JD Profiles: Megan M. McKeon, Marketing Director, McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

Megan M. McKeon worked her way through the evening J.D. program at The John Marshall School of Law and graduated in 2004. By day, she worked as a Marketing Magician for Schiff Hardin, an Am Law 200 firm, where she assisted with the firms marketing and recruiting efforts, including handling media relations, drafting external and internal communications, and promoting firm-hosted events. Rather than use her law degree to practice law on a daily basis, Megan continued to work in the marketing department of law firms. Eventually, Megan returned to school and achieved her M.B.A. in Marketing Management and Leadership and Change Management from DePaul University’s Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Today, she applies her legal and business background as Marketing Director for McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff.

RecruiterEsq: Hi Megan. Thanks for responding to my request on Twitter.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story!

You have an interesting background. How did you decide to go to law school?

I always wanted to be a lawyer, or so my mom tells me. I don’t really remember, but apparently at the tender age of five, I told my parents I was going to be an attorney. In those words! That said, I let the dream fade quite a bit – in college, I focused on a business education and had set my eyes on work in finance and/or marketing. But, when a friend told me she was taking the LSAT, and I checked out her study materials, the interest was rekindled. I honestly took the LSAT on a bit of a lark – I didn’t study much the first time around – but I scored quite well, and thought that if I studied I might get an excellent score. I was lucky.

That’s a cute story. I am fascinated by people who can work full-time and go to law school. How was your experience as a night student different?

Honestly, that’s a bit hard to answer. Schiff Hardin was a very flexible workplace and they fully embraced my legal education as a benefit not only to me but to the marketing department and a firm. While I was officially enrolled in the evening program, I took a good share of daytime classes, often coming in early or staying late at work and taking a lunch hour to attend class. So, I didn’t have the true evening student experience. That said, it’s a challenge working and attending school – I’ve done it twice (for my MBA as well), but I relish the challenge of juggling multiple commitments.

Were there any courses on legal marketing or anything like that in law school?

Sadly, no. I have a good friend who teaches an optional course on legal marketing at Chicago-Kent, but John Marshall didn’t offer anything of the sort. I’ve been lobbying them, through their Alumni Association, to offer a seminar – or anything – on the topic. I’d love to be involved in that type of course.

As a professional, do you think there should be those types of courses offered?

Absolutely. They’re essential, whether you’re at an AmLaw 100 firm or you’ve hung out your own shingle. Marketing is more than just sales or advertising. It’s about developing relationships. You need to know how to talk to clients, how to understand their problems on their terms. Marketing helps all of that.

I always joke about how I never heard of an Am Law firm until I started recruiting. When I brought up the term to friends who worked at Am Law firms, they told me it was recruiting jargon. That’s one indication that legal education doesn’t prepare you for the day-to-day business realities of practicing law. If a law school taught courses on marketing, what do you think should be on the curriculum? What are some books or articles or magazines that helped you along the way?

I’d actually like to see two separate classes – one targeted to law students intending to practice in solo/small firms and the other to those looking for work in larger firms. The basics remain the same for both, but much of the practicality and the nuances are a bit different.

For the solo/small firm class, I’d focus on communication skills, business development basics, and marketing on a shoestring. The course needs to be a bit broader for these folks, as they will be doing everything themselves.

For the larger firm class, I’d focus primarily on project management, business development, and general client relationship skills. I’d stay away from the marketing basics, as a firm of any substantial size will have personnel to handle that work.

Much of my “education” on the topic has been a baptism by fire. I do recommend The Law Firm Associate’s Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills by Beth Cuzzone and Catherine Alman MacDonagh. Dale Carnegie’s classic, How To Win Friends and Influence People, is always applicable and is a fast and very worthy read.

Did you ever think you wanted to practice law?

Absolutely. I have a keen interest in appellate practice, and I still consider practicing. I maintain my license, and therefore I attend the MCLE classes; I choose classes that are either marketing or appellate practice related. I also occasionally select patent law classes, as my firm’s focus is on intellectual property law.

Do you assist clients now or focus solely on marketing?

While I do have some interaction with clients on a limited basis, my focus is solely on marketing and business development for the firm. I will often interact with clients at events, trade shows, etc., and am certainly well-prepared to talk with them about our firm’s selling points as well as legal developments and potential implications. I keep up on IP news and developments and, as an attorney, I can speak of those developments on a different level than others may. I think my firm has seen a benefit from my J.D.

How do marketing and business development differ? Give me an example of an activity you consider marketing that’s not business development or vice versa?

Business development generally involves direct face-to-face interaction with a client, while marketing is the collateral side of that. They certainly combine together in many situations – for instance, while engaging in a business development activity such as hosting a conference, an attorney may hand out a marketing brochure. The two disciplines support and build off each other.

What’s a typical day like for you? A typical week?

