Tune in to hear about:
- How Morgan Lewis sets new partners up for success
- How contribution is a core pillar of the culture at Morgan Lewis
- Morgan Lewis’ Rising Partner Program
- The importance of accountability and assistance to move the business plan along
- Finding synergies and mining collaboration opportunities from business plans
Read Full Transcript
[00:00:00.250] – Miriam Lincoln
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[00:01:34.430] – Intro
You’re listening to the Market Leaders Podcast, brought to you by PipelinePlus. Professional service firms use PipelinePlus to capture more business from their most important clients, prospects, and referral sources. PipelinePlus delivers the simplest interface in the marketplace, and in-app suggestions on exactly which actions to take to close the next deal. It’s used as a standalone app, in conjunction with business development coaching, or as a CRM companion for more effective sales pipeline management. To learn more or schedule a demo, visit pipelineplus.com.
[00:02:13.530] – David Ackert
Hello and welcome back to the Market Leaders Podcast. I’m David Ackert, and today our guests are Amanda Bruno, who is the Chief Business Development Officer of Morgan Lewis, and Debra Hare, the Director of Business Development Coaching and Training at the firm. Great to have you both on the show today.
[00:02:29.730] – Amanda Bruno
Thanks for having us.
[00:02:30.860] – Debra Hare
[00:02:31.650] – David Ackert
So today we’re going to talk about setting new partners up for success, and your firm in particular has done a tremendous job of putting a lot of thought into that process. But before we dive into that, I’d love it if the two of you would give us just a little bit of background on yourselves. Amanda, why don’t we start with you?
[00:02:49.270] – Amanda Bruno
Sure. I’ve been with the firm for almost 19 years. I started there in 2004 as a practicing litigation associate, and I practiced law for a little over ten years before switching to the business side of the firm. And I held various roles on the business side of the firm before I became the Global Chief Business Development Officer about five years ago.
[00:03:11.280] – David Ackert
Do you find that your background as a lawyer has had an impact on your trajectory and on the things that you’ve been able to do at the firm, or has that really been a little bit more of a side note.
[00:03:21.010] – Amanda Bruno
I actually think it did not have an impact in terms of trajectory at all. But I do think it’s a huge benefit in terms of how I can assist our lawyers with business development because I know what they’re selling and I know what our clients are buying. And I have been in the lawyer’s shoes before, and I have that empathy. I know where they’re coming from. So I think in that way it helps a lot and it also lends a lot of credibility to the advice I give because I have practiced. So in that way, I think it’s a big benefit.
[00:03:53.760] – David Ackert
It’s always great to be able to say, I feel your pain.
[00:03:56.650] – Amanda Bruno
[00:03:57.610] – David Ackert
Well, Debra, let’s hear a little bit about you and then maybe we’ll segue some more into unpacking your role because you have such an unusual role at a firm.
[00:04:06.050] – Debra Hare
Thank you, David, for having us here today. So I feel the pain too, but from a different perspective. In that early in my career, I was the lead business developer at an Architecture Engineering firm. So, another professional services type of entity where we’re selling talent, and product only in the building, not Coca Cola, or Nike. However, that’s where I learned about the process of business development and the importance of developing relationships and how hard it is. So, taking that knowledge from 15 years of exhaustively and relentlessly developing relationships, I was able to apply it in the legal setting. And in 2012, I participated in a Coach-the-Coach program that Mary Kaczmarek with Skillful Means offers. And it really put the framework around everything I was doing organically from a training and coaching perspective. And then in 2019, Morgan Lewis offered this fantastic opportunity. And Amanda can share the background on that. But when I saw it, I was really inspired and excited about the role because it’s exactly what I love doing. So I’ve had the good fortune in the last three years, of working at a wonderful firm where I get to do my dream job. So it’s a win win for everybody.
[00:05:18.340] – David Ackert
Wow, that’s well said. And we know that firms of your size have business development coaching and training programs, many of them outsource it to companies like ours, or other firms out there that provide this sort of thing. But to actually have a full time Director of Business Development Coaching and Training, granted, I’m biased, but I think that’s a brilliant move. So I would be interested, and maybe, Amanda, you can speak to this, on the firm’s impetus in bringing in a dedicated leader to spearhead this initiative.
