Dineo Mpela-Thompson started her career as a practicing lawyer at Foley & Lardner. But she said she quickly realized her true interests were in marketing and business development after joining the legal profession when the market was tight, and her firm was feeling the effects.
“I became very curious about, how we can change that? Can associates do it?” she said. “I realized I loved doing that more than billing and practicing at a big law firm.”
But her path to legal marketing involved a detour in higher education. Before joining Obermayer Rebmann late last month, Mpela-Thompson was director of alumni relations for Douglass College at Rutgers University in New Jersey. In both roles, she said, her job was to motivate people to return to the institution, whether that’s a college or a law firm.
“Knowing the legal market is very saturated, what you’re looking to do is differentiate your firm,” she said. And in alumni relations, she said, the task is to differentiate the college from other causes to which alumni could donate, or other places where they could hold programs and have partnerships.
Mpela-Thompson said her goal was always to return to the legal industry in a marketing role. At Obermayer Rebmann, she said, she saw the opportunity to join a firm where ”in addition to becoming great lawyers by doing challenging work, they’re encouraged to be entrepreneurs.”
Being a lawyer by training will be helpful in her new role, she said, while acknowledging that not many legal marketers are lawyers.
“Because I understand the practice of law, I know how to sell it,” Mpela-Thompson said. “I know how to understand what a lawyer is trying to say, and translate that into the language a nonlawyer is going to hear and find interesting.”
Obermayer Rebmann hired its first CMO, Sharen Nocella, six years ago. She left in August to become the first CMO at Chartwell Law Offices.
“Dineo will be charged with differentiating Obermayer from other firms and fine-tuning the firm’s digital media strategies to help us more effectively engage with our target audience,” said chairman Thomas Leonard. “Additionally she will make sure our overall marketing strategy continues to echo our client-centric culture.”
Mpela-Thompson said she hopes to continue the efforts Nocella kicked off, but in a more formalized way, with a greater focus on digital media marketing.
“You’re seeing a lot of law firms understanding that social media is a thing to be reckoned with. You have to be on it,” she said. Now, the big question is “how are we tracking conversion … monitoring how that turns into business.”