Q&A with Michael Hertz

Interview with Michael Hertz
November 2011

Michael Hertz is the Chief Marketing Officer at White & Case. He has worked in law firms on both sides of the Atlantic and shares his unique perspective on the differences between US and UK Firms. While in London, Michael served as Freshfield’s global Chief Knowledge Officer and then in a combined Business Development and Knowledge Management role. He talks to WCE about his experiences and how Firms need to adapt to the changing legal landscape.

Tell us a little about your background and how you landed in legal marketing.

I started at Latham as a lawyer out of Columbia Law School and practiced in New York for more than 10 years. I became a Litigation Partner there and was also very active in pro bono work and in other managerial roles. It was a time when Latham was just entering New York and an exciting place to be a new lawyer and a young Partner.

I left Latham in the late 90’s because I was interested in doing something with the new web technology that was emerging and pro bono. There was a huge need for sharing information between organizations that needed pro bono work and lawyers that wanted to do it. That led me to create and found Pro Bono Net, which was funded in part by the Soros Foundation and other foundations. During that time, I had a lot of motivation to hone my business development and marketing skills. As a start-up organization, if I did not raise donations and grants, I (and the staff) would not get paid.

Knowledge Management was my next career move and I was recruited by Freshfields and moved to England in 2005 to take a global role as their Chief Knowledge Officer. In 2007, we combined the KM and BD functions so that the Firm’s investment in KM was tied more closely to the needs of the clients and better supported the Firm’s marketing efforts – which required significant legal content. I worked in that capacity until September of last year when I joined White & Case.

Having worked in both the London and New York legal markets, what differences did you observe in how they handle legal marketing/BD?

Top UK firms have been making a bigger investment in BD over the last 10-15 years. In addition to practice-based BD roles and approaches (which are becoming more common in US firms), the UK firms have also been investing in industry-focused BD activities and are increasingly sophisticated about going to market as experts in an industry as well as legal experts. From the firms’ perspectives, organizing as an industry group has significant advantages as the lawyers across practices start looking at what set of products are most relevant for key clients in a particular industry. It promotes cross selling. In addition, the top UK firms have also been investing heavily in developing key client account programs and concentrating resources – including account manager roles – and effort behind their most significant clients.

Overall, the law firms in the UK borrow more from the top accounting firms and their approaches to BD and marketing and there is just an overall greater investment into the BD function.

Based on your experience, what is the intersection between knowledge management and business development? How can firms more strategically take advantage of these synergies?

There is a critical intersection between the two. If you think about cross selling, it is a classic knowledge management challenge. How do you get busy professionals to share insights and best practices?  How do you create an environment of trust so information and clients are shared?

The KM function – or consistent lawyer contributions in other ways – is also critical to effective marketing, in my view. KM professionals are charged with gathering and organizing the best practices and expertise of the firm. Additionally, KM is also involved in working to spot regulatory and legal developments that might impact the firm’s clients. The BD function is charged with communicating this expertise and these developments to clients and knowing who the key clients of the firm are. To be effective, there has to be great teamwork.

A good example of how this looks when it works well is a recent two-week Emerging Market seminar series we just held in London. Several hundred clients attended over the two weeks to hear about topics ranging across multiple practices and regions and it has been a huge success. It simply would not have been possible without great teamwork across the marketing, BD, and KM staff in the Firm.

What changes and trends have you observed in legal marketing/BD over the past two years?

One trend over the last two years is that pricing has become important – in both the US and the UK. The UK has been working with alternative fees for longer and are further along in adapting their models and behaviors to the new environment.US firms also have to figure out how to work in new and more efficient ways so that they can continue to deliver the highest quality service in discounted and alternative fee arrangements. It is a challenging shift.

There is also a shift in the economy in terms of where the growth is. This poses an interesting challenge to how global law firms organize and how they take advantage of opportunities. Obviously staying close to those clients that will be the future global players is important; however, figuring out who those players are is difficult in an uncertain and dynamic environment.

What traits do you look for when hiring someone for your Firm?

When I’m hiring, I’m looking for a hard worker, a strong writer, and somebody who can deliver under pressure. Probably most important, I look for people who have a personality that will connect with and engage the busy Partners. It’s important to be able to connect to your “clients,” and that is not something that is easily taught.

What are some of your goals as CMO?

I have three major goals. The first is to engage the Partners in a discussion about which clients have the most potential for the Firm and then make sure that we are organized to deliver the best of White & Case to those clients across our global network. My second goal is to continue to build White & Case’s brand. We are competing in one of the most interesting parts of the market in my view – the handful of firms that are very international. This group includes the London – based Magic Circle firms as well as Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, and Norton Rose. Our strategy is to keep our performance and brand at the very top of this group. Third, to review the structure of my department and organize our talent so that we can be successful, impactful, and find growth opportunities within the Firm while also being as efficient as possible. My team needs to be very engaged and motivated for the Firm (and me) to be successful.