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The Steady Approach to Firm-Wide Changes with Sheenika Gandhi, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Payne & Fears LLP Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast [PODCAST]

Sheenika Gandhi is one of the few legal marketers who is also a licensed attorney, and she uses her legal training to inform her role as Director of Marketing and Business Development at Payne & Fears LLP. For marketers who haven’t gone to law school, Sheenika shared her tips on learning more about the law and communicating with attorneys on the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast, hosted by Sharon Berman. Read the transcript below.

Sharon:       Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. Today, my guest is Sheenika Gandhi, Director of Marketing and Business Development at the seven-office law firm Payne & Fears, headquartered in Orange County, California. She’s a licensed California attorney and entered legal marketing through the door of digital marketing. Sheenika, thanks so much for being here.

Sheenika:  Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Sharon:      We’re glad to have you. You have an unusual career path in that you’re a legal marketer who is also an attorney, and you not only went to law school, but also  passed the bar and are licensed. Can you tell us about your career path and how you segued from the idea of practicing law to becoming a legal marketer?

Sheenika:  I was an undergrad student studying business and international relations, and I always wanted to go to law school. I wasn’t good at math and I didn’t want to be a doctor, and I decided to venture on to law school. I loved reading and writing, but I lost quite a few internships and I just wasn’t feeling it, but I didn’t want to give up on law school. So, I finished. I still loved learning about the law.

When I graduated and took the bar exam—of course, you have to wait three months until you get the exam results—I ended up finding a role at Knobbe Martens. They had an opening for a business development coordinator role to help them launch their website. I had some background in technology. I had an on-campus job during undergrad in the IT department, and I helped the University of San Diego with their website. So, I had a little bit of experience. I had a business background and I had a law degree, so I was able to bring those facets in my life together in this one role. It seemed very interesting to me and I decided to start it. I didn’t know if I was going to stay, but I ended up loving the role. I loved my team and this was definitely a calling that came out to me in a different way. I stumbled upon it, but I’m happy that I found it.

Sharon:      I’m imagining whoever was interviewing you at Knobbe Martens going, “Oh my god, is this a fabulous combination or what?” I’m always envious when I meet legal marketers with that background, whether they have their J.D. or they’re licensed. How does being a lawyer impact your ability to work with lawyers? What are the pluses and minuses?

Sheenika:  That’s a great question. I think law school taught me how to think on the spot and, of course, craft arguments, so I find myself doing that a lot when I’m working with my attorneys. Especially at my law firm, where 90 percent of our attorneys are litigators; they are always trying to find the other side of it or break down arguments or have me prove something. I always have to think on the spot, but at the same time, I can use my legal training to craft arguments and be able to say, “Well, I think we should do this because of these three reasons.” If I’m very clear, that helps to work with the attorneys who also have that same training. I think that’s a really big plus.

A minus could be that I’m held to a higher standard. I think when the other attorneys of the firm know I’m an attorney, they start talking as if I’m another attorney. You only go to law school for a general J.D., so I don’t know all the nuances of employment law or intellectual property law. I have to stop them and say, “Hey, I don’t remember from law school what you mean by that.” I think sometimes they forget. So, it has its pluses and minuses, but I think being able to think on the spot and craft arguments, that definitely is extremely helpful in my role.

Sharon:      That never occurred to me. I always thought about it as being able to speak the same language and understanding what they’re talking about. I do know what you’re saying, that if you don’t practice bankruptcy, then an employment lawyer can be as clueless as anybody about the lingo.

Sheenika:  Yes, exactly.

Sharon:      It sounds like it’s a compliment to you that they do talk to you. They know you’re an attorney, so they’re going to talk to you differently. It goes to the credibility they give you.

So, what would you tell the rest of us legal marketers who didn’t go to law school? How can we help level the playing field? You had talked about making full use of the Legal Marketing Association and all it has to offer in terms of education. What would you advise someone like me and your colleagues?

Sheenika:  I think a really good way to get familiar very quickly is attending your own firm’s CLE programs and maybe even your local bar association’s CLE programs. Sometimes, just paying attention to that and trying to absorb that information helps a lot. Funny enough, I’ll make a plug for the Southern California Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association.

Sharon:      Oh, wow!

Sheenika:  Yeah, I really do think that LMA and even local bar associations, they’re very focused on continuing education. Even if you’re not an attorney, I think it’s worth going to, and you’re allowed to go. In LMA, we try to educate legal marketers as well, and that’s how I teach myself too, so I’m not different in that sense. I like to attend all the firm’s CLEs. Whether we host an in-house or externally for a client, I always show up so that I can continue to build that education.

Sharon:      That’s a great suggestion and I give you credit for pursuing it yourself. I know you’re younger than a lot of the attorneys you work with, and besides the fact that you have the credibility of being a lawyer, you’re also a woman. I’m sure sometimes that can be, not a detriment, but you have to prove yourself in a sense. How do you gain their trust? How do you counter that?

