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.

JD Profiles: Nicole Gesher, Mediator and Owner, Gesher Mediation

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?

Nicole Gesher is a San Francisco based mediator and attorney. She founded Gesher Mediation in February of 2010, where she happily helps resolve conflicts for her clients throughout the Bay Area. While relatively new to the ADR scene (she’s not even 30 years old!), Gesher tied for 2nd place in the Individual Mediator/Arbitrator category in the Recorder’s Best Poll (San Francisco based Legal newspaper – results published 12/6) (PDF). She is currently a panelist for the Bar Association of San Francisco, and the Contra Costa County Superior Court. She is also a volunteer mediator for Community Boards, a local non-profit.

RecruiterEsq: Hi Nicole! Thanks for answering questions for us today. Mediation is not a common career path for law students. How did get involved in mediation?

Nicole Gesher: I first became involved in mediation through the Mediation Clinic at Hastings (run through the Civil Justice Clinic). As students, we were taught advanced mediation theory. Then, we were able to put our knowledge to practical use in Small Claims Court in San Francisco. It was a very hands-on program. Right before the judge came in, we’d give a brief explanation of mediation and offer our services free of change to help litigants resolve disputes before the judge heard their case. It was invigorating, sometimes frustrating, but always interesting. And we were on the clock – we had 45 minutes to help the parties come to an agreement. After taking the clinic, I was very interested in pursuing mediation as a career, but it seemed like a difficult thing to do without many years of experience. So I took a 40 hour training with Community Boards, a local non-profit dedicated to helping resolve neighborhood disputes. I became certified with them, and began to volunteer as a mediator on their panel. After a few years of mediating on a volunteer basis, I decided to take the plunge and start charging for my services.

When applying to law schools, did you look for schools that had mediation clinics or was it a mixture of luck and opportunity?

I looked for schools that had clinical programs that would give me real experience with clients and practical applications for what we learned in class. Hastings has a fantastic clinical tradition, and I took two clinics during my time there, the Individual Representation Clinic, and the Mediation Clinic. But if I’m totally honest, I was more excited about living in San Francisco than I was about any particular law school.

Thank you for being honest because I think you brought up a fantastic point. Law school location is an important factor, especially because many people end up working in the region where they attend law school. Back to mediation, however, how do you see the legal landscape changing in terms of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”)?

I think people are drawn to ADR because of several reasons: cost, efficiency, and a more tailored solution. As a result, I think more and more would-be litigants will pursue ADR first, before they head to court. Many courts already mandate mediation before a judge will even set a trial date – mediation/arbitration is highly encouraged as a way to reduce backlog in the court system.

What types of mediations do you specialize in? (E.g., employment law, contracts, housing, family)

I specialize in civil business disputes, family law, and landlord tenant cases.

There are a few different mediation styles. You describe yours as facilitative. What does that mean?

Basically, as a mediator with a facilitative style, I won’t direct the parties to any particular decision. I’m there to help them, to guide them as needed, but I really believe it’s important to let them drive the process. However, I will certainly offer my opinion if asked or if the parties are at an impasse. I am there to facilitate a conversation between two people for whom open communication has become difficult. Beyond ensuring that the agreement doesn’t contain anything illegal, I strive to keep my own agenda out of their solution.

How long do mediations usually take? What is the process like?

It really depends on the type of case and how many issues there are to resolve. A business partnership dissolution usually requires at least 10 hours of mediation, case management, and agreement writing time. A divorce can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months, depending on whether the couple is amicable, in a rush, if they have children, real estate, etc. I do an intake session with each new set of clients in which I try to identify major issues. But each case is different, so it’s hard to answer how long any mediation takes.

Regardless of which kind of case comes in the door, I try to speak with each party before we meet, and have a conversation about why they are seeking mediation to better understand their expectations. I run them through the legal process, which can be quite regimented for family law cases, or very loose for cases that won’t go through the court system at all. When we meet, I ask each party to speak, voicing their side of the story, and we take it from there together.

You previously worked at one of the top litigation law firms in the country – you were a contract attorney for Quinn Emanuel. You got to see the nitty-gritty realities of litigation. Did this experience strengthen your conviction that mediation is a viable alternative as opposed to litigation?

Working on major litigation projects certainly allowed me to see just how much time and money goes into litigation, often with disappointing results. My work in mediation is much more satisfying, both for my clients and myself. We construct our own solution collaboratively, rather then fighting things out to the bitter end.

What can clients expect from mediation as opposed to litigation? Is mediation only right for individual clients or would clients involved in these huge lawsuits benefit as well from mediation?

I love mediation because it allows a more closely tailored result. I think it’s ideally suited for individual clients, though I think it could be useful for corporate clients as well. However, when engaging in mediation, it’s imperative that the parties trust each other – and this trust can be hard to build across corporate competition (I would imagine).

If a lawyer wanted to learn more about mediation and other ADR topics, what are some good web resources that you recommend?

I think mediate.com is a good place to start. Also, a good 40-hour training is very valuable (and essential) if one plans to mediate. Nothing beats practical experience, though!

What type of technology do you use in your mediation practice (e.g., type of cell phone, cell phone apps, Microsoft Office? SAAS/cloud computing?)

I use a Google Voice account for a phone line (through my cell phone) and I have an online fax number. I also use agreement software, Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Gnu Cash, and Excel.

As a female entrepreneur, what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs or female entrepreneurs? Or, what advice do you have for anyone who wants to leave the practice of law but is hesitant.

It can be scary to go out on your own, but if you are passionate about your work, and you can engineer low overhead costs, you can make it work. I kept my old job while I built up my mediation practice, and switched over when I felt like I could earn a living with the mediation. I can say that it’s incredibly rewarding (and sometimes very stressful) to be your own boss – but at the end of the day I own my successes and my failures. It’s really wonderful to love what you do, and I feel that every day. And, as awful as I found law school, my legal education helps me on a daily basis in my mediation practice.

