In this monthly series, legal recruiting expert Amanda K. Brady from Major Lindsey & Africa interviews law firm management from Am Law 100 and 200 firms about how they navigate 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 Sadie Baron, chief marketing officer at Reed Smith LLP. Named CMO in 2016 after first leading business development for the firm’s global business and finance practice, Baron took a nontraditional path, forging an unexpected marketing career that began with a junior public relations role at legacy insurance company Norwich Union.
Q: In the two years you have been CMO at a distinguished international law firm, how has the role itself evolved? What have you found to be most surprising?
A: What I noticed in my first few months as CMO was that there were a lot of issues that needed to be solved. We didn’t have the right technology support for the function. Consistency and quality were patchy, which had a lot to do with legacy processes. I was a bit surprised by the lack of infrastructure. The role has evolved because we have invested in technology.
Then I had to wrap my head around the U.S. market. I was blessed that I had prior experience in a business development role because that gave me some exposure to the U.S. partners and clients. But a big as aspect of my job as CMO is visibility in the U.S. market, practices and partners. People underestimate how important that is. Even two years in, I still have to invest in developing relationships with partners that will help us move forward as a business. I need to be able to pick up the phone, call every single partner and have them know who I am.
Q: How have lessons from your earlier career outside of the legal industry informed how you approach your job today?
A: I generally believe I’m CMO of Reed Smith today because of my diverse background. My first eight years gave me the very best education and grounding in all aspects of my job — marketing, communications, branding, design, print, recruitment, sponsorships — you name it, I did it. Because I didn’t specialize early on, I have this wealth of experience that I can tap into whenever I’m thinking about what we’re trying to do at a strategic level.
In my view, the reason I’m CMO is because I’ve done a bit of everything. As a result, I like to foster an environment where my marketing team doesn’t specialize too early. Instead, they get the chance to wear lots of hats — either through our shared solutions center or seconding to other teams. I think about where my managers are now and where I want them to be 10 years from now. I try to stretch them to do other things because I want them to get the experiences they need to get where they want to go.
Q: Describe one of your greatest accomplishments in your current role.
A: My team is my greatest achievement, and they mean so much to me. I can’t do my job without my team. I have an incredibly talented and really solid team. We spend far too long at work every day to do something we don’t enjoy. I encourage every single person on my team to realize their potential by focusing on their dreams and understanding what their power is. It’s okay to not be perfect at everything, but if I have somebody with a real interest in doing a specific aspect of our job, or a different job altogether, I fully believe it is my job to find them the right job either inside or outside of the organization.
Q: What is the single most important change you would make to advance the business of law?
A: There is still a disconnect between the reality of what lawyers want from their marketing function and what the team is capable of delivering. When no one knows where else to go, they give it to marketing. That takes away from them really adding value.
If I had one ultimate wish, it would be for the marketing team to have greater access to clients. The marketing team is well versed in all aspects of the firm and can add tremendous value. I believe we would unlock more revenue possibilities and opportunities.
Q: What attracted you to the legal industry?
A: I love the dynamics of the law firm partnership. I love the personalities. At the end of the day, I feel really blessed to work with some of the greatest minds around. I like watching the dynamics, and navigating them; it keeps me enthralled. Every day is different, and I am challenged in new ways. I’m never bored here.
I also love that I can learn from other industries and apply their best practices to my own industry.
Finally, I like navigating the global cultural differences. The way I interact with my colleagues in London is different than the way I interact with my colleagues in Hong Kong or the U.S. I like that stretch as well. I’m truly blessed to have a global role.
Q: If you weren’t in law firm management, what career would you have?
A: I would have been a pro athlete. I would have loved to represent my country as an Olympic sprinter or a field hockey player. I was an athlete in my teens, and today, I still play hockey on the weekends despite the fact that my knees are protesting. I’m not an individual sports player; I’m a team player. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching my team succeed.