[00:05:44.690] – Amanda Bruno
Well, to the point you just made, we were outsourcing all of it, and I was doing some of it in the extra time that I had. But we saw such a need and demand and we saw such success with it and results that I had gone to the Chair and I said, “What do you think about us hiring someone internally to do this?” And we had never done it before, and a lot of our peer firms didn’t really have someone, but she thought it was worth a shot, and I’m so glad we did. And we lucked out because Debra is 100% the right person to be in this role for Morgan Lewis. And there are so many other benefits that I wish I could say, I knew they were all going to happen, and I had set forth knowing they would all happen. But just the institutional knowledge that she’s getting over the years that she’s here. Also, all the dots she’s able to connect. If she works with a partner in one practice group or one industry, or helps someone with a certain client, now, a year or two years later, when she’s working with a different one of our partners, she can connect them. She can connect those dots. And because no good deed goes unpunished at Morgan Lewis, she has done such a great job that she is in such demand. You know we’re even talking about getting another person internally because she’s doing so well. And the partners keep reporting back on how much success that they’re seeing because they’re working with Debra, that they’re telling their colleagues, and they’re just knocking down her door, trying to get her time. So it was a little bit of a risk because we had never done it before, and I think if we had hired the wrong person, maybe it wouldn’t have worked, but we hired the right person at the right time, and it’s just really taken off. And we’ve seen the results. You get a couple of matters, and it covers the cost of having the person here. So I think if there are other firms that are considering whether to do this, it’s really important in the first year or two after you hire the person to closely track that ROI, so you can make the business case back to the firm that like, look, this makes sense to do because it’s more than paying for itself.
[00:07:44.980] – David Ackert
Yeah, tracking ROI when it comes to business development, coaching, and training, is key and something that I think very few firms do well. And frankly, what you’ve done here is you’ve taken a page out of best practices, which is, if you have a function at a firm that you think is high value or high potential, don’t just have some busy partner do this in their spare time. Don’t just outsource it without some sort of oversight, without some sort of management, without some sort of tracking, because you’re ultimately going to do a mediocre job at best, at that. You’ve got to have somebody who’s dedicated, who’s an expert in this, who’s driving change, looking for process improvement, and ultimately implementing that.
[00:08:24.050] – Amanda Bruno
I totally agree. You have to go all in.
[00:08:26.600] – David Ackert
Well, let’s build on this concept of going all in, because one of the things that also impresses me about your firm is its culture, as you’ve described it. So talk to us a little bit about how contribution is a core pillar of the culture at Morgan Lewis.
[00:08:43.230] – Amanda Bruno
Yes. So why don’t I start, Debra, and then I’ll kick it over to you, because I’d love to hear what you have to say about this as well. So, Jamie, our Chair, always says, “A rising tide raises all boats.” Right? And we are equally invested in the success of our partners. So the practice group leaders, firm management, the business development team, and taking the rising partners in particular, we are equally invested in their success. There is no formula. There is no playbook. One day they’re an associate, and the next day they’re a partner, and their role changes slightly. Now they’re expected to start generating business on their own, where before, for the most part, they have a partner who’s kind of feeding them work. And of course, some of the interests start to conflict, right, because partners are billed out at a higher rate, and the partner that they were previously getting their work from now has to feed other associates. And the new partner, it’s their job to start bringing in more work, both for the firm as a whole––they’re now a partner, they have to contribute to this partnership that they’re part of––but they also have a responsibility to feed some of the associates as well. They’ve been a great lawyer. That’s why they’ve been able to become partner. But they don’t necessarily know how to generate business. So their role really switches overnight. But we’re all equally invested in