Market Leaders Podcast Episode 73: “Cultivating a BD Mindset with Associates” with Katie Munroe

Market leaders are skilled at finding opportunity in the places most people overlook. In this week’s episode of the Market Leaders Podcast, Katie Munroe, Chief Marketing Officer at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, describes how she championed an expansion of the firm’s business development efforts to include partners and associates. Katie astutely recognized how bringing associates into the fold earlier on would better prepare them for future partnership responsibilities. And that in today’s highly competitive legal market, it is everybody’s responsibility, not just the partners, to stretch the reach of the firm.

Tune in to hear Katie elaborate on:

  • Her philosophy on how to mold BD behaviors to prepare associates for partnership
  • How her team has systematized the BD process
  • The unique way she’s brought levity to BD for associates
  • Zuckerman Spaeder’s training commitment
  • How she helps associates inventory their networks and use LinkedIn more effectively
[00:00:00.170] – 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

[00:00:38.890] – David Ackert

Hello and welcome back to the Market Leaders Podcast. I’m David Ackert, and today our guest is Katie Munroe, the Chief Marketing Officer at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in Washington, D.C.. Katie, great to have you with us.

[00:00:49.420] – Katie Munroe

Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.

[00:00:51.450] – David Ackert

So tell us a little bit about yourself and the firm.

[00:00:54.360] – Katie Munroe

Well, as you mentioned, I am the Chief Marketing Officer at Zuckerman Spaeder here in Washington, D.C.. We are a boutique litigation and investigations firm with just shy of 100 lawyers. And just two weeks ago, I celebrated my second year anniversary with the firm after spending about 13 years at Covington and Burling LLP.

[00:01:14.560] – David Ackert

Congratulations on your second year anniversary.

[00:01:16.560] – Katie Munroe

Thank you.

[00:01:17.130] – David Ackert

So over the two years that you’ve been working at the firm, I know you’ve introduced some new ideas that have been implemented, especially at the associate level, when it comes to business development. Can you talk to us a little bit about the firm’s philosophy, and some of the initiatives that you’ve brought to bear?

[00:01:30.820] – Katie Munroe

Absolutely. Well, as clear from my title, chief marketing is really the focus of this particular role in our department at Zuckerman Spaeder, but having worked on the business development side of things for so long before joining the firm, we really saw an opportunity to do more in that space in a very concentrated way. And not just with the partners. It’s so common that associates are kind of left out of the business development conversations, and I think firms have been doing a better job in recent years of bringing them into the fold earlier on, which serves to prepare them for when they have those partnership responsibilities. But I think that there’s a lot more that we can be doing at earlier stages in people’s careers. And so, in the last two years that I’ve been with the firm, we’ve really focused on implementing a more rigorous program for our associates, including regular trainings and also one-on-one conversations so that we can check in with the associates, see what’s resonating with them from our group trainings, and help them to really identify what is their calling card when it comes to business development.

[00:02:41.320] – David Ackert

So do you find that the associates are more willing participants than the partners sometimes when it comes to things like training, and let’s talk about your goals, and where are you headed?

[00:02:53.040] – Katie Munroe

I do think so. I’m not sure if it’s a generational difference or just something that comes with an appetite for learning. At the associate level they’re not so saturated and they’re not yet totally overcome with super demanding work schedules. And so I think that they might have a greater appetite to learn about things that set them up well for partnership. By the time we’re working with partners, a lot of people already have their own habits, preferences, and ideas on how business development and marketing should be done. But if we get to those folks at an earlier stage and help them to build muscles in relationship development, network cultivation, profile raising, etc. I think we help them figure out ways to incorporate some of those behaviors at more regular and intentional intervals and it really does pay dividends.

[00:03:43.190] – David Ackert

Your comment reminds me of the studies that have been done on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. And when you meet with someone and you say, well, you really should sit down and come up with a plan because that will ultimately ensure that your practice is moving in a particular direction and management really wants that…these are all these extrinsic motivators, right––it’s like coming from outside. But when you meet with someone who really genuinely wants to get some clarity for themselves on “what is my practice going to look like, and how am I going to be successful, and how can I quiet that voice in my head that wonders if I’m ever going to be successful at all?” Then you really have that buy in that’s so key in getting their full attention on the process of training, and planning, and ultimately executing that plan.

