CMO Forum: Jennifer Manton (Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP)

by Catherine Hausman on March 17, 2015

Jennifer MantonThe CMO Forum column 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.

In this issue we spotlight Jennifer Manton, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.  Over her 20-year career in legal marketing, Jennifer Manton has been a highly visible presence in the profession.

Jennifer served as International President of the Legal Marketing Association in 2009, President of the New York Chapter of the LMA in 2003, and has been actively involved as a volunteer and leader in the Association since founding the Pittsburgh Chapter of the LMA in 1998. Jennifer is a frequent speaker and author on legal marketing and business development topics.  She was inducted into the College of Law Practice Management in 2011.

Congratulations on your recent move to Kramer Levin from Loeb & Loeb.  You had an unusually long tenure (nine years) at Loeb & Loeb. To what do you attribute your longevity?

Getting buy-in and agreement upfront on the immediate focus and priorities and then sticking to those objectives and delivering on them. A leader helps to create the expectations – then manages them. Being clear about what you are going to do, and keeping your promises, buys you credibility and trust.

Both your former firm Loeb & Loeb and Kramer Levin service the mid-market with about 300+ lawyers but are quite different.  Do firms have different personalities and, if so, how do you adapt?

Firms do have distinct personalities and cultures. I have been in my new position for about five months and it’s going very well and it’s everything I expected, but I totally underestimated the adjustment period. It will take the rest of the year for me to fully understand the way the firm works and what they value. The more experienced you are, the more confidence you have about what works, but you have to figure out how it’s going to work here.

I cannot stress enough the importance of investing time and attention to building relationships with your lawyers. Relationships are the key to just about everything.  

How/when did you first become involved in Legal Marketing?

2015 marks my 20th anniversary in legal marketing. I began my career as the “first-ever” marketing manager for a 50-attorney, single office law firm in my hometown of Pittsburgh. I started my career in accounting marketing right out of college in 1992.

What brought you to New York?

Working in New York was a lifelong dream. I came here intentionally to further my career in legal marketing. The springboard was getting married to someone who was also in the profession. We needed a city that was big enough and that presented diverse options for both of us.  

What job or project has taught you the most about leadership?

I don’t think there is just one. Developing leadership skills is a cumulative process based on experience. You are tested along the way and it is during the challenging times that you learn the most. Any time there is a change in firm management, or your boss retires, or you lose that star staff member, you are forced to adjust, adapt and find a way to move forward. Personal hurdles teach you a lot about leadership too. Learning to navigate through personal difficulties, such as a divorce or the loss of your mother (both of which happened to me within a span of a year) while also staying on the top of your game professionally, teaches you to focus and persevere. 

What is the best piece of advice you ever got? 

“Give them what they want, so you can give them what they need.” This goes back to establishing credibility. Once you have delivered on a request or solved a specific problem, you are seen as a credible and knowledgeable resource. Building on that goodwill puts you in a position to advise, guide and coach going forward. You can’t start there though.  

What advice would you give to coordinators, managers and directors trying to get to the next rung of their careers? 

Be a dot connector. Firms hire me to be the dot connector-in-chief. Know the people, practices, and clients and bring people together to get the business and to better service the clients.

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of? 

Delivering the December Convocation Keynote address at West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media is definitely a high point [Jennifer is an alumna of the school]. I am so proud that success in my profession has allowed me to establish a scholarship at the college in honor of my Mom. She was a single mother who worked as a bus driver, school custodian and other jobs so that my sister and I could attend college and have the chance to become successful, independent women who could choose our futures. If not for her (and financial aid and student loans), I would not be where I am today, and I want to make sure others have access to similar resources. 

What was the hardest thing you’ve ever done, professionally, but taught you the most?  

Knowing when it is time to leave a position and having the courage to take that step. Recent stints exemplify this point. I had a wonderful nine-year run at Loeb & Loeb, but I realized that I had gone as far as I could go there professionally and was looking for a new challenge. Kramer Levin was the right opportunity at the right time and so I seized it. By contrast, after nearly five years of “blood, sweat and tears” at a previous firm, I realized I wasn’t being effective. Rather than be paralyzed with fear and wait to be turned out by new firm management, which was inevitable, I took the initiative and negotiated my own exit strategy and a favorable severance package. It was one of the most empowering and liberating decisions I ever made.