It depends on the time of year, and it’s much easier to answer the “typical week” question. Right now, a typical week is spent spot-coaching our attorneys on individual business development activities – answering questions such as, “What do I do when…” or “What’s the best way to follow up with…”. Since it’s close to the holidays, I’ve been providing advice on holiday gifts, cards, and so on. We’re launching a new Website in Q2 2011, and I’m working heavily on that, coordinating needs from different departments and practices, and surveying all of our attorneys and staff on their preferences. It’s a really neat project and I cannot wait for our site to launch. This time of year, I also spend a good amount of time tracking down various vendors and ensuring that deadlines will be met, that we can get invoices before we close out our year, confirming pricing for 2011, and such. It’s a little slower at this time of year – not so many events on the immediate horizon. When we’re in events season, it’s long hours (well worth it) with a moderate amount of travel, while juggling a dozen projects or so.

As I mentioned, we connected on Twitter. What social networking sites do you use on a regular basis?

Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are my favorites. I use Twitter and LinkedIn professionally, and Facebook personally.

What is your firm’s stance regarding social networking? Does the firm recommend for lawyers to use any specific sites? Does the firm prohibit any sites?

We do not have a social media policy at my firm. Not because we don’t think that social media is important – quite the opposite – but because we, culturally, have not been a policy-motivated firm. We encourage our attorneys to use their best judgment in all forms of social media, and I offer occasional training on the different sites. A group of our partners runs Patent Docs, a widely-read pharmaceutical and biotech patent law blog. Another partner authors the Orange Book Blog, a blog centered on FDA law. Dennis Crouch, a former associate at MBHB, developed Patently-O, the most widely-read patent law weblog, while he was at our firm. We continue to proudly support Patently O as the exclusive sponsor of the blog. So, you can see that we very much embrace social media.

Do you train lawyers on how to use social networking sites? E.g., proper conduct, how to make connections…. If so, what are one or two takeaway points from your training sessions?

Yes, I run training sessions for our attorneys, primarily on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Some of my favorite points:

  • Social media is a conversation. It’s give and take. You have to listen more than you talk.
  • Use LinkedIn and Twitter for competitive and client research. Hit up the standbys, but always check out those two sites to see what’s being said about the company/firm.
  • LinkedIn Groups are underutilized, in my opinion. Pick a few groups that cover your area of interest, and join them. Listen to the conversation and participate if appropriate. Some groups will end up being service providers promoting themselves, but others have valuable discussions with industry stakeholders.
  • Use social media to humanize yourself. It’s OK to post pictures of your children, talk about your volunteer work, and share your interest in competitive extreme ironing. While there’s always a line – and you must remain sensitive to that – have fun and enjoy the experience. That’s the only way you’ll come back.

You have your law degree and your MBA. Do you think one degree or the other helps you in your position? Or is it the combination?

Both degrees are helpful, I believe. I started on my MBA in late 2008 and finally got it earlier this year. I did have a BBA, so I already had a lot of the business education that’s attendant to an MBA. I found the connections and the communication skills I learned through the MBA program were more invaluable than the actual classes themselves. As for the JD, I don’t think I would have gotten this job without it, frankly. I was 25 when I was hired here, and I don’t think anyone would have taken that risk on me without knowing that I had the level of sophistication that a JD brings. It puts me on more equal footing with the partners, and allows me to speak to them on their terms.

For lawyers who want to transition to a marketing role within their firm or law students who want to find a law firm marketing position, what type of advice do you have for them? What should they be prepared to do that they may not like? What skills will they have to learn or re-learn that were not part of the law school curriculum?

Learn everything you can about marketing and business development. If you’ve already got a degree in marketing, you’re ahead of the game, but I don’t know that it’s mandatory. Start thinking from the mindset of the client. Who are you marketing to? Why would they want to work with your firm over another? How can you communicate that to them?

I really like every part of my job. Dealing with politics – and they exist everywhere – is probably my least favorite part, but it’s always educational and I come out of the situation knowing so much more about the personalities I deal with every day. I think one of the things I love best about my firm is that we’re mid-sized. That means I know every attorney, and I know most of them very well. I know their quirks (who needs extra reminders, who can I count on to talk to the media, who doesn’t get in until 10:00, and so on).

Marketing and business development are not part of the law school curriculum at most law schools. So, all of those skills will need to be discovered and learned. Luckily, the legal marketing community is very helpful. The Legal Marketing Association, of which I am an active member, has chapters in many metropolitan areas, and meets on a regular basis. The LMA Listserv is an invaluable resource for those new to the field, and members of LMA are friendly, helpful, and accessible.

What tools do you use on a daily basis? E.g., type of cell phone, computer, phone apps, SaaS

I wish I could say I use some cool exotic tools, but I really don’t. I have a Dell Latitude E6410, running Windows XP, with Office 2010. I use Adobe Creative Suite for most of my ad designs. My mobile phone is an iPhone 3GS that will soon be upgraded to either the iPhone 4 or the Droid X (still considering my options).

How has legal marketing changed since you started in 2002? How do you think it will change in the next five (5) or ten (10) years?

I’ve seen legal marketing evolve towards a focus on client relationships. I’m very much excited to see how the field will shape up in the future – I see marketing becoming even more essential to firms as attorneys realize the importance of client relationships and client development. I look forward to a time when legal marketing isn’t initially equated to phone book covers and low-production-value television ads!

Megan, thank you very much for telling our readers about what you do for a living.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Megan M. McKeon is Marketing Director at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff, an intellectual property boutique with offices in Chicago and Washington State. You can connect with Megan on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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