CMO Forum – Gretchen Lyn Koehler

by Catherine Hausman on September 29, 2015

Koehler Gretchen 2015Gretchen Lyn Koehler is the Director of Business Development and Marketing at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP. Prior to joining litigation-focused Kasowitz three years ago, Gretchen led BD & marketing at one of the leading intellectual property boutique firms, Kenyon & Kenyon. Ms. Koehler is a licensed attorney, having started her career practicing law at White & Case, where she eventually made the transition into legal marketing. Empowered as a positive voice for change, Gretchen brings a uniquely effective approach to working with lawyers and law firms. 

In this CMO Forum interview with Catherine Hausman, Gretchen talks about the rewards and challenges of moving from an IP boutique to a 300-lawyer litigation powerhouse, shares her strategies for winning new business, and reveals how she finds inspiration and purpose in her work and in life. 

Q: You began your career as a lawyer at White & Case before you transitioned to legal marketing. How did that come about?

A:   My decision was prompted by an invitation from a gentleman who, at the time, was the managing partner of the firm’s litigation practice group. The firm was seeking someone who knew their practices and their lawyers and would be skilled in helping them develop business. I was identified by the partners as the right candidate for the position. Though I had no formal knowledge of legal marketing and business development, I immediately developed an affinity for the field when I saw it was an opportunity to make significant contributions to the success of the firm and to take on the challenge of excelling in a number of areas all wrapped up within one role.

Q:  How did you manage the move from a prominent IP boutique (Kenyon & Kenyon) to a litigation powerhouse (Kasowitz & Benson)?

A: I was fortunate to be recruited into the role at Kasowitz based upon experience I had gained both at Kenyon & Kenyon as well as at Dechert and White & Case. Kasowitz decided to invest, for the first time, in establishing a marketing and business development department and was looking for someone who was ready to roll up their sleeves and guide the firm in expanding its visibility, as well as taking a more strategic and sophisticated approach to client development. I was thrilled to join such an entrepreneurial firm that had had tremendous success during its first 20 years in business, and still had so much opportunity to advance in the marketplace.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges?

A: Every firm offers unique opportunities and challenges. Some of the unexpected, but thrilling challenges that I navigated in my first year or so at Kasowitz included the firm’s expansion into the Los Angeles and Washington D.C. markets, as well as the onboarding of Senator Joseph Lieberman, his former Chief of Staff, The Honorable Clarine Nardi Riddle, and two lawyers formerly in-house with NBC Universal. With those arrivals, we also launched two new practice areas that year, establishing the firm’s Government Affairs practice group and our Entertainment Litigation practice. None of those things were on my plan when I arrived, but they were all hugely rewarding for me and exciting for the firm.

Q: Marketing a litigation practice can be a challenge because of clients’ unpredictable needs for representation, unlike corporate work which is steadier. What have you learned about marketing a litigation practice that others might not know?

A:   While litigation may be episodic, relationships that prove valuable over time should be just the opposite, whether they’re with existing clients, prospective clients or referral sources. When clients face high stakes, bet-the-company litigation, they often turn to the litigators they know, trust and recognize as having been successful in representing similar clients in similar situations. In that regard, relationship development and public relations are two critical areas in which a litigation firm needs to invest significant effort. While the needs of specific clients fluctuate with time, there are numerous technology and information tools on the market that can help a firm understand and predict litigious behaviors at the client, practice area and industry levels.

Q: Your movement up the career ladder has been rapid – from litigation practice specialist at White & Case, to Manager at Dechert, to Director of Business Development at Kenyon – all within a span of 5 years. What is the key to your success?

A:  With the exception of my role at Kenyon – which I sought out when I felt ready to step into a role as the head of a department, and to take advantage of the opportunity to relocate back to New York from Northern California, and to focus on Intellectual Property (one of my favorite areas of law) – I was recruited into each job I’ve had within the industry.

I am fortunate to have had exceptional mentors, especially practice group leaders, who helped me understand how lawyers and law firms operate and how to be an effective and trusted resource. Having a law degree and experience as a working attorney helped reinforce my credibility, but even more valuable has been my commitment to understanding the legal industry and how, and why, law firms get hired. I study market trends regularly and read at least a dozen news sources each day to position myself as a trusted resource to my partners and to guide my team with relevant actionable intelligence.