them being successful. It’s not good for anyone at the firm for them not to be successful. So I think our culture is really important, and I think that’s why we see such success with our partners. One thing that might sound kind of small, but actually has a huge effect throughout our firm, is just the fact that we never say “My client.” No one says “My client.” You just don’t. And that is in every training we do, every time Jamie or Steve Wall will talk to the partnership, it’s something that they remind them. If someone were to say that, they would get a polite hand slap. You just don’t say “My client,” because no one owns that relationship. No person or no partner owns that relationship. It’s the firm’s client. And we’re all here to be of service to those clients. And that’s really important because I think that language around the client and the client relationship, if we’re all partners and I keep saying “My client, my client,” you feel a sense of ownership, and you guys don’t feel equally part of that. But if it’s the firm’s client, the client, our client, then we all feel like we can equally contribute to that. So that’s one thing. The other thing that’s also really important at Morgan Lewis in terms of culture is the way that we review and compensate partners. At Morgan Lewis, we don’t write I love me memos. That’s what we say. We have our partners write I love you memos. And what that means is most firms, when you’re doing your annual review, you will write a memo about all the wonderful things you did, all the things you accomplished, all the work you brought in. It’s all about you. You’re patting yourself on the back. You’re giving yourself exceptional on everything. We don’t do that. We don’t waste our time on that at all. Instead, we ask partners to write an I love you memo. And what we mean by that is “Tell me how much other people helped you. Tell me how much you helped other people at the firm.” And then what we do is we go through and we see how many times your name appeared in other people’s memos and who helped you. And what we have found is collaboration really is the key to any success, financial success, to serving the client in the best way possible. And we always say if doing it because it’s the right thing to do isn’t enough for you, there’s actually the business case for it too. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Heidi Gardner at all, but she’s a professor at Harvard and she has this wonderful study that shows that when collaborating, the result isn’t additive, it’s exponential. The way you encourage that is by rewarding it through compensation. And that’s exactly what Morgan Lewis does. They reward collaboration. So when we see those review memos, the firm is rewarding how much you are collaborating with your colleagues, and how much your colleagues are collaborating with you. And the wonderful thing about it is that really is the way to drive the best result for the client by bringing in the right people for what the client needs.
[00:12:59.800] – David Ackert
You’ve done two things here that are very difficult and I want to take a moment and acknowledge that. The first is changing the language that is acceptable at the firm. I almost think that’s more difficult because, yes, changing the comp structure is a political ball of spaghetti to unravel across a large partner body. And you’ve got people with various vested interests in keeping things the way they are and all of that. But we kind of understand that. And most firms that are willing to tackle that have a sense of what they’re up against. But language is a little more invisible because it’s really easy to let something slide. If someone says, “My client,” and you don’t have a practice of circling back to that and correcting that. What if they’re a senior partner? What if they’re a senior rainmaker? Are you really going to dare to tell them they can’t use those words anymore? I mean, that stuff is actually in some ways much more challenging but necessary. You can’t change the culture of anything if you don’t get rigorous about the language that’s used. We’ve seen this across so many different kinds of culture change, whether that has to do with DEI or whether it has to do with gender or anything where it’s like, we’re just not allowed to say that anymore. It’s not okay to use those words, and that’s what’s ultimately going to influence our consciousness. So I really want to just take a moment here and acknowledge those two significant hurdles that you’ve moved through. I’m interested in knowing how some of this has played out tactically. Debra, maybe you can talk a little bit about this Rising Partner Program, and how it’s building on some of these concepts.