How do you get your own work done while continuing to grow and learn in a field that is changing rapidly? 

You have to invest time in your own professional development. I just did the BTI webinar and I try to get to LMA National and the College of Law Practice Management conference every year. When you do that, you also give yourself permission to leave the daily grind and think about the big picture and the future — otherwise you’re in the weeds all of the time. 

Do you think it is important to specialize in a particular area – either marketing communications or business development — early on in one’s career?

I have an opinion on that based on my own experience. Being a generalist was the best training that I could have had. When you ascend to the top position, whatever your title, having been the one who responded to the RFP, figured out how to do a newsletter and designed the ad – allows you to connect the dots and see how those disparate pieces have to work together. These are all tools for developing business, creating stronger client relationships and reinforcing the brand. Deep industry or practice expertise is also very valuable. But understanding the practice of law from the client perspective is a huge benefit because it enables you spot opportunities across practices and industries.

How do you keep your team inspired?

I make sure the team understands the big picture, how their contribution fits in, and I include them in every aspect. I bring them to meetings. I make sure they have their own identity and that the lawyers understand the role they play and the value they bring. And relating well as a team is also important. We have lunch together every month and for the first 30 minutes we just chit chat about anything from current events to pop culture to firm updates, then we focus on key projects and initiatives. 

What do you see as most important trend in how law firms do business in the next 10 years?  

Clients have said “it’s no longer business as usual.” Clients are defining value and hire firms that are able to deliver it. Legal project management (LPM) is a trend that is here to stay. Project management techniques, including budget tools, data analysis and greater use of technology all play a role in in delivering greater value to clients. 

How do you hire? What do you look for? What question do you always ask?

I often ask “What do you like most about your job?” “What excites you, what motivates you?” What I look for, most of all, is someone who is smart and inquisitive and has a zest to learn and keep growing. Writing ability, a willingness to learn and use new technologies and systems, and be a team player, are all important too.

How do you unwind?  How do you spend your time away from the office?

I like to work out after work as way to decompress and turn off my brain. I do Physique 57 and dance cardio. I also like to cook. My new favorite is a Food & Wine magazine recipe, Chicken Cassoulet. When I’m relaxing, I have to actively practice not multitasking – typically I am watching TV while on FB and talking on the telephone. I also like to read magazines like Food & Wine, Elle or New York Magazine, and I will never pass by a People without picking it up!

What was the last great trip you took?

My last great trip was to Alaska this past summer, but I am hosting 90 guests for a wedding celebration on Valentine’s Day; and immediately after that I will be sailing around the British Virgin Islands on a catamaran with my new husband.

Best Wishes! How did you meet your fiancé?

On! He only had one $ sign in his profile, which was refreshing to me because I wanted to date someone who had broader ambitions than just making money and acquiring things. We had several common interests including cooking, listening to live music and pop culture and he seemed very passionate about his studies. So I thought, “what the heck, it’s just one date.” He was a getting his Doctorate at Columbia at the time we met. Philip M. Orton, PhD, now a research scientist and professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, is an expert in the impact of climate change on urban areas, particularly storm surges. Hurricane Sandy made him a media star, and he is still frequently in the news commenting on these issues.    

Who are your role models?

My Mom. As I mentioned earlier, I admire my mother’s perseverance and will. She held a series of blue collar jobs to gain independence from my father and to be able to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads. She worked her way up the ladder with her employer and went to University of Pittsburgh at night to earn a certificate in swimming pool maintenance/management, a job that paid more and offered a better schedule for a working Mom. She passed away in 2008, but she was proud and gratified that everything she had worked so hard for, for me and my sister, helped us become college educated, independent women.

Catherine Hausman is Senior Marketing Writer/Editor at Paul, Weiss

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