When I sit down to talk to Liz Lockett, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at Ice Miller LLP, I quickly realize that the legal sector is in her blood, it’s in her DNA. No honestly, it really is.
Law quite literally runs through her family – her father was a judge and eight family members are lawyers. This combined with her knowledge, confidence and experience means she’s the perfect candidate to lead lawyers into the 21st century.
In fact, by her own admission, Liz is on a crusade to drag lawyers from their comfort zone and into today’s wonderful world of business development. You see she’s not afraid to take risks, and she puts her money where her mouth is.
From leading the business development and marketing team of a 500-lawyer firm headquartered in the U.S, to supporting the growth of one of the largest law firms in the world, Liz has spent many years developing and implementing strategic initiatives to ensure success in an ever-changing environment. We talk about this, her mission and so much more.
25 years is a long time to be working with lawyers! What do you love about it?
“I started working in the law library in high school, I’ve always been fascinated by the judicial system and how it works. In fact, I remember when Lexus came out, it was a new research tool. That’s how old I am!
“I actually have a master’s in music composition, but my first job was for a law firm in Ohio. I started in 1998, as a marketing coordinator, not too long after the ABA actually allowed legal marketing, and worked my way up over the last 25 years.
“You know, lawyers can be challenging because they’re skeptical perfectionists that are incredibly intelligent. But I thrive on that challenge. It’s always changing and I love that about my work.”
Tell me about the latest role, because it’s been under a year you’ve been there.
“I started in June and honestly, it was a great move for me. I mean, I loved my previous work, I enjoyed working there immensely but I was ready for a change.
“When I joined Ice Miller they had a pretty robust marketing team but no business development team, they didn’t focus specifically on driving revenue.
“So when I joined the management team and interviewed extensively with them, I made them promise that I could develop a sales and BD team. And that’s what I’ve done the last six months.”
And what was that like, developing the sales and BD team from scratch?
“I was able to hire a stellar director of BD, as well as three business development managers. And we have sales people now in specific practices, some of them were there prior to my arrival, but we’re trying to integrate them more into the business.
“We have just finished developing our strategic plan, and I’m very proud because law firms rarely do this. We have a very specific focus, we’re not trying to be all things to all people. So it’s much easier for me to focus on the BD team and how we’re going to go about driving more revenue.”
Where do you start when it comes to creating a strategic plan?
“You need to realize what you’re really good at, and where the money is coming from. It’s important to focus on that without hurting the feelings of all the other lawyers that aren’t in that practice. As I like to say, a rising tide raises all boats.
“We recognize where our strengths are and we’re investing a lot more of our resources into that. If you try to just throw money everywhere, do all the sponsorships, try to be things to all people, you’re wasting a lot of time and money and resources in my mind. It’s just getting the other lawyers on board now!”
That’s certainly not always an easy task, and I’m keen to hear what Liz has up her sleeve to make this happen.
How do you prepare yourself for those conversations, do you arm yourself with data?
“Absolutely. I spent the first six months justifying a huge spend on salaries. I had to say to them that I needed a significant amount of money to get some real quality people in here. The market is very tough.
“But you know, they are very supportive, and they put their money where their mouth was – which is huge. Now, I have to do the same and deliver the results!
“And we’re really poised to do that. Our coaching training is going to be huge, I already kicked off a boot camp in January, and we’re about to roll out the associate training. I really want to focus on the top 10% of rainmakers and start developing more cross-selling techniques. And again, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit, because they hadn’t really had this culture before.
“But our challenge is getting the lawyers to trust you and develop that rapport and understand their business, just like they need to know their clients. It takes some time to do that culture shift. My goal is by the end of the year, they’re going to realize that it’s already happening.”
Do the lawyers you work with struggle with selling their services? Is there a sense that they feel it lies outside of their own remit?
“There’s definitely a sense of that. I believe that they’ve got to develop the skill set. There’s still a stigma against asking for business.
“But if you understand what your client’s needs are, then you’re going to be able to help them in a more holistic way. Sometimes that could be introducing them to somebody else, a mutual partner, for example, if you recognize that you don’t have that legal expertise. It helps them to realize that you really understand what their issues are. So for me, it’s getting the lawyers to understand that, and helping coach them so that they know it’s not sales, or begging for business, but figuring out how to help their client.
“More law firms need to get creative about the ancillary services that they can provide. It’s not just legal – there’s environmental, HR, M&A, and all kinds of other things that you can help them with in addition to the current core service.
“I find inspiration for this everywhere, like the other day I went to a new dentist and he was spectacular. Because after a two and a half hour, very painful exam, he gave me one piece of paper, and it just said, here are your options. Here’s what’s urgent, here’s what’s not, here’s what it’s going to cost and this is why I should do it. It was just one page showing me he understood perfectly what I needed, how he was going to solve it and what I would have to pay. And I’m like, ‘This is amazing! We should be doing this stuff.’”
I have to say, whilst I’ve never been a fan of the dentist, this guy is clearly onto something. But I can’t help but wonder how it’s been getting the lawyers Liz works with to come round to her way of thinking.
Do you think that the lawyers are “getting it” more now than they used to? How are they understanding the whole nature of what they have to do, including things like social media?
“I think about half of them really get it. I mean, what’s amazing to me is the younger generations, I feel this sense of apathy that they’re just not getting it. One of the lawyers in charge of community involvement called me last week, he’s like, please, I just want your help! How can I get people on board? They don’t seem to care anymore. And I said that we’ve got to find out what they’re passionate about. They have got to understand how it works. It can’t just be “join a board, join a board”.
“It’s fascinating to me. These are brand new partners. They’re about my age, in their 40s and 50s, and I don’t know if they’re scared to understand it, but like I said, there’s going to be a whole culture shift that I’m working on.
“I’m starting this whole programme in my office, asking people where they want to be involved and figuring out what their passion is, and trying to coach them on getting involved in their network, so watch this space!”
Liz’s creativity and enthusiasm has inspired me, I wish that I could talk to her for longer, half an hour has certainly not been long enough.