[00:14:33.070] – Debra Hare
Sure, happy to. And just to put another pin in what Amanda said, the culture starts at the top. And when Jamie, our Chair, is sharing information to the partnership at partner meetings or to our business development team during our retreat, the messaging is consistent. And so everybody is hearing the same things over and over again. And culturally, from my perspective, when it starts at the top, everybody is going in the same direction. And it’s prevalent in how nice everybody is at this firm. And that is another firm tenant that you treat everybody with respect, whether they’re the person in the mailroom, whether it is the receptionist who’s scheduling a visitor office for you. But even people who I’ve told about Morgan Lewis, if I share the stories, they’re like, “Gosh, are they really that nice?” And I say, “They are.” I mean, the people here are just genuinely nice, and they’re willing to help one another. And I wouldn’t be able to be successful if I didn’t get help from Amanda and my colleagues and other people at the firm to be successful. And this Rising Partner Program you’ve described is one of the things that firm management came to Amanda and said, “We want you and Debra to help these new partners be successful.” So in 2020, in the midst of this crazy pandemic circumstance, when you couldn’t go meet people face to face, these brand new tapped partners were asked to develop business. And so Amanda and I put heads together and came up with this intensive training program where the first hurdle for them was to write and re-craft a business plan that could be implemented in the pandemic circumstances. And so we conducted training and then had one-on-one conversations. So one of the benefits, because a lot of firms might hire someone to train people or someone to coach people, but when you put it together, the concepts you’re talking about in the training can be amplified and reiterated in those one-on-one sessions from the training programs. So we did the one-on-one conversations, and then we prepped them to present virtually. And some of the things we had been learning through our training program, staring at the camera instead of the people in the audience, is how you connect with your virtual audience. And then we did mock interviews with all of these individuals so that when they got to the interview with management, they were prepared. We recorded the sessions so they could look back at themselves. Some of them came back for another round or two to make sure they were well prepped for that pivotal point in their career, and then it just snowballed from there. We helped them prepare for their first partner meeting, making the most of connecting internally, building your internal network of contacts, and then continued programming on cross selling and collaboration and emphasizing those themes. Again, where working together is better than working in a silo. So we’ve done it now three years. It’s been extremely successful. We’re seeing seeds that were planted in 2020 of initiatives and activities these lawyers put in their plans come to fruition. So that is just so rewarding. And again, I always enjoy learning about their practices. It helps me understand what’s happening at the firm, and as Amanda said, be able to connect the dots.
[00:17:45.450] – David Ackert
You mentioned during your comments the business plan. I’d like to spend a little bit of time on that because that’s one of these things that most sophisticated firms require, certainly the partners, to complete. Here’s our template. Please fill this out. What are your goals this year? And typically, what that ends up looking like is a perfunctory exercise where the lawyers will throw something into the template and then not look at it for about 360 days of the year until it’s due again the following year. And then they’ll dust a few things off and copy, paste, and then rinse, repeat. This is such a problem that we’ve developed software at our company to help law firms get more efficient and get more visibility around: who are the targets in your business plan, and what are you doing with these people? Right? I mean, firms need a lot of help to ensure that a business plan exercise ultimately is meaningful. I’m interested, given how intentional and how focused your efforts sound at the firm, how you’re addressing business plans and ensuring that this doesn’t end up just being sort of a cosmetic exercise.
[00:18:49.470] – Amanda Bruno
So we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen. Again, we have a vested interest in them being successful, so we make sure the practice group leaders in particular, are checking in regularly to see how they’re doing with that. They also have kind of a sponsor partner who put them up for partnership and helped them craft that business plan. That sponsor partner is also checking in with them to see how they’re doing, see if they need help. And then Debra and I also have regular checkpoints with them. So once we launch this rising partner, we help them get through the partner nomination and candidacy process. We kind of follow them for the first year. And like Debra said, we’re providing different trainings, but we’re also checking in with them. Hey, how are you doing on that? Do you need help with that? How can we help you? So I think when they see these calls on the calendar, whether it’s with Debra and me, whether it’s with their practice group leader or their sponsor partner, I’m sure some of them are hurrying up and moving things along the night before. But hopefully the majority of them are being really thoughtful. They know they’re going to be held accountable to that and they’re keeping things moving along, and they’re using the check ins as opportunities to either say, “Hey, I do need help with some of this, or you know what? Things have changed a little bit. This doesn’t make sense anymore. I need to pivot in this direction,” so that it’s not just this piece of paper that gets shoved in the drawer and you don’t see again. So that kind of accountability and assistance throughout the year, I think, helps make sure they are moving their business plan along.
[00:20:21.420] – David Ackert
I’m curious, how do you extract these collaboration opportunities from the business plans and ultimately support those? Is there a process for that?
[00:20:30.490] – Amanda Bruno
Yeah. Debra, do you want to talk about it?