[00:04:29.380] – Katie Munroe

I think that there’s a lot to that in terms of how law firms are run. For a lot of associates or junior lawyers, it’s kind of a black box when it comes to promotion. And demystifying elements of what make you an effective partner, or things that are becoming requirements as you grow up in a law firm can be really helpful. And so I do think, coming back to your prior question, that there’s a motivation and an interest at the associate level probably related to that.

[00:04:59.140] – David Ackert

So tell us, how are you meeting the associates where they are in terms of their interest level, in terms of the kinds of training that seem to resonate with that demographic? What are you seeing that’s working?

[00:05:10.100] – Katie Munroe

Well, we actually have the good fortune of having someone on our marketing team who plays a hybrid role between helping recruit associates to the firm and also working within the marketing team. And she’s really useful in a variety of ways, but not the least of which is keeping an ear to the ground as she onboards people about where they feel like they need help, what things are of interest to them. And so we do have a marketing introductory conversation when we onboard people to share with them about the marketing department, the types of ways that we can be helping them at all levels of their career, and also asking them if they have particular interests or things that they’d like to pursue. And those initial scoping conversations have really been informative when we determine what is going to be, if you’ll call it a curriculum for the year based upon people’s interests. We do have the benefit of having a relatively small associate class. That also means that we have people across years of experience. They could be coming off of a clerkship with two years of practical experience, or they could be seven years into their time as an associate, and that could be difficult, but in this context we’ve found that to be really helpful because we’re able to draw on the more senior associates for anecdotes and experience that helps to really ground what we’re sharing with the more junior associates as they familiarize themselves with blogging, or keeping up with their classmates on LinkedIn.

[00:06:40.740] – David Ackert

So you mentioned blogging, you mentioned keeping up with their classmates, you mentioned social media. Are these some of the greatest hits? Are these the themes that emerge when you talk to the associates about what they’re interested in?

[00:06:50.960] – Katie Munroe

They’re definitely the most accessible. And our associates right now have grown up with social media, so I think there’s a comfort level there that people might be more willing to start with. It doesn’t seem as scary as some of the other things like conference attendance and walking into a room with 600 people where you know no one. But what we work with them on is trying to make things less scary.

[00:07:12.770] – David Ackert

Have you been able to position social media as something that isn’t just a time suck? Do you have any good results to talk about and demonstrate that help them stay motivated and stay consistent with their social media efforts?

[00:07:25.850] – Katie Munroe

Yeah, I mean, LinkedIn is such an obvious one, and I think many of us can point to examples where we’ve been able to stay connected to people who otherwise might seem out of reach. But I’ve been so impressed following conversations with our associates at the creative application they’ve had when they’ve considered different opportunities through Instagram or Facebook. And we had one really great success after one of our social media conversations, where one of our associates began following a former classmate who was launching a business. And she proactively sent her a direct message on the application suggesting to her that if she ever needed any counsel, that she’d be glad to put her in touch with people who could be helpful. And almost immediately, this person got back to her and they struck up a billable relationship. And that’s just such a great illustration of being industrious with your own network and not feeling hindered as an associate to not be someone bringing in business, like it’s everybody’s responsibility to think about the way that we can stretch the reach of the firm.

[00:08:31.260] – David Ackert

That’s a great example of an Instagram win. You referenced earlier that one of the other things that you like to talk to them about is blogging and also staying in touch with their network. Obviously, my ears perk up whenever anyone talks about relationship pipelines. Tell me about your approach here.

[00:08:46.070] – Katie Munroe

Yeah, so one of the things that we really want our associates and partners for that matter, and council to do is take an inventory of their network. And that’s a conversation that we do have early on about reviewing their classmates from not just law school, but also their undergrad career, taking a look at their clerkship connections, and looking more broadly at some of the less traditional avenues for work or perspective clients. And by that I mean your neighbors, or the people that you run into at school functions if you have kids, and just keeping your eyes open to where possibilities exist. I think a lot of us work in cities or areas that are densely populated, and you just never know who’s going to work where or who might have a connection that either would be helpful to you, or that you could make on their behalf that could pay dividends down the road.

