A Conversation With Baker Botts CMO Gillian Ward

Next in this series is a conversation with Gillian Ward, chief marketing officer at Baker Botts LLP. Ward has spent the better part of her career in professional services — marketing, business development and client relations. She left an engineering firm in 2006 to join Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP as its chief marketing officer. In 2014, she assumed the CMO role at Baker Botts, working out of the firm’s Houston office.

Q: What attracted you to Baker Botts?

A: The people, the partners’ vision about clients and business development — particularly that of Andrew Baker — and the firm’s reputation in the U.S. and abroad. Even from the early interview phase, I felt I could make a difference at Baker Botts because I would have the support of the partnership.

Q: What would you consider to be the greatest challenge your firm is currently facing?

A: The need to continually position the firm and its lawyers to benefit from the fast-moving legal market. In the last 10 years, we have seen more change than in the previous 100, especially with the severity and creativity of the competition. Client methods for procuring legal services have also become more sophisticated.

Q: How has the role of law firm CMO evolved?

A: This competitive market landscape has meant that CMOs are increasingly involved in strategic functions within their firms — not just in marketing and business development but across the other functions too. When I joined my first law firm, the communications and business development groups functioned mostly to deliver what the lawyers were asking for. Today, partners increasingly realize that they need strategic cultural and communications support to remain client-focused and revenue-driven.

Many CMOs, myself included, have been involved with leading that change. With the benefit of a very supportive managing partner, we transformed the communication function here at Baker Botts to a truly strategic function. There is always a reactive component to it, obviously, but now we’ve prioritized building our brand. I’m pleased with the depth of the relationships that Baker Botts has developed with its clients; it puts us in a very strong position for market retention and growth.

Q: Beyond strategic planning, what other accomplishments can you highlight?

A: I think as law firm CMOs we have a responsibility to build the legal marketing professionals behind us. I'm proud to have participated in the professional growth of the members of teams I’ve built. I get great satisfaction from watching someone who joined our team — sometimes with little experience — advance in their careers.

Professional development is also a central component of extending the trust the partnership has in me to my team members. Easing new hires into their responsibilities and supporting their development needs is good for both the team member and the partners. It gives a new team member time to learn their role and the partners time to see that everyone is aligned with the vision I’ve promised.

Q: What do you look for in a business development professional?

A: Two things. First, emotional intelligence: Can you relate well to people? Can you convey your ideas clearly? Are you thoughtful? Can you build strong relationships?

All of these questions are as important for client-facing work as they are for internal matters. Our department has a culture of proactive communication enabled by hiring emotionally intelligent members. I can truly trust my team to keep me abreast of issues before they become crises, allowing me to support their efforts as well as answer any partner concerns.

Second, innate curiosity. If we don't know as much, if not more, about the clients than the partners do, how can we really add value to that discussion?

Finding those two qualities is not always easy.

Q: From your perspective as CMO, what change would you like to see to advance the business side of the legal industry?

A: Perhaps this is bit controversial, but I would love to see law schools spend more time educating new grads about client relationships and business development. Sure, law schools put out great lawyers — but often new attorneys don’t know how to interact with clients and have little sense of how the firm makes money. If we had that coming in, it would jumpstart the whole industry.

Q: What attracted you to the legal industry?

A: The challenge. If I could prove myself in an industry made up of incredibly smart, well-educated, focused people who love to debate, I could do it anywhere. Before I transitioned into this industry, I assumed that lawyers and engineers would be similar to work with: both have the desire to be right and to be perfect in their solutions. But when I first started, the stubbornness and pedantry of lawyers were almost more than I could handle. At first, I thought, this just isn't going to work.

Eventually, I realized that I could be a bit like that too. I don't give up easily. I also like to think I rely on the same emotional intelligence that I look for in my team members.

Looking back over the years, there is not much that I said I was going to do that I didn't ultimately do — but it might not have happened at the pace I initially thought it would. This is par for the course when your work involves changing organizational culture. CMOs should embrace it and be flexible.

Q: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: From my childhood in North England, all I ever wanted to do was work on a ranch as a cowgirl. I love open spaces and seeing the horizon. So, maybe it was fate that I ended up in Texas.

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


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