Sheenika:  You should see my head nodding while you were asking the question. I have to think about that sometimes, because I forget that there might be this so-called implicit bias. What I do is really try to level the playing field by talking in specifics or analytics, numbers, things that are hard to argue with. It’s not subjective, but it’s a very objective way of proving something. We talk in that format, and I try to gain their trust by proving my points, whether it’s through numbers or analytics. To be honest, I do a lot of power poses with this. If you look up Amy Cuddy and her power poses, that helps me with my confidence, so that’s another way I walk in being very confident and knowing that I’m the expert in the room. This is why you hired me and this is my opinion. I do a lot of striking at the right time, too.

Sharon:      Is it by instinct that you know about striking at the right time, or is it because you’re not saying as much that you get more attention when you do say something? What is striking at the right time?

Sheenika:  I try to wait until I know that the attorneys are ready to hear it. They might not be ready for a new technology, or they might not be ready to do something in their business development coaching that I do with them, so I wait until I hear from them. I listen very closely, and I wait to push something or present something when I know they’re going to be ready to listen and accept it. That just depends on how far along I am with them in their coaching. I usually look for problems, when they’re complaining about something or they want something done. I’ll use that as an opportunity to say, “Hey, have you thought about this or that?” and try to use that opportunity to strike. Strike when it’s hot.

Sharon:      That’s very smart, just being patient and waiting. I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t push somebody when they’re not ready, and that you have to let them ease into it. At some point—it might be a year later, it might be a month later—then they’re more receptive. You mentioned that you grew up with computers, but you weren’t completely comfortable with technology and social media wasn’t something you grew up with. It came while you were in college. How have you overcome that? You mentioned that you taught yourself a lot of technology and forced yourself to get out of your comfort zone. How do you encourage your own attorneys to get out of their comfort zones, whether it’s with technology or business development?

Sheenika:  I usually find a reason that resonates with them, and it usually has to do with something they need. For example, a lot of my attorneys ask me, “Hey, I want to share this article on LinkedIn. How do I do it?” Instead of doing an e-mail or something, I’ll walk over there and show them over their shoulder. I also have been realizing that sometimes technology helps them to save time, so I’ll use that as the way to get them to adopt a new technology. When I have to do a rollout for a technology, I usually know that doing a full rollout isn’t feasible, because everyone is on a different level when it comes to adopting technology. So, I usually meet the attorneys where they’re at and, like I was saying before, I pay attention to what they need. If they need a share to LinkedIn, for example, we have technology here at the firm called Clearview Social. While I did a rollout throughout the firm, a lot of attorneys didn’t adapt until months later, when they had that need to actually use that technology. That’s when I would walk over, look over their shoulder and walk them through it. Some attorneys are younger here and they know exactly how to use it, and I don’t have to hand-hold. But it really depends on the attorney and where they’re at with their comfort level, and then I adjust my training accordingly.

Sharon:      How widespread is the acceptance of social media at the firm? Is it, “O.K., let’s get past the question of whether we should be on social media and just figure out how to do it,” or are you still meeting some resistance?

Sheenika:  I think there’s more support than there is resistance. I found that many attorneys are using LinkedIn to connect with people they haven’t even met. They’re doing LinkedIn searches based on title and they’re looking to connect with people in their geographic area to just be connected on LinkedIn. Others are using it to message their clients about upcoming events, for example. It’s a varied use. We publish all of our articles to LinkedIn via Clearview Social, that tool that I mentioned, so everyone at the firm—not everyone, but I would say 60-70 percent of the attorneys—is sharing content written by other attorneys at the firm through their LinkedIn. I think social media is starting to become commonplace, at least LinkedIn is. I don’t have very many attorneys on Twitter, and some use Facebook to push out content, but not as many.

Sharon:      I think even the fact that LinkedIn is becoming more accepted for widespread use in the firm, that says a lot. I don’t know how much farther you have to go if you can get pretty widespread acceptance and use of LinkedIn. We talked about some of the support or value-add that you gave your attorneys, and you used the example of getting them ready for a meet-and-greet or a conference or a CLE program at the firm. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sheenika:  Definitely. What I like to do is take a holistic perspective anytime we do an event or sponsorship, and we do a lot of pre-work and a lot of post-work. An example of what we do prior to an event is take the attendance list—if it’s a firm-hosted CLE, we’ll know exactly who’s going to be in the room—and we’ll create a face book. We’ll pull those pictures from LinkedIn—

Sharon:      When you say face book, you mean a literal face book.

Sheenika:  Exactly, I call it a face book. It’s in a Word document. It’s very low-tech. I pull all of their pictures and we put their company name, their title and some extra information, maybe who they’re connected to at the firm or maybe the undergrad or law school that they went to. It depends on what our attorneys want to know and how big our attendee list is. Of course, we try to provide as much information prior to the event, so they know exactly who’s going to be in a room and they can meet with the right people. Sometimes when you go to these events, you don’t get to meet everybody, so you want to be more targeted and strategic about who you’re interacting with. That’s something we like to do pre-event; and post-event, we do individual follow-ups. I think that’s what law firms typically do, but it’s something new that I have to roll out at the firm and implement here, because the business development culture wasn’t as strong when I started. So, creating these steps within the process was a really important change here.