[00:20:32.920] – Debra Hare
Sure. What is great is that when you holistically look at all the plans, because they’re coming from our 15 different practice areas, different offices around the globe, you will see many synergies when you compile it all together. And right now, it is in a pivot table spreadsheet. So it’s extremely easy to search and filter and find synergies. But through those one-on-one calls, and I’m in the process of doing it for our last group of new partners that was promoted, you can see opportunities where they can collaborate together through shared clients in an industry setting. Perhaps it’s a practice group initiative or otherwise. And they are always amazed when I put the data in front of them and I offer these suggestions. I see the spark ignite. And that’s what you really want with business development, because a lot of times, until that happens, they’re just afraid or they’re unsure, and they don’t want to make a mistake. But when you serve it up to them, that easy, they can’t do anything except move it forward. And a perfect example, yesterday I was speaking with a new partner in Dubai, and we noticed an IP partner in Washington, there’s some connection there. So I’m in Washington, I ran out to grab lunch, and that partner in Washington was coming out. I’m like, “Did you connect with this person?” And she’s like, “As a matter of fact, we did. And we’ve got a call set up next week.” And it’s just that little spark from seeing that data in front of them that now they’re on their way. And I’m like, keep me posted how it goes. And then it’s just a snowball of opportunities and leads for business, and you’ve got to start somewhere. So it is a simple process. There’s nothing magical to it. But without executing it and giving them the data, then it’s easy to forget about what you put in your plan and put it in the drawer.
[00:22:20.350] – David Ackert
This must be particularly important when it comes to lateral partner integration, finding those synergies and ultimately building on them. Do you have infrastructure around that that ties back into this business development function?
[00:22:32.950] – Amanda Bruno
Yes, we do. We have, actually a really thoughtful lateral program, and really, it starts before they even get here. Our firm, I think, does a really, really good job at vetting the laterals that come to make sure that we’re not taking on someone who might have relationships that throw up a lot of conflicts where they’re not going to be successful, to making sure that they have the right cultural fit. Are they going to be the type of person who’s okay with the our client philosophy, who’s going to be okay with the collaborative mindset? Because it’s a huge investment when you take on a lateral. They’re not bringing in dollars the day they walk in the door. There’s a huge lag time, and it’s very expensive if they don’t stay. So we want to make sure right from the recruitment that we’re recruiting the right people, and then when they get there, we want to make sure that they’re successful and that they stay. So we have a whole team called our Lateral Integration Team. We have a whole team around this. We have a program it’s a two year integration program where we make sure we’re supporting them. Are they meeting the right people internally at the firm where we can say, “Listen, connect with A, B, C, and D, because they’ve got a lot of synergies with your practice and your client relationships. So that we can start to integrate you into legacy Morgan Lewis relationships and you can start to integrate legacy Morgan Lewis folks into the relationships that you brought over.” And we really try to kind of kick start that and help them set those up, because when they come, they really feel like they’re drinking from a fire hose. And they don’t know how things work, and they don’t know where to start, and they don’t know which things are going to be the best investment of their time. So the Lateral Integration Team puts a roadshow together for them, for lack of a better word, where they’re going around to the different offices internally and making sure they’re meeting the right people. I talk to them when they get there about client relationships that they should prioritize and different ways that they can leverage that. I hook them up with Debra so that she can help them put together a business development plan, from a Morgan Lewis perspective. When we do all these things with firm leadership and practice group leaders and the Lateral Integration Team, we check in with them on a regular basis. “Hey, how’s it going? How are you doing? How’s this going? Did you ever connect with so and so? Did you realize so and so just met with…Hey, there’s a pitch coming up. You should be involved in that.” Just spotting those opportunities that they might not otherwise be aware of and bringing them into opportunities. It’s funny you had written about across the industry, I think you said there was around a 45% success rate with laterals staying with a firm. Most laterals leave within three to five years after joining a firm.