[00:09:40.330] – David Ackert

So this network inventorying that you do, does this happen during one of the trainings or during the one on ones? At what point do the associates sort of sit down and concentrate and say, “okay, let me pick a handful of people that I’m going to call my top?”

[00:09:52.560] – Katie Munroe

We do go through a formal program with everyone in the room where we talk about the different categorizations of individuals in their network, whether that be prospective clients, prospective referral sources, or people to whom they could refer work. And in our follow up one-on-one meetings, that’s where we really dig into each individual’s network and ask them to identify a handful of people. It doesn’t have to be boiling the ocean in terms of everybody you know, making sure that you classify 1000 people and keep up with all of them, that’s just not realistic. But thinking about who are the people who are most likely to be helpful to you and thinking about what you know about them, where are they going? What’s their trajectory, where do you think they’ll end up? Will they be in house? Will they be in government? Maybe they’ll be co-counsel at some point, or a potential referral source? And prioritizing a diverse group of those so that you have different feeders in different areas.

[00:10:49.620] – David Ackert

That’s an interesting technique that I don’t hear a lot of people use, which is think about what you predict this person’s career will look like. It’s a little bit of skate to where you think the puck is headed. Right? And I think it’s so important with associates because many of the people in their demographic haven’t yet arrived at where they will arrive in five years. So it’s good to kind of think about what trajectory are they putting themselves on, these people, these top five, or top ten, however many it is. And prioritize accordingly.

[00:11:18.690] – Katie Munroe

Yeah, definitely. I agree with you. It’s hard to really see the future in some of these circumstances. But I think the benefit, especially for associates, is that they’ve spent three years with their classmates, they have a sense, hopefully at that point, of what each person or friend in their class has as interest areas or priorities. And also like what they’re doing outside of their jobs. I think that’s another thing to keep in mind. When we talk about different ways not just to build your network from those you’ve met and known, but also how to get involved in your community, we think about different bar associations, or advisory councils, or board opportunities. And one of the things…here’s another good success story that comes to mind, I was talking with a former associate with whom I worked about what his particular interests were, and as a patent litigator, he was very excited by the sciences. And so we looked at different organizations that he might be able to lend his support to, and one of them that came up was TechBridge Girls, which is a nonprofit organization that helps expand academic and career opportunities for girls in science, which he felt really passionately about. We approached them, asked if they were looking for volunteer support, and after reviewing, the advisory council saw that there were a number of different lawyers who were on their board, and ultimately they were able to pitch him to participate as a board member, and he’s been serving on that council for several years now. And it has been a source of work. It’s great to stretch your network beyond who you have already known to think about how you can increase opportunities to meet others outside of the past.

[00:13:01.260] – David Ackert

That’s great. Another success story.

[00:13:03.360] – Katie Munroe


[00:13:04.010] – David Ackert

So you start the process with inventorying their network, you help them come up with a handful of targets, and you ask them to anticipate career trajectories on each of those individuals. Then you talk to them about social media, you talked about that Instagram win. There’s communities, boards and groups, there’s blogging and thought leadership. Sounds like blogging is sort of the method of choice, yeah?

[00:13:26.630] – Katie Munroe

We do have an associate driven blog at the firm, which we launched in early 2021 and it’s been a great resource for people to kind of stretch their legs, get comfortable with writing and choose topics that really interest them. We’re not too intentional or specific as we direct our associates in terms of the topics they choose. It’s not absolutely necessary that they have a careful dovetail with their practice, but rather things that interest them. And it’s been great because people have really gotten active. We’ve had 15 of our 20-ish associates contribute blog posts already, and we’re helping them evaluate the metrics that we get back on clicks, retweets, performance views, and the numbers of people who are looking at it from companies or prospective targets. And having that type of information, I found, has really helped to motivate them and make things feel more tangible in terms of their potential impressions that they could be making in areas that they might want to explore in terms of future thought leadership.