Sharon:      It sounds like you were very strategic. You’ve said you met them where they were. You’ve gone slowly. You haven’t pushed it in their face and you’ve been successful. Is that the kind of thing you’d advise other marketers to think about?

Sheenika:  Yeah, I think this is a typical lawyer response. I think it depends on your culture at the firm. I knew that our attorneys were ready for a change, but not everybody was ready and maybe not as fast, because we are a much smaller law firm and, of course, budget is part of this, too. When you roll out a new technology, you have to invest. I think doing it slowly and understanding what the attorneys want, what the firm needs, it pays off, because when you actually do a rollout, you know that a lot of thought and time went into figuring out if it would work for the firm, instead of just coming out of the gate with all these new technologies that no one is adopting. It takes time for people to adapt. Change is really hard in law firms, so being able to do that slowly is important. I would advise taking it slow and—if it is a technology that you’re trying to implement—doing it at a slower pace than you might like.

Sharon:      Yes, if you’re going to get it done, then you want it accepted. We were talking about goals for 2019 and 2020, and your strategic goal—your big, audacious, hairy goal as they say—is that you want to develop a marketing automation platform that brings different technologies together so you can do business development the right way. First, what do you mean by the right way? And can you tell us more about the wish list you have and what success would look like?

Sheenika:  When I mentioned the right way, I meant for us to be able to look at clients in a holistic perspective. You want a client lifecycle model and to be able to track a contact as soon as they come through the door, whether it’s through your website or if they signed up to download a white paper. To be able to track them from the beginning through all the different interactions they’ve had with you through your marketing tactics, and then having them become a client and servicing them as a client, this whole lifecycle is the best way to prove the value of marketing and business development and that it actually works. All of those have to fit together.

Right now, I think a lot of law firms struggle with this, and for me to be able to pull this type of data to show the lifecycle of the client or how they became our client, it’s very difficult to do. It’s a very manual process. I think there are technologies out there—I’m in the process of researching them—that would allow you to bring at least most of your technologies into one system and be able to look at each client differently and see their preferences. At the end of the day, you want to be able to see all the things they’ve clicked and viewed, and then be able to create a story out of them. They’re reading a lot about these services, but we’re not providing them these services. Is this something where we can create a value-add for our clients? I think being able to offer targeted advice based on your browsing history would be on my wish list for making something like this work.

Sharon:      Something like that would be so great, to be able to create data that supports the case for more money in marketing or shows the success of marketing. As we’ve talked about, it’s a huge project that you’re talking about. It’s a worthwhile investment of time and money, but when I think about it, I think, “Oh my gosh.” That’s the way the world is going, and it sounds like that’s what would really do a firm a lot of good. How are you going to start that process? How are you going to chip the paint off the walls, in terms of budget and approaching the decision-makers?

Sheenika:  I am still learning the best way to present new technologies, especially for something like this, where my initial research shows that it is a great investment to be able to do this. For this particular project, I will ask the partnership to understand why we’re doing this, and it’s more of a firm-wide initiative. I do think that I’ll be involving our director of finance, because we can even plug in our financial system into the technology and it could even be other people, like the office manager here. Other stakeholders of the firm might be interested in seeing how this might all work together. I do think that it’s going to involve a lot of research, doing a lot of demos and understanding the capabilities of the system and what technologies we currently have that can be integrated, or even technologies we might need to get rid of to be able to implement a new one. I think it’s going to be a lot of heavy research within the next year, among everything else that’s going on, and then being able to do a proposal to the marketing and business development committee, possibly the management committee and being able to prove the value of something like this.

Sharon:      It is a lot of heavy research I’m sure. It’s a worthwhile investment of time and effort, but it is, like you said, heavy-duty—I want to say a heavy-duty hill to climb. I wish you the best on that. I want to thank you so much for being here today.

To our listeners, that wraps up another episode of the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast. If you like what you heard and would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please, if you can rate us, we’d really appreciate it. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest who can help move your firm forward. Thanks so much for listening.

END OF AUDIO

Click here to listen to Sheenika’s Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast episode: The Steady Approach to Firm-Wide Changes. Make sure to download/subscribe.

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About this Author

Sharon Berman, Marketing, Public Relations, Law Firms, Los Angeles, California
Managing Principal

Managing Principal Sharon Berman focuses her more than 25 years’ experience in marketing and public relations on pursuing positive outcomes for Berbay’s law, finance and real estate clients. She empowers her team to share their expertise and experience in every project, multiplying the benefits each client receives from working with Berbay.

Sharon’s experience—and the tenacity and diligence of her team—also means that marketing and public relations plans for professional services firms are implemented effectively and quickly.

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