C-Suite Confidential: Christa Crane, Bingham McCutchen LLP

by Catherine Hausman on May 15, 2014

Crane ChristaThe new Corner Office column will feature interviews with chief marketing officer and director level members on significant trends in our industry, as well as their insights on leadership and law firm management from their unique vantage point. In the first edition of The Corner Office, our Catherine Hausman speaks with Christa Crane, CMO at Bingham McCutchen LLP.

You have been at Bingham for almost four years and you have steadily moved up in the ranks. Congratulations on your recent promotion to Chief Marketing Officer.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

How does it feel to be the top dog in the marketing department?

It’s been an exciting challenge. I’ve worked with the business development team for the last 18 or so months and in so many ways it feels like a natural transition.

How large is the team you are managing and is it a combination of the marketing, business 
development and communications functions?

It sure is. We have 50 on the team and they’re spread across most of our major offices in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Your title is CMO and Director, Office of the Chair. Can you explain what that means?

Over the past three years, my role has been essentially “Chief of Staff” to Jay Zimmerman, our Chairman. Though it might sound strange to have this role along with my CMO title, at Bingham it makes a lot of sense. Firm strategy and client development really do go hand in hand. Jay really sees the value of marketing and business development. He is a huge supporter of our efforts and a terrific executive sponsor.

In your CMO role, do you find yourself picking up the phone to call colleagues for advice?

Yes. Probably once a week something will come up that I want a broader perspective on. I use the LMA network often. I almost always get even more than what I was after initially in terms of help or feedback.

Did you begin your career in professional services marketing?

I did. I started my career as a management consultant with Accenture and, a few years in, I was staffed on a business development project for the firm and I just loved it. I haven’t stepped back out of professional services marketing since … and the same goes for legal marketing, actually. This is my fourth law firm – one in Chicago and now three out East.

Does being from the Midwest serve you well in a law firm environment that requires diplomacy and tact?

I think so, but I may be biased! When I interviewed with my first NY firm, one of the partners who was interviewing me was concerned that since I was from Chicago, I would be at a disadvantage in the NY market. He took a chance on me. When I left a few years later, that same partner told me that the greatest lesson he had learned from working with me was to hire from the Midwest. I guess I was a quick study and perhaps my friendlier disposition outweighed the learning curve I had in terms of the local market and understanding Big Law generally.

You have to be gracious — but you still have to get things done.

True. The “the iron fist in the velvet glove” concept goes a long way.

Can you talk about early leadership lessons that prepared you for leading a big team at a global law firm?

One of the greatest lessons I have learned is to be generous with my time. People don’t like to feel as if you are too busy for them. This is an easy one for me though – working with great colleagues and really getting to know them is one of the best parts of my job.

Have you had any important mentors in your career?

Yes. Our chairman, Jay Zimmerman, has been an amazing mentor and role model for me. He has confidence and grace and he is also very thoughtful, patient and strategic. I have had the privilege of working with some really outstanding people throughout my career and have probably had half a dozen extremely influential mentors. They haven’t always come via traditional channels or in places I expected to find them!

What industry trends or initiatives are on your radar?

Our clients are becoming more analytical in terms of how they evaluate us and we have to get more rigorous (but also more creative!) in our approach. With this in mind, I do think the focus on project management and more sophisticated pricing expertise will continue. Also, I think we’ll continue to see a shift in operating platforms. Bingham opened its Global Services Center a year ago in Lexington, Kentucky. Several firms have gone before us, and I know more will follow.

Let’s switch gears and talk about hiring. What do you look for when hiring for a senior management role?

We look for people who will challenge the status quo and be innovative. Whether hiring a coordinator, a manager or above, we want to see people who are energetic, eager and willing to do not just what is asked, but to propose fresh ideas and new approaches.

What books are you reading?

I am reading two books right now. One is “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman, which has really made me rethink what I eat. The other is called “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything” by Dov Siedman. It’s about motivation to drive organizational behavior.

How comfortable are you with social media?

My family has found creative ways to entice me to use Facebook more … I’m trying to get better. I do use social media to keep up on trends. LinkedIn has some great expert channels, and I follow several of the industry blogs. I also follow some of the big consultancies like Deloitte and McKinsey on Twitter as they have some of the best thought leaders out there. They tend to be very active in the professional marketing space.

How else do you spend time outside the office?

My husband and I are in the middle of renovating an old house about two hours outside of the city. I have the bruises to prove it’s been keeping us busy!

Catherine Hausman is a Senior Marketing Writer/Editor at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. 

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