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San Francisco-Gigi Benson-Smith, a former Shakespearean actress who recast herself as a marketing executive, has played a lot of roles at law firms. Years ago, as a marketing assistant at Heller Ehrman, she designed one of the firm’s first-ever Web sites. At Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, she wore the unusual title of “business intelligence officer.” More recently, she was on the marketing staff at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher of Los Angeles. When Oracle Corp. launched its hostile takeover of client PeopleSoft Inc., she found herself hiring a nanny for the general counsel’s kids. “It’s been a wild ride,” said Benson-Smith, who is now a business development and communications manager in Jones Day’s San Francisco office. “You need to be able to change hats quickly and turn on a dime. You have to like people and have a real interest in serving.” Call them what you will, firms these days are increasingly hiring nonlawyers like Benson-Smith to help keep clients happy and win new ones. They are hiring business development directors to orchestrate client pitches. And a small number of firms are going further, hiring sales executives who accompany lawyers on pitches and assume responsibility for client relations. But the emphasis on selling-and the elevation of sales professionals-doesn’t sit well with some lawyers. “Ten years ago, [the lawyers] couldn’t say the ‘M’ word,” said legal marketing consultant Larry Bodine. “Now they can’t say the ‘S’ word.” Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s Jim Cranston, the director of business development, doesn’t go on client pitches. “I would do it in a minute,” he said. “But there is a sort of mindset that the attorneys have that I can’t do it.” While some major firms won’t talk publicly about their back-end operations, it is clear that firms are devoting more resources to business development than ever before. Wearing many hats Jones Day has 50 people in its business development and communications department, most of whom wear many hats, like Benson-Smith. Cherie Olland, the department’s director, said that is a lean staff. Latham & Watkins has 80 people around the globe, all answering to the firm’s chief marketing officer. Some firms aim to draw more of a distinction between marketing and business development. “A business developer is a hunter,” said Bodine. “A marketer is a promoter. They have different DNA.” At DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, the director of business development has a staff of 30 to help lawyers pitch business, mainly in a support capacity. More firms are giving business development experts a seat at the strategic table. Last November, Shearman & Sterling of New York hired Rick Carpenter, a former partner at Deloitte Consulting, as its first director of business development. Washington-based Howrey recently hired a chief business development officer, Allan Colman, who brought experience selling directly to GCs and executives at jury research firm DecisionQuest. Pillsbury’s Cranston had spent years selling professional services at accounting firms. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius is looking for a business development director in California, where San Francisco managing partner Franklin Gowdy said he spends 25% of his time prospecting for new business. Heller Ehrman, where Chief Marketing Officer William Morgan wants to build a new business development department over time, is also hiring. Most of the time, these directors don’t pitch directly to clients, but their compensation may be tied directly to the firm’s performance. They help choose which clients to target, train lawyers how to pitch themselves, generate leads-and encourage lawyers to follow through. “When lawyers are busy, they spend less time on business development,” said Shearman & Sterling Chief Marketing Officer Jolene Overbeck. Ultimately, many in the field say this reflects a move toward a more targeted approach to business development. Legal consultant Mozhgan Mizban of Zeughauser Group said more firms are purchasing services in practice-area planning. At Heller Ehrman, Latham & Watkins and Jones Day, such plans are in place. Also, Latham is hiring practice-area specialists. Jones Day has a new “practice services” department, which includes some business development staff. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has client relationship managers who answer to Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr. And adding to the trend of increased specificity, Latham is making industry-specific hires. “There is much more of a laser-focused approach,” said Latham Chief Marketing Officer Despina Kartson. A small but growing number of firms are hiring sales executives who help their lawyers close the sale. Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice is believed to be the first firm to hire a director of sales, which it did four years ago. “At Womble Carlyle, we call a spade a spade,” said director of sales Steven Bell, who goes on pitches with-and sometimes without-lawyers. “It works best when there is a teaming between lawyer and salesperson,” he said. Benson-Smith said that selling doesn’t come naturally to a lot of lawyers. But that’s why some may be so successful at it. “Like the best sales people,” she said, “they would never dream of introducing something that wouldn’t solve a problem for their client.”

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