Thank you so much for answering our questions today!

Nicole Gesher is the owner of Gesher Mediation.  She is a California licensed attorney, a Bar Association of San Francisco approved mediator, a Community Boards certified mediator and volunteer, as well as a member of the Contra-Costa County Superior Court ADR Panel. Nicole can be reached on LinkedIn.

JD Profiles: Gyi Tsakalakis, Executive Director, AttorneySync

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?

Today, we are profiling Gyi Tsakalakis, a former Michigan attorney who is taking a break from legal practice to help attorneys build their professional reputations online.  After practicing at a small firm in the suburbs of Detroit, Gyi decided to follow his entrepreneurial instinct and started AttorneySync with a friend from undergrad.  AttorneySync helps law firms build their online presence.

RecruiterEsq: So, I see you went to the University of Michigan. I also went there. Go Blue! How did you decide to go to law school?

Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, I had studied Computer Science at U of M for 3 years when I decided that I didn’t want to be a computer programmer. I decided to study something “more practical” so I majored in Philosophy. To my surprise, there wasn’t a high demand for philosophers. I have always been interested in politics and history, so law school seemed like a natural fit.

After law school, you worked for Turner & Turner, P.C. How did you get that job? Did you work there during the summer?

I owe a great deal of gratitude, and my first legal job, to Michigan attorney Matt Turner. He was my football coach in High School and a mentor to me. I worked there as a clerk through law school, and upgraded to attorney upon graduation from law school.

What type of cases did you handle?

I worked on several civil matters but primarily handled injury and malpractice cases.

You started AttorneySync shortly after you left the practice. Was this an idea that had been brewing for some time?

I had always felt a compulsion to “go out on my own”. Whether it was going to be with my own law firm or business, I always felt a strong entrepreneurial urge. I was approached by a close friend from college, Jeff Berman, about starting “something”. We actually brainstormed several ideas, including operating a franchise before we settled on our initial concept of AttorneySync.

How did you finally decide to start the business and what steps did you have to take?

Basically, my desire to start my own business began to consume me to the point of obsession. We spent a lot of time (about a year) planning the business. From positioning, to core values, to organization, to back end systems, we laid out a complete blueprint about how our business would look and operate. We formed our LLC and were off and running.

What exactly are the services you offer to law firms? For example, do you teach them only about their websites or do you teach them about Twitter or LinkedIn?

We provide law firms a comprehensive approach to web strategy customized to their goals. From building a website to social media (including Twitter and LinkedIn) to advanced search marketing techniques, we manage a law firm’s entire web presence. We also provide consulting services for those legal professionals that want to learn how to perform web strategies for themselves.

What are some of the objections you hear from law firms about why they don’t want to invest in your services and what are your responses to those rejections?

I think there is a genuine skepticism of search engine optimization, social media, and more generally, “web consulting services”. Unfortunately, much of the industry’s reputation is deserved. We focus our efforts on educating legal professionals about what we do and how these strategies work to increase business. Our mantras are transparency and accountability. By showing legal professionals what we do, measuring tangible results, and allowing them to decide whether they are getting a return on investment, we establish a professional relationship built on trust.

As an expert in the industry of law firm online presence, what are some firm websites that impress you?

Generally speaking, I am most impressed with law firm websites that position the attorneys at the firm as experts in their field and speak to their audience in terms of solving the problems that their users are facing. Too many law firm websites are “attorney-centric”. They list their professional achievements and credentials without communicating to their readers how they can help them.

When a firm wants to work on its web presence, which decision-makers should be involved with the process?

I believe that each legal professional should have the opportunity to make an informed decision about how they are portrayed online. After all, an attorney’s professional reputation is their most valuable asset. In addition to the attorneys themselves, marketing agents and technical development staff should be included.

How did you learn about SEO and the web, in general? Or, the challenges of law firm marketing?

My computer background at U of M was very helpful in getting started. The hands-on experiences of working at a law firm were also very instructive. On the other hand, there is a lot of information available on the web. Unfortunately, a lot of it is just wrong. The key is to finding reliable sources of information. Here is a great list of 100 SEO/SEM Blogs. My personal favorites are SEOmoz.com and searchengineland.com.

I download guides from your site all of the time. How does the freemium model work in your business?

We have found the freemium model to be one of the most effective ways to build new professional relationships. Offering free educational materials is a win-win. The publisher of freemium content is able to demonstrate their knowledge and build trust with their readers. Readers of freemium content get access to free educational resources. Like other marketing strategies, using this model effectively comes down to implementation and the quality of the information you give away. Finding the right balance of how much to give away for free is the key.

What can the legal industry learn from this type of business model/alternative pricing model?

Law firms that provide free educational resources are having great success with this model. From blogging to offering free downloadable legal guides, the legal industry can greatly benefit from this type of offering. Again, the key is for legal professionals to figure out what to give away for free. Historically, the legal industry has “held its knowledge close to the vest”. In the era of the web, taking such an approach is much less effective.

For attorneys who want to become entrepreneurs, can you tell us a few lessons you learned from your mistakes?

Being an entrepreneur is a complete lifestyle change. It is not a job, it’s a way of life. Be prepared to pour everything you have into it. Once you have decided that it’s right for you, you will have to take a leap of faith. Unless you get really lucky, you will likely have to make uncomfortable sacrifices. Set measurable goals. Don’t make decisions out of fear. Read business books such as these.

Thank you so much for your input!

My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Gyi Tsakalakis serves as Executive Director at AttorneySync, an organization dedicated to helping law firms with their web strategies. Gyi can be reached on Twitter or LinkedIn.