[00:14:32.060] – David Ackert

Well, getting 15 out of 20 associates involved in your blogging initiative is another win, I have to say.

[00:14:38.510] – Katie Munroe

Yeah, gamification definitely helps with that. You dangle a little carrot at the other end and people are more willing to get their feet wet.

[00:14:46.350] – David Ackert

That’s right. Well, you’re doing a lot that’s working here. I’m curious because one of the things that we see associates struggle with a lot of the time is just differentiating themselves when they articulate and describe their practice. Do you give them training on their elevator pitch or whatever you call it?

[00:15:01.300] – Katie Munroe

Yeah, I think that’s so important. It is something that we’re really focused on. And to one of your earlier questions where you were asking how to identify what associates need, I was both kind of shocked and horrified when we had a conversation earlier this year and so many of our associates didn’t know what their peers were working on, or what their practices looked like. And it was a light bulb moment for me and another colleague in the marketing department about the importance and need for these associates to not only be able to talk about themselves, but to be able to communicate effectively and thoughtfully about their peers, and what everyone else in the firm is doing. And especially as we talk about cultivating all of these networks, we don’t want to send them out into the deep end without being able to talk smartly about what the firm can offer. So what we have been working on putting together is a speed dating like exercise in terms of elevator pitches, where each associate gets paired up with somebody and needs to talk through what their practice looks like. Their partner then regurgitates that information in the form of the person’s elevator speech to see if they’ve gotten it right, if they’ve heard what the person was trying to communicate, and if they did it effectively. And I think going through the motions of something like that is so illuminating for people because we’re not always received the way that we think that we are. Our message is not always as clear as we think it is. And by forcing them to go through this exercise, people really have to get down to the specifics in a way that I haven’t thought of another more effective avenue to do or accomplish.

[00:16:38.150] – David Ackert

I appreciate that creative approach and one can tick the business development training box by just sort of putting people through seminars or webinars or what have you, but it sounds like you’ve found some really interesting ways to make it interactive, make it playful, and ultimately make it engaging for them.

[00:16:55.060] – Katie Munroe

And fun, I hope, yeah.

[00:16:56.630] – David Ackert

That’s great. Well, Katie, it’s been great hearing some of these business development success stories that you’ve been able to create at the associate level at your firm. I’m curious if there’s anyone out there who’s listening today who might be considering some sort of associate business development training program. Is there any sort of nugget that you would give them as they’re trying to think about how they would put it together or any philosophy that you’ve used that you think someone might borrow as they apply things to their own firm?

[00:17:26.860] – Katie Munroe

Well I think it’s good for us to remember that a lot of these things are not taught in law schools, and so we shouldn’t take for granted what might seem obvious. So much of what we do in the marketing and business development space at law firms is not rocket science, but it’s helpful just to articulate and have those light bulb moments with your associates or your partners. I think the other suggestion I would have would be to talk to the associates and ask them what is of interest, and what they have a hard time with, and whether there are any prickly points that make them nervous about the unknown in the business development arena. Because some of the things that might come naturally to us in our roles may not be the things that come as naturally to them.

[00:18:11.650] – David Ackert

That’s a great point. You knw, so often, associates have already dipped their toe in that pool in one form or another. Right, they’ve tried networking or they’re trying to kind of get the word out about their practice, and they’ve probably run into a stumbling block here or there, and they can help inform the marketing team on the kinds of trainings that would be most relevant to them, given their personal experiences.

[00:18:33.740] – Katie Munroe

Definitely. And I think, not that you’ve asked, but if I were to give one piece of advice to associates who are trying to get more involved, it’s just not to over complicate things, like this comes down to being a relationship business, and people want to work with people they like.

[00:18:50.400] – David Ackert

Well said. Well, Katie, I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us today and congratulations on your successes at the firm, and I wish you continued success with these various initiatives.

[00:18:59.910] – Katie Munroe

Thank you so much, and thanks for having me.

[00:19:02.650] – Outro

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