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Marketing and Personal Business Development Best Practices for Professionals with Deborah

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In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel goes On Record with Deborah Farone, founder of Farone Advisors, LLC, to discuss best practices for personal business development for lawyers and other professionals. Deborah is the author of Best Practices: Marketing and Business Development for Law Firms, which is a book published by PLI and based on more than sixty interviews with successful law firm leaders and marketers, general counsel and innovators in the profession. Earlier in 2022, Deborah was inducted into the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame. She also is a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.

During the past two decades, she carved out a niche by distinguishing herself as the chief marketing officer of two of the world’s most prestigious law firms. Prior to diving into legal marketing, however, she worked at a global management consulting firm, Towers Perrin, now known as Willis Towers Watson. She’s also well-versed in the work of public relations agencies like that of Furia Rubel, having worked at Ketchum Communications.

How did you go from working in-house at a law firm to founding Farone Advisors?

I was fortunate. I had a long shelf life. I was at Debevoise as their CMO for 14 years and then Cravath for 14 years. I had been at an agency, I had been at a consulting firm, and I thought the one thing I hadn’t done was consulted on my own. Although when you’re in-house, you’re constantly consulting the people that you work with, I thought this would be something that I’d want to do as my next step. At the same time, I was thinking about it, PLI asked if I would write a book and I thought, “That’s great. I’m going to consider the book my first client.” As it happened when I launched, I ended up getting some law firms calling me and developed clients at the same time. It just worked out.

You try to set yourself up for success in marketing. You make sure that you are always developing contacts. I tell the lawyers and the consultants that I work with that you never know where that next opportunity is going to come so you want to make sure you’re doing everything that you do with your whole heart and with full intent of making sure that you’re doing it professionally. I was very fortunate in that I ended up getting these initial clients and I did work for some great firms, including Gunderson Dettmer and Dechert and a few others right off the bat. I was very fortunate. If that hadn’t happened, I would’ve happily spent my first year writing a book.

Gina Rubel: It’s nice to be able to write a book and to have that opportunity. This is what I like to tell clients all the time, whether you’re writing a book, writing an article, when you talk to others, when you quote others, there’s not only more validity, but you’re building a better relationship with them. Knowing you, everyone, and I’ve read your book, everyone in the book had so much to add. I recommend to our listeners and readers that if you’re in legal or even professional marketing in this space, it’s so worth reading and really understanding how other people think.

Deborah Farone: I feel the same way about your book, too. It really is a must-read. And you’re right, I often will tell the people that I work with if you’re going to write an article, think about who you can quote. Who is it that you want to get to know? Who is it that is influential within your sphere in which you’re working? That can help build terrific relationships.

What are some of the lessons you learned from your book interviews?

It was great to see things that we’ve always been taught really being applied. A perfect example was Barry Wolf at Weil Gotshal. Barry believes that you need to wow your clients, and obviously that’s something they do at Weil Gotshal because they do phenomenally well, but he would talk about wowing clients, whether it was to a group of partners, whether it was to a group of associates, whether it was to staff, at every juncture he had the opportunity to. This idea of communicating, communicating, communicating, and having an idea of where you want to go is so vital, but I really saw Barry put it into action, which was great to see.

Another great lesson I learned was from Bob Gunderson at Gunderson Dettmer. He taught me and I spent a lot of time with him in the process of writing the book. They focus on startup companies, and they do it phenomenally well. They don’t do other kinds of work that are not startup related. So, they’ll represent startups, and they’ll represent venture capital, and they’ll represent the venture capitalists and the various funds, but they stick with that world. There’s something to be said about sticking with your knitting and doing what you do well, and there are other firms like Orrick, where if you talk to them, they will also say, “This is something that we do.”

Mitch Zuklie says, “We have two or three areas that we are really focused on and that’s where we’re going to focus.” There is a certain magic with knowing those areas that your firm is going to focus on and doing that very, very well. There were lots of lessons that I learned both about marketing and about business and seeing those theories that really, we’ve been told that work really put into action.

Gina Rubel: I love that, and I encourage all our listeners to get a copy of your book, read it and read not only your wisdom, but all the lessons you learned from the many, many people that you had the opportunity and I’m sure pleasure to interview.

What inspires you to work with women in law?

I’ve always been interested in helping individuals market, and as I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed that women very often, have not been invited into the important pitches as often as their male counterparts. By doing that and by excluding women in that way, women haven’t had the same exposure to role models that men have had. Not only the role models that they meet on a pitch, but the actual partners who are rainmakers in their firm. I love the idea of helping women by giving them the tools to understand how to market and how to do those things that they would’ve learned from mentors, or they would’ve learned from role models had they been included.

The same thing is true for all minorities. I was at a New York City Bar Association program a little over two years ago and we were talking about how a number of the people in the audience who were minorities felt they were invited into a pitch, but after the pitch happened and the business was won, they never saw the client again. And what could they do?

I handled new business pitches at two large firms. I had never even heard of that happening. I thought these people are invited in on a pitch, whether they’re women or minorities, and believed, of course they’re going to work on the matter. I hope that at the firms that I worked at, they were, but there are many places where they’re not, and my question is, how can we give those folks the keys to be able to develop their own business in the meantime and gain their own confidence? I’ve loved working especially with women and minorities. It’s something that we all can do, and we all need to give back whatever tools we gain.

Gina Rubel: It’s so important today with 50% of people in the workplace being women and a very large percentage being minorities. It’s changed. When I went to law school, it was 50% men and women. When my dad went to law school and graduated in 1971, he had two women in his class and few people of color. Just from the perspective of history, it’s time to give everyone the tools. My husband has a saying, “Give people the rules and tools they need to succeed,” and I love that because… and when I say rules, it could be things like how to manage your personal brand, which I know is something you do, and the tools to do that.

Why is there an interest in personal branding?

It’s an offshoot of what we’ve been doing with branding. My firm has done strategic plans for law firms, and we’ve also done practice plans for law firms. Personal brand looks at the smallest subset of branding the individual. It’s important today, more than ever, because with more people making lateral moves from one firm to another, and with firms becoming these incredible places that are an amalgam of various lawyers, lawyers owe it to themselves to establish a personal brand.

What are some tips for lawyers to establish their personal brands?

I always believe that strategy needs to come before tactics. So, to develop a strategy, you need to look at your personal brand as it is today and then figure out where it is that you want to go. Look at your LinkedIn profile and by all means, improve that. Spend a little time each week looking at LinkedIn at a minimum. Make sure that your profile is not only concise, but reflects who you are as an individual, what makes you different, what makes you unusual, why someone who you are communicating to should hire you. Look at your profile across all social media and your bios and figure out how it is that you’re being perceived.

I suggest that when people are really looking at personal brand that they work with an outside consultant, because I think they need an outside perspective. I don’t think the days exist anymore where you can rest on the laurels of being at a great firm. Being at a great firm is wonderful. It removes some of the questions that you might get from a GC or from a board of directors that knows of your firm and knows of their brand, but personal brand is also vital. It’s how you reach out to people, how you have relationships with people. There are lots of things that you can do, but it starts with looking at your own strategy and developing some tactics.

Gina Rubel: I agree with you wholeheartedly on having someone else outside of your family even, outside of your normal professional sphere, look at your bio and your profile for that matter, because the one thing we miss is that we don’t know how everyone else thinks and what everyone else perceives. What one of us might perceive as completely professional or we might use language that we think is inclusive, there could be words that are triggers. There could be words that identify implicit bias. It’s not just hire someone. There’s a reason. The reasons go deep, and we don’t know how we come across. The hardest thing we do, and even in communications, the hardest thing for you and me to do is write our own bios.

Deborah Farone: Absolutely. We need an outside perspective. And even if you can’t afford an outside coach or consultant, it’s important to think about your bio and all your materials from the view of your client. Think about your typical client over the last five years. Produce a persona, figure out who those people are and what their needs are and read your bio and all of your material…

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