Member Spotlight: Seth Apple

by Sander Coxe on November 23, 2014

Seth Apple

Seth Apple, business development manager – Corporate, at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, will become the NYLMA chapter president in 2015. A relative newcomer to the LMA, Seth has made an indelible impression in a short amount of time. Seth is a former corporate attorney who made the leap to full-time business development and marketing after the financial crisis.

Sander Coxe helps us get to know our incoming president a little more personally and why we may be literally blessed.

Let’s start at the beginning. You are an attorney by training. How and why did you end up in business development and marketing?

I would say it was a natural evolution – but this is ultimately where I belong. I got my LLM in real estate development after law school and ultimately became a lender’s lawyer, representing Wall Street lending institutions in commercial mortgage-backed securitization (CMBS) transactions, as well as traditional portfolio lending deals, the bulk of my career.

I liked the practice of law, but I loved the development of the practice even more. I was fortunate to work under a partner at my firm who recognized my passion for that side of the business. I remember him telling me I had the “OG” – the origination gene, and encouraging me to cultivate the skill by going to Knicks’ games, taking people out to dinner/drinks, developing relationships, building visibility, etc., often with the bankers on my deals who were senior to me.

Sure enough, I began to build new relationships and business from his existing clients and he gave me a percentage of the origination. I felt like they were “my” clients and learned early on the importance of this mindset, even as an associate. Thanks to him, I developed my business development skills and my technical drafting skills. Let me give a quick thanks to Bob, if he’s listening out there.

So then what?

Unfortunately, the financial crisis took hold and the CMBS work I was doing began to quickly drop off. The talk at work was no longer about the next deal, but instead, about the next layoff and I quickly realized I needed to reinvent myself as a lawyer or simply to reinvent myself altogether.

I am passionate about entrepreneurialism and love being a part of making things happen, so in 2009 I left my practice to join then startup Themis Bar Review – a challenger to bar exam prep course provider BarBri. I was given the opportunity to run the New York area territory – the most profitable (and challenging) region in the market from the ground up. I loved wearing multiple hats and managing numerous initiatives for the company’s expansion in New York, including product development, marketing and sales.

We were gaining market share and expanding as a company, but I missed the law firm environment. So, in 2011, I began researching another career move. I was trying to find a way to combine my legal background with my passion for marketing and business development and distinctly remember typing “law firm marketing” in Google and landing on the NYLMA’s website.

That was it. I clicked every link, including one regarding an upcoming event being hosted at an LMA member’s firm in a few days. I reached out to the posted contact that day, attended the meeting as a non-member, and quickly met a dozen or so legal marketing and business development professionals. One month later I landed my first job in legal marketing at Epstein Becker Green before eventually moving to Davis Polk.

You’re now president-elect of NYLMA and are not shy about expressing your good feelings about the LMA generally. Let’s talk a little about that.

Sure. As mentioned, I first discovered the LMA at one of the monthly luncheons, and, from the quality of the discussion, it was immediately clear this was the profession I wanted to pursue and the organization I wanted to be a part of. I expressed an interest in getting involved and got a seat on the Communications Committee in the summer of 2011. A few months later, I was co-chair and had a growing network of local contacts in the industry. The LMA is such a valuable trade organization, both internally and externally.

Can you give me a real life example of an “internal and external” benefit?

Absolutely. The internal one that sticks out the most came at the 2012 National Conference in Texas, my first one. By April of 2012, I had gotten to know a handful of members and attended a few local events, but walking into a room with over 1000 other legal marketing professionals from all over the country during the opening session was amazing. It was hard to find a familiar face in that massive room so I just walked down the middle and found a seat near the front.

As the afternoon sessions where concluding I was walking back to figure out a dinner plan when I bumped into one of the members I knew. He said, “Did you eat yet?” I had only been in this profession about a year but an hour later I found myself at dinner with the CMOs of 3 national law firms. The relationships, insight and guidance you can develop within this organization are simply without peer.

