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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 a member of the marketing staff at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. When Oracle launched its hostile takeover of client PeopleSoft, she found herself hiring a nanny for the GC’s kids. “It’s been a wild ride,” says 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,” says 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 says. “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. 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, says 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 efforts and business development. “A business developer is a hunter,” says 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 devoted to helping 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 hired Rick Carpenter, a former partner at Deloitte Consulting, as its first director of business development. 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 says he spends 25 percent of his time prospecting for new business. Heller Ehrman, where CMO 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’s CMO Jolene Overbeck. “The objective is to create a program where we could maintain [business development activities] at a more consistent and higher level.” 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 says more firms are purchasing services in practice-area planning. At Heller Ehrman, Latham & Watkins and Jones Day, there are such plans 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 rounding out its department with some industry-specific hires. “There is much more of a laser-focused approach,” says Latham CMO 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,” says 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 says. DLA Piper and Dorsey & Whitney also sends salespeople to pitches. Cooley Godward has a director of business development who sometimes goes along, though he says his focus is more on supporting and coaching lawyers. DLA employs a “client development manager” who was formerly a fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. She acts as a sales executive, going on pitches alone. Plans are in the works to hire two more such people in Silicon Valley. She’s a relationship-keeper, says DLA’s CMO Lynn Kirk, “exactly like an attorney. She was able to bring her relationships with her and build anew.” DLA also has nonlawyers who network with venture capitalists and emerging companies, and essentially drum up leads for the firm by helping connect venture capitalists with entrepreneurs. Duane Morris employs six non-practicing lawyers as salespeople. Because they are lawyers, their discussions with potential clients are covered by the attorney-client privilege. In another twist, Perkins Coie’s director of business development, Scott Staff, says he arranges to meet prospective clients face to face before sending lawyers in to make the pitch. Benson-Smith says 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 says, “they would never dream of introducing something that wouldn’t solve a problem for their client.”

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