another sort of turning point in my career where I ended up having the opportunity to work in-house at one of our clients of the agency which just so happened to be Kelley Drye, and I sort of blanked in and it’s been over a decade at Kelley Drye, but those were my early days.

Sharon:      Wow! You’re based in New York now, right?

Kate:          That’s correct. I started at Kelley Drye as a practice development manager supporting a handful of discrete practices and during my time, I had the opportunity to grow my roles at the firm and was promoted to a director and invited to work in the firm’s New York office, and then I’ve since been elevated to CMO. So, I have the benefit of having worked in two of the firm’s offices which has been a great experience to really develop relationships. They are the two largest offices that the firm has and so I feel like over my time, I’ve been able to really develop great relationships with people and partners around the firm.

Sharon:      And we were talking about what you owe your staying power to and the fact—because twelve years with the firm in law firm marketing is a long time. You had said that relationships are one of the cornerstones as well as service.

Kate:          That’s right, absolutely. There are a few things and I can expound on these a little bit, but fundamentally doing good work, building trust, building relationships and continuous learning, and for me, when I reflect on my career, at my early days at Kelley Drye, it was about doing a good job at the task at hand and what I was asked to do, focusing on my core responsibilities, which is really the foundation of trust. And once you develop a reputation for good work, that trust expands and I think I always tried to approach my work with a willingness to help, trying to understand the goals that that lawyer was trying to achieve and thinking a few ahead of what might be next or how can we sort of expand this initiative. And over time that reputation for doing good work leads to doors open and I think that by really developing relationships with the people in the practice group that I was supporting and then also being able to expand the scope beyond that through supporting cross-selling initiatives or other firm-wide initiatives. In fact, I remember early on I was asked to be an administrative-type support for the firm’s strategic planning initiative that was happening, and I was invited to interview the team that was working on a website overhaul. So, by being invited to contribute to projects that have a scope beyond what my original responsibilities were, I was able to meet more people and I’m lucky enough to have had some champions around the firm who saw potential in me and were able to help again open up some new doors for me.

Finally, when it comes to continuous learning, after working at the firm for a few years, I decided that I wanted to deepen my intellectual knowledge of marketing and business development and I went back to school at night and did a part-time MBA program and that was a fantastic experience because I was able to study and have conversations with professors and peers at night and then come into work and think about how I could apply some of those concepts immediately at Kelley Drye and even wrote some papers about some of the great leaders that we’ve had at Kelley Drye. So, it was a great opportunity and I think that helped as a springboard to open doors as a CMO.

Sharon:      Wow! That must have been great. First, I’m always in awe of people who go to school while working full-time because it’s such a—burden is not the right word, but there’s so much. When you finish a day at the office, you want to go home and just not have to think about a paper or at least that’s true for me, but to be able to come in the next day and be able to really think about how it applies would make it so much more interesting.

Kate:          It was certainly a handful, but I don’t think I would have done it any differently. It was just such a valuable experience. I’m glad I made that investment and again, doing it simultaneously was a challenge, but I just saw so many benefits to be able to apply what I was learning almost immediately.

Sharon:      I give you a lot of credit and I know that you recently—you mentioned the word initiatives. I know you have a lot of accomplishments that you’re proud of over the past decade but tell us about the most recent one. You were telling me a little bit about that, client services—I’m not sure I have the right title—I want to say client service initiative, but I know there’s more in the title. If you can—

Kate:          That’s right. Well, when we were preparing for this conversation, we talked a little bit about how business development has changed over time and one of my reflections is about how I’ve seen lawyers really embrace business development and client service and those habits in a more deliberate and discrete way. Certainly, a firm like Kelley Drye founded in 1836—we’re 185 years old and over that time, we’ve endured because of the quality of our lawyering and the way in which we’ve been able to support and serve our clients and I think much of that happened innately. Today, the conversation is much more focused on not just the substance of the law, but also the way in which we’re delivering that service and evidence of that is our Client Service Innovation Committee, which you were relating to, and we’ve been able to—the service committee really supports our partners and associates in how they’re collaborating with clients, for example through different resources and toolkits.

Sharon:      Tell us about the toolkits because I think it’s so important and differentiates everything when you give your lawyers or give your professionals step-by-step. Tell us about that. I mean you can grab onto it in a sense.

Kate:          Exactly. We’ve tried to create resources in a variety of different areas. For one, we’ve done a lot of work on financial dashboards and different portals through which clients can access information and take a look at budget approvals at their fingertips. We’ve also developed a secondment resource center. So, in the instances in which clients come to us or we go to our clients and recommend that a lawyer spend time supporting them, we’ve created some tools to have our partners have those conversations and structure those arrangements.

Sharon:      What are secondments? Not everybody would know what that is.

Kate:          Certainly, a secondment is when one of our firm attorneys is sort of assigned to a client for an extended period of time. So, for example if a client has a lawyer going out on parental leave for six months, they might come to Kelley Drye and say, “Can we have some dedicated support” and perhaps one of our associates would spend five days a week pre-COVID. It might physically be on site at the client and today it may be virtual. It would most likely would be virtual. It also may or may not be full-time. It could be a certain number of hours, but it’s a way to—there are a lot of benefits. One, it helps the client when they are in a pinch and need additional hands on deck. It’s also a fantastic learning and development opportunity for our more junior lawyers because they’ll be able to literally be embedded with that client, understand more about their business objectives, what they’re hoping to achieve and then through those learnings, they’ll also be able to bring that intelligence back to the rest of the team supporting that client and we’re able to do better legal work with more context about the goals and objectives of the client. So, it can really be a win/win opportunity and so the resources that we’ve developed to support that include best practices, sort of template budgets for structuring those arrangements as well as feedback forms, so that at that end of the engagement, we’re able to ask the client some questions and gather feedback about the experience from them as well as from the secondees themselves: what did that person learn and again, what did they learn that is relevant to share with others amongst the firm.