Q: What is the best career advice you ever got?

A: I’ve always found inspiration in Howard Thurman’s words, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” To me, this quote has applicability not just in choice of career, but in who we choose to be as professionals and the way in which we choose to engage with colleagues, team members and peers. To figure out a way in which we feel fully alive in our careers and professional interactions is, I think, to live a more purposeful life.

Q: How big is your team at Kasowitz?

A:   We’re a very lean, very efficient five-member team serving 300+ lawyers in 9 offices throughout the U.S.

Q:  How do you keep your team motivated? Where do you find inspiration?

A:    I meet with my team weekly to discuss industry trends, brainstorm solutions and service offerings for our firm, learn from them about how they successfully implemented initiatives at other firms and to share what I am learning from LMA meetings, professional reading, networking and interacting with our partners and other professionals at the firm. My team is also inspired by having visibility within the firm and consistent opportunities to regularly engage with partners and serve as point people for specific practice groups and/or services that we provide.

Q: Tell me about your certification at “Leadership that Works – Coaching for Transformation”?

A: The Coaching for Transformation program was a truly transformative experience that significantly expanded my understanding of coaching in the professional and personal contexts as well as, more generally, how to communicate effectively and build trust with others. It has had a profound impact on how I engage with people both on a personal and professional level, introducing me to concepts such as the “Appreciative Inquiry” approach, that have proved extremely valuable in situations where I serve as a leader, facilitate collaboration among teams and engage in performance management discussions.

Q: What are the three most significant trends in legal marketing that impact how you work with the lawyers at your firm?

A: First, knowing that corporate counsel often select lawyers based on their individual skills and experience, we are increasingly focused on personal branding. We do this in a number of ways, including looking at bios, LinkedIn profiles, online reputation, thought leadership and interpersonal communication.

Second, access to competitive intelligence tools has helped us equip our attorneys with a sophisticated understanding of the true scope of opportunities with existing clients and prospects, which influences what we pitch, how we cross sell, and how our attorneys invest their time in business development. We receive frequent requests from the attorneys for business intelligence and the strategic analyses we prepare for them.

Third, Omni channel marketing is influencing the recommendations I make about how to effectively communicate our brand.

Q: I see that you have spoken on topics related to legal marketing – do you enjoy public speaking?

A: Very much so, especially when it facilitates dialogue or inspires someone to shift perspective or try an innovative or unfamiliar approach in the interest of growing as professional.

Q: What 5 attributes do you think are critical for law firm marketing leaders?

A: Brilliance; stamina; exceptional communications and writing skills; the ability to develop and hold a vision for a firm; and a big picture, strategic orientation.

Q: Given the 24/7 demands on a CMO, how do you find work/life balance?

A: If I stayed up all night worrying about pressing problems I wouldn’t be able to give 120% effort in my role at work each day. For me, balance comes by getting a good night’s sleep and giving my best at work, and rewarding myself by engaging in my personal interests in coaching individuals, practicing yoga and meditation, running and dabbling in photography. I also bought a house in the woods this year, which has allowed me to retreat from the city and connect with nature in a way that has been profoundly grounding and centering for me.

Q: Other than in nature, where else do you find inspiration?

A: I love to coach people who need help shifting perspective, overcoming negative self -talk and stepping into their purpose. I also find inspiration in learning through lectures, books and podcasts about alternative healing, energy medicine, self- improvement and psychology. Some of my favorite role models in those areas include Louise Hay, Donna Eden, Jack Canfield, Tim Ferris and Lewis Howes. When I’m able to really get away, I enjoy traveling, camera in hand, to places that fascinate and inspire me, such as Bali, Hong Kong, Florence, Cyprus, you name it. If I haven’t been there yet, it’s most likely on my bucket list.

Q: Who are you following on social media?

A:   Louise Hay, Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, several Bitcoin organizations, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Inc., BuzzFeed, the WSJ, the Onion, Ram Dass, Lissa Rankin, MD, Kris Carr, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and many friends and others who inspire me to think, laugh, take action or contemplate ideas.

Previous post:

Next post: