A Chat With Faegre Client Development Chief Melanie Green

In this monthly series, legal recruiting expert Amanda K. Brady from Major Lindsey & Africa interviews law firm management from Am Law 100 firms about how they are navigating an increasingly competitive business environment. Discussions delve into how these key management roles are changing and introduce the people who aspire to improve and advance the business of law.

Next in this series is a conversation with Melanie Green, chief client development officer at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. Prior to that role, Green was the director of business development and marketing for Baker & Daniels LLP and director of marketing for Lewis and Roca LLP. She has helped build and support marketing and communications, client relations and business development strategy, and led the execution of those efforts when Baker & Daniels and Faegre & Benson were combined in 2012.

Q: Describe your role as chief client development officer.

A: I oversee our marketing communications and client relations functions. Unlike some firms that may divide these functions, we operate as one unit. Our main objective is to understand what our internal and external clients want to achieve, then align our team resources and tactics to be responsive to those needs.

I benefit greatly from having a strong and talented leadership team made up of several specialized marketing and business development professionals. To ease navigation for our internal clients, we created an online marketing request center within our intranet to direct the need to the right team resource efficiently and hassle-free.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my work is visiting clients with our managing partner. Getting out and bringing back the client’s voice informs what we think about as a firm, and what our team does to support our lawyers and consultants.

Q: What do you consider to be the greatest challenges you and your firm are experiencing in the area of client development in today’s legal market?

A: From talking to clients, we know expectations to deliver more value to the business continue to be top of mind, despite budget constraints. Clients hunger for law firms to develop strong business partnerships that go beyond the legal project deliverable.

One of our biggest challenges is getting lawyers comfortable exploring the broader business issues and relationship dynamics across a client. We need to ask more questions and take interest in how the client segments their work, what pressures they face from their business executives, what success looks like project by project and how they prioritize their budget. Asking those questions helps us think about how we’re delivering our services and meeting their needs, and it’s an opportunity for us develop stronger partnerships and provide better service to our clients.

Q: How has this increasingly competitive legal landscape changed the way you approach and demonstrate value to potential new clients?

In the past, the mentality was that you could walk in and say “our firm does this, so try us too.” That doesn’t work anymore, and yet that pitch mentality still exists. The right perspective is approaching business development, client growth and retention from an authentic place by asking, “how do we provide solutions that help you accomplish your goals and fill gaps?”

Our goal is to partner with our internal clients to uncover where our external clients’ needs and opportunities exist. That requires us to spend a lot more time preparing for the conversations with clients (questions to explore, understanding incumbent advantage, etc.) rather than pulling together the perfect pitch deck that will lead to a lecture rather than a learning opportunity.

Q: What is the best way for law firms to identify strengths and weaknesses in addressing client feedback?

A: You have to get comfortable asking a client’s point of view about the firm and our work. Assumptions are the silent killers of successful client relationships. All too often we assume they won’t consider us for that work, or that we’re too expensive, or my favorite — they just don’t have any of those projects right now. Rather, by digging into the client’s needs and asking about goals and expectations, as well as seeking feedback on work delivered, we can tailor services and/or deliver the work differently to meet service and budget expectations.

Q: How has social media changed the way law firms reach potential clients and the broader legal community?

A: I view it as one additional communication tool within a marketing toolkit that can be leveraged to join new conversations, promote thought leadership and build networks. It has to be done intentionally as part of an overall comprehensive plan, adding visibility and credibility, but eventually it’s important to move from online to offline to explore how to solve problems or seize opportunities for clients.

Q: What is the biggest change you anticipate in your field in the next five years?

A: I’m optimistic that new roles will continue to develop to facilitate stronger relationships between law firms and clients. There’s potential for client service teams to be comprised of lawyers, consultants and traditional billing professionals, as well as business and client account professional support. Pricing, technology and client account law firm professionals can interact with counterparts within the client’s business structure to support the relationship and goals. There is so much opportunity here. Once our clients start to experience the enhanced service and support available because of these new client service teams, I’m hopeful it will gain traction as a new norm in our industry.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

A: Leadership requires more listening rather than directing or assuming. In a complex organization filled with many perspectives and skill sets, leaders have to understand situations from various points of view, and work to bring people together to leverage those strengths and skill sets.

Leadership is about rolling up your sleeves to understand what it means to get something done. It means being knowledgeable enough to understand what it takes for the web administrator or event planner or client account manager to execute their work. This is an essential first step to be able to bridge the gaps between frustrations, opportunities and solutions. Curiosity and empathy are daily go-to behaviors.

This article was originally featured on Law360 on September 13th 2018.

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