Sharon:      And you’d also talked about some guidelines for service conversations with clients because those can be so amorphous. We may not know exactly what to say except we’re here to serve you and there’s a cost associated with that.

Kate:          That’s right. We’ve developed a guidebook that’s called “Feedback and Forecast” and it again offers some suggestions to lawyers to structure conversations that many people are already having organically, but this guide includes some question prompts that can help them plan ahead and organize these sorts of conversations and so the nature of these discussions could include a conversation about the client’s big picture objectives, so what that company’s goals are as well as what the legal department’s goals are, what metrics they may need to report to their management. And when we have a better sense of what they’re trying to achieve, we can focus on the matters that we’re supporting them on so that everyone’s rowing in the right direction. So, at the end of the year these conversations may also take a bit of a reflective tone in talking about what was achieved to doing an after-action review about how different matters went and then the forecasting part of it would be the future planning, so that’s again sort of part of our client insights interview process and a guidebook that our partners can refer to as they are having these sorts of conversations with clients.

Sharon:      And how has this been received? Or is it something that’s generated by the lawyers and then you put it together?

Kate:          That’s right. We’ve had good input from our partners in developing tools that we hope will make their lives easier. Our Client Service Motivation Committee itself comprises mostly partners, some special counsel and also some senior administrative staff, and we meet every two weeks and it’s a great way to bring back feedback that we’ve been hearing from clients, identify ways in which we can help specific clients and then also scale those to serve more clients and make those resources available for more people around the firm and we’ve had some very nice feedback about what we’ve developed so far.

Sharon:      I love the fact that you have innovation in the title of this initiative because it’s refreshing and that’s what it’s about today, is how to do things differently and in a new way that might serve everyone better, so I love that you include that in the title. I know you have a seat at the table when it comes to management. You have something that so many marketers want and don’t have, and you’ve said that you attribute that to service and trust, delivering and doing what you say. Can you tell us a little bit more about the advice to one of your colleagues that comes to a marketing colleague and says, “I don’t know how to break this barrier,” advice or thoughts on that?

Kate:          Sure.

Sharon:      Or when you’re interviewing. Go ahead, please.

Kate:          That’s right. I think you touched on some of the basics that we talked about previously, bringing up excellent service ethic to the job, doing good work, communicating well, being responsive, understanding the objectives of whoever you’re working with. Being willing to help I think is so important and in terms of really having a seat that table, I think recognizing that having a voice is important and that when you do get that invitation to join a meeting or interview to an initiative that you’re there for a reason and that people see potential in you and want to hear your perspectives. So, being confident with that voice, also bringing a level of diplomacy and understanding the sort of political situation I think is really important and then I think ultimately sharing your ideas about what you think is best for your firm and having a firm-minded perspective so that it’s sort of beyond any sort of self-interest or the interests of individual lawyers or practices by keeping that big picture in mind. I think all of those things together can really set people up for success.

Sharon:      A firm-minded perspective, I heard that put that way before, but that’s really great. I mean it is what’s going to serve the firm best and you also mentioned some qualities that are hard to teach which are being able to sense the political landscape and maneuver within it and also being diplomatic, too. I mean sometimes they’re hard to teach.

Kate:          I agree with you and I think experience—those are the sorts of things that you learn through experience and I think getting and giving feedback is so important in the roles that we have. I certainly appreciate as I’ve progressed through my career, the people who’ve been champions for me and being able to go to people and ask questions and get advice and similarly, I’ve tried to do that and be a mentor for people that I work with and make my best suggestions. I think one of the things that I’m most proud of at Kelley Drye in terms of contributions is the team that we’ve been able to build and develop and so many of our contributors are really embedded with the practices or the lawyers with whom they work and are really considered—they roll up their sleeves; they work as partners with the lawyers that they support and as part of helping grow and develop the team, I think being able to give feedback and help people develop some of those soft skills like diplomacy is so important.

Sharon:      Do you think you walked into the firm with that perspective or those thoughts, or that understanding of how important it is or is that something you developed as you went through?  I guess I’m asking if that’s something that—do you look for that when you’re interviewing, or have you seen it grow in some of the people that are on your team?

Kate:          That’s a good question. It’s hard to pinpoint, but I think those sorts of traits do come through in conversations and interviews in how people write follow-up e-mails, the types of questions that people ask. It’s hard to teach, but I think that modeling good practices and having coaching conversations and sort of setting team expectations, I think that’s sort of a culture that we can try and foster.

Sharon:      Well, you certainly have, and I know that you’ve been a real catalyst at the firm and that you keep everyone, not only your team, but all the lawyers on their toes in terms of a marketing perspective and being able to think differently, outside the legal box let’s say. Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. It was very, very interesting and I think that you have a lot of things that I’ll be thinking about, I know, so thank you so much and I hope we get to check in with you again soon.

Kate:          Oh yes, indeed, it was my pleasure, thanks again, Sharon.

Sharon:      We hope you apply what you learned here today to propel your firm forward. If you have questions or want even more resources, go to Berbay.com and as always, thank you for listening.

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