CMO Forum: Linda Cavin Sparn

by Catherine Hausman on November 23, 2014

Linda Sparn

CMO Forum (formerly C-Suite Confidential) features 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. For this edition, Catherine Hausman visits with Linda Cavin Sparn, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Schulte Roth & Zabel.

You spent your early career in Colorado. How did you end up at Schulte Roth? 

Early in my career, I was a communications consultant and joined my first law firm in 1994 as its communications director. Before joining SRZ, I was with Hogan & Hartson in Denver and Boulder. After that, I was looking for a bigger pond where I could stay in the same career, but with new challenges. A recruiting firm presented me with some great opportunities in New York.  At the time, my son was attending Columbia University, so, of course, that made the decision to come to New York City much easier.

Why did you choose SRZ?  The firm is known as an alternative asset powerhouse focused on clients in the financial services sector.

One of the things that really attracted me to SRZ was a clear sense of mission and the founders and senior partners who are actively driving that forward.  They really understand the markets and our clients. I have helped the firm expand its brand as other practices have grown and developed.  We opened a DC office, expanding the firm’s enforcement, regulatory and white collar practices and today have nearly 100 litigators. 

Our London office also continues to experience tremendous growth, with a move to a new, larger space earlier this year and the addition of several prominent partners. Most notably, the funds practice continues to thrive. SRZ is the only firm ranked in Tier 1 in the 2014 Legal 500 UK and one of only three law firms ranked in Band 1 for Investment Funds by Chambers U.K

You have a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Education in Guidance & Counseling.  How has your background in guidance and counseling has been an advantage?

The law business is a people business. I draw on my background when I’m coaching lawyers and also in the management of my staff – I try to inspire and motivate them every day.  I am always interested in learning what motivates a client to hire us.  So much of what we do is to build on a foundation of trust – lawyers with their clients, and the marketing department with our lawyers. 

Let’s talk about management. You have been at SRZ for more than eight years.  How closely do you work with firm management on setting strategy? 

I work very closely with the CFO and COO and our operating committee (a sub-set of the executive committee) on marketing and BD initiatives. We are a very strong practice-oriented firm, so some of the best work we do is spearheading initiatives with the practice leads.  We also work with ad hoc committees.  For instance, I am working with a committee, which includes some of our younger partners, on the redesign of the website and digital assets. 

What BD/marketing project(s) are you and your team working on this year that you are most excited about? 

As part of our goal to create more client and industry-focused content, we are evaluating all of our digital assets in a more strategic way.  That includes the website, an app we use for events, a couple of blogs, and our social media channels.  For instance, we have a Twitter feed for investment management and regulatory compliance.  We are looking at new ways to engage our audience, while continuing to provide strong analysis through client alerts and seminar programming. While SRZ is known for being entrepreneurial and getting things done, it is easy for lawyers to fall back on precedent. We are looking at a more streamlined way to increase content, and figuring out how to channel some of the same energy we put into our market-leading practices into developing new markets.

How do you keep your team inspired?

As part of our commitment to professional development and in recognition that we never stop learning in our professional lives, we have implemented a “boot camp” program as part of our monthly team meetings, spearheaded by our events and communications managers. For example, in a recent meeting we discussed key advice given in an LMA Strategies article and broke into small groups to brainstorm the points. Other times the entire group learns together on topics ranging from project management and presentation skills to understanding our CRM system.   

I am a big believer in collaboration among the managers and staff and I try to give recognition for a job well done. In order to get to the new, innovative projects, we have to make sure we have the blocking and tackling down. It is critical to have systems and procedures in place so almost anyone can step in and get the job done. Our partners expect the trains to run on time in our department so that we can do things like get client alerts out quickly to the right contacts. We have put a lot of effort into infrastructure, which frees us up to do other important projects and to spend more time with the partners and the practice leaders.

What do you think is one of the most important trends you see in how law firms will do business over the next 10 years? 

One of the biggest pressures for law firms is succession planning. Turning the reins over to the next generation, especially within the practice groups, and that means giving younger partners recognition and opportunities now. At SRZ, our younger partners are very much involved in key decisions. For example, the firm just announced the extension of our lease through 2036. This was a decision made by all the partners committing to the firm’s future.

What do you think has changed the most in legal marketing since you first entered the field?

We are more data driven now. Metrics, big data and financial information are allowing us to do more than anyone ever thought we could. Early in my career, I launched the first website at a small regional firm and since then, the use of technology has exploded. We are now tailoring content to multiple devices. I was a founder of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of LMA, and I remember trying to hire staff years ago, and no one had a clue why you would hire a marketing person in a law firm. I have enjoyed seeing colleagues move up in the ranks and the quality of people in the profession just keeps getting better.

What qualities/skills do you look for when you hire?

The #1 thing I look for is someone who cares.  S/he has to show me that s/he cares about what s/he does, what s/he produces, and what s/he has done in life.

When hiring coordinators – it’s usually their first law firm job – I am looking for someone who cares enough to learn what they need to know. They should have above average communications and writing skills because those skills are highly valued by the lawyers.

During the interview process, I always throw out questions about being in teams or group events to get a sense of how the candidate gets along as part of a team.  At the end of the day, we rely on each other to be successful. 

A law firm marketing department is always “the new kid on the block.” It takes a long time to build credibility with the lawyers, but once you have their trust, you can make progress.   Flexibility is important. People in our field are by nature detail-oriented and want to make sure everything is perfect, but “you can win the battle but lose the war.”  That’s the lesson of being strategic.  The song “Let it Go” from Frozen has become our mantra.

How do you spend time away from the office? 

I spend every other weekend in Boulder, Colorado which is a wonderful balance to the city. My husband lives in Boulder and when I’m there we spend time skiing and hiking with our dog in the mountains. 

What was the last great trip you took?

We love to travel. This year we went to Positano on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and it was the most gorgeous place to relax with great food, culture, and thousands of years of history.

Last great book you read? 

“The Dove Keepers” by Alice Hoffman is one. I also gravitate toward contemporary authors like Dave Eggers. Literature serves as a nice balance to the financial and legal periodicals I read.

Whom do you follow?   

I love the Harvard Business Review on Twitter and get its daily email, “Management Tip of the Day.”

What is your Management Tip of the Day? 

Listen, first.

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