[00:25:24.510] – David Ackert
[00:25:25.290] – Amanda Bruno
So after you said that, I thought, “I wonder what ours is? I know ours has to be better just because I feel it. I’ve been here for 19 years now, and laterals hardly ever leave.” But I didn’t know what the data was going to be. So I reached out to our HR group and I said, “Could you do some analysis for me?” They did it over five years, so the rate should be the highest, right? Only 6% of laterals leave Morgan Lewis within the first five years of being with the firm, 6%. I mean, that’s well below industry average. And then I started to think about which laterals are leaving, why are they leaving? And maybe it’s just selective memory, but the ones that I’m remembering that have left in that time period are like a Kenneth Khalif who was appointed by President Biden to lead the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. Or Matt Minor, who went in house for a senior role in compliance with Walmart. So I’m thinking of a lot of the folks that leave, leave for these other incredible opportunities with the government, and I can think of a couple of other people who left to go into the government when the new administration came on. So we really do have a very low attrition rate for our laterals that come. And I think that’s because we are so focused and so invested in their success and we do a really good job of weeding out the ones that we think wouldn’t be a great fit before they even get here.
[00:26:47.510] – David Ackert
Well, I really think that anyone listening to today’s episode should take that to heart as it’s not just that you’ve worked hard on creating a collaborative culture. It’s not just that you’ve worked your comp system around that principle so that you’re walking the talk. It’s not just that you have Debra in her role directing coaching and training. It’s not just that you have these philosophies around how laterals should be integrated effectively, right? It’s not just talk. At the end of the day, there’s a meaningful business outcome that by a long shot exceeds what the industry average ultimately is. And I’m sure if we looked at some other outcomes in terms of the degree to which you’re cross selling at your firm, I’m sure that statistic is also way beyond industry average simply because you’re putting this intentional focus and you’re putting smart people in the right roles to drive this change. So, again, I just really acknowledge the thought that you put into it and the way that you’re executing. I have a final question. I’d love both of you to take a run at this, if you don’t mind. What suggestions would you have for other firms who would like to move toward a more collaborative model and set their new partners and laterals up for success, and have perhaps been a little bit inspired by some of your comments today. Debra, why don’t you start?
[00:28:06.140] – Debra Hare
Sure. I think it starts early in the foundation of a lawyer’s professional development, and one of the things that Morgan Lewis has done for several years, even before I arrived on the scene, was to develop and execute these academies for different levels of associates. And there’s always a business development component to these different academies that are geared towards the different level of associate at the firm. And now that I have been here a few years, I’ve been able to participate in all of them. And it’s truly rewarding to see someone who maybe was at the junior academy, who then rises up to the senior academy level and the progress that they’ve made through all of these intentional training programs that we collaborate with our professional development team on. So I think it starts early. Setting those institutional habits and focus on business development early really sets themselves up for success.
[00:29:03.550] – David Ackert
That’s great. Thank you, Debra. Starting early and having this kind of scaffolded education system within the firm, that’s really smart. Amanda?
[00:29:11.910] – Amanda Bruno
I would go back to something that Deborah said earlier. The tone really is set at the top. So I really think it’s important to get buy in from your top management and have that trickle down. So for those of you who know Jami McKeon, she definitely sets the tone for this. She sets the tone for collaboration. She is the responsible attorney for one of the largest relationships we have at Morgan Lewis, and she is the most collaborative person you’ve ever met. So she walks the talk. When I first switched over to the business side of the firm, she was integrating me into that relationship. She was saying, “I’m sure Amanda can help you.” She never once thought about what was in it for her, and she does that all the time. She brings so many people into that client relationship, and people see that, and that makes a huge difference. And it trickles down to the management committee and out to the practice group leaders and down to the partners. So I think if you want to be successful at this, you have to make sure that your top management values this and is bought into it and that they’re going to walk the talk.
[00:30:17.670] – David Ackert
So often at firms, we see firm leaders who lead with smarts. It sounds like Jami also leads with heart, and that’s something that a lot of other firms, I think, could probably take a page from and do a little more of. So I really appreciate you sharing all of that. And thank you so much for contributing your time to today’s episode and giving us some insight into some of the great work that you’re doing at your firm. We really appreciate it.
[00:30:40.590] – Amanda Bruno
Thank you so much for having us. It was really fun to have this conversation.
[00:30:44.020] – Debra Hare
[00:30:45.290] – Outro
Today’s episode was brought to you by PipelinePlus. We solve business development problems for professionals around the world. Visit pipelineplus.com to learn more about our technology and coaching solutions.