External recognition, whether from your employer, the press, a client, your colleagues or your mom can be equally rewarding. A few months ago I was asked to moderate the annual NYLMA CMO Panel. I was excited for the opportunity and worked hard to deliver for our chapter’s members. We got wonderful feedback from many of the attendees after the event, but I couldn’t’ believe it when I received an email from a Davis Polk partner later that day telling me “I heard you did a great job on your panel.” That kind of thing is extremely powerful. The LMA is a great platform for your personal and professional development, if you want it.

Was law school always in the cards?

Not really. I always gravitated toward creative professions like journalism, fashion, design and art, but I grew up in a pretty conservative Jewish house – so that meant I had three choices: law school, medical school or business school. I wasn’t crazy about blood or bar graphs so I went to law school. Still, I chose Syracuse as a last ditch effort to pursue perhaps a broadcasting degree on the side. It never happened of course, but my friends still ask me to “do the car commercial voiceover” or “do that PA announcer thing.” It keeps the dream alive I guess.

But of all things legal, you ended up becoming a finance lawyer?

I know. I guess I became a product of my environment. I got the finance side from dad (a principal at a national accounting firm) which I applied as a lawyer, and the creative side from mom (a former model and modeling agent) which I apply as a marketer.

Ok. Enough shop talk. Tell us something about Seth Apple when he’s not working for Davis Polk or the LMA.

I met and married a Jersey girl in law school, but I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio and remain a huge Cleveland sports fan. It’s not easy sometimes, actually most of the time, but I love the Browns, Cavs and Indians. And my kids (two girls and a boy) do too, at least at the moment. My son is 8 and his room is decorated like a kid who lives in Northeast Ohio.

When my kids ask why we are Cleveland sports fans, I tell them it’s simple: I suffered, my dad suffered, his dad suffered, you too, shall suffer. No Yankee hats in this house. All my son’s friends root for the local teams. Teams that have won championships. It’s tough when they ask, “Dad, when was the last time we won the Super Bowl, NBA Finals or World Series?”, but I am proud to say they are holding the line at the moment.

Akron huh? Hang out with LeBron recently?

Actually, LeBron lives a mile-and-a-half from my parents. I always drive by his “house” when I’m home to see if there is any action, but no such luck. My Honda has pulled up next to his Bentley at the traffic light a few times, but that’s about it.

Ohio is football country. You played, right?

Yes. Ohio high school football games are like something out of “Friday Night Lights.” Huge crowds, big bands. It’s pretty cool. Two guys I played with in high school team went pro, including Mike Vrabel, who played for the Steelers, Patriots and Chiefs. He won three Super Bowl rings with New England and is a linebacker coach for the Texans now. Pretty cool.

Fair to say he was a little different than everybody in high school, yes?

Ah, yeah. To start, he was 6’4” 225 lbs. in high school.

Three children does not leave a lot of time to relax. What do you do to kick back?

Since I am in New York City all week, every week, I love to take advantage of everything The City has to offer. I love the pace, sexiness and challenges New York brings every single day. There is really is nothing like it, both socially and professionally. It’s nice to decaffeinate a bit when I visit Ohio during the holidays, but I love New York / New Jersey.

I also love going to see live music whenever I can. One of my fraternity brothers is the lead singer for Red Wanting Blue and I always catch them when they come to town.

Oh, and I have a pretty decent single malt scotch collection at home that I like to enjoy, particularly this time of year.

I heard you like to cut the rug and though I missed it, you showed off your skills at LMA in Orlando.

I don’t know about all that, but yes, I do like the dance floor. My wife and I are typically first on – last off at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Speaking of weddings, did I hear you were an ordained minister?

Kind of. Although I am an actively practicing Jewish boy with a kosher home, one of my fraternity brothers recently asked me to officiate his wedding in Kansas City. I was incredibly honored. So I got ordained, online of course, and married them several months ago. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done.

Alexander Coxe is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP.

Previous post:

Next post: