In this episode of Leaders with Ambition, Nicky speaks with Lucy Rao, who runs business development and marketing at Boodle Hatfield LLP.
Lucy has established a practice within the practice, counselling fee earners at every level of the law firm in how to sharpen communications (listen, ask questions) and pitch business (words matter, nuance is essential.).
This informative conversation covers everything from the burgeoning field of professional services marketing to the lessons learnt during the pandemic about managing mental health, remote work scenarios and the powerful role work-life balance has to play in creativity and productivity.
Lucy shares her wealth of experience within business development and the compelling case for teaching executives, like the Partners at the law firms for which she has worked, how to leverage data/metrics and communications techniques. Her marketing vision, sales training and business development support consistently engages new prospects while exciting long-standing clients at the same time.
Overarching this lively discussion is Lucy’s baseline advice: Be yourself, whether in marketing, communications, BD or any other facet of life.
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Key Takeaways from this episode with Lucy Rao
Lucy shares her foundational career journey, from early studies in chemistry at King’s College London to her transition towards more people-oriented pursuits that eventually took her into sales. She had a memorable early stint selling merchandise for the Lion King musical and 10 years spent in Australia.
The right mix
Professional services marketing emerged as a career path when Lucy went to work for Allen & Overy, a global law firm, where her divergent skill sets really started coming together. She quickly recognised the opportunities in law firms.
During a highly successful five-year run at A&O in Australia, Lucy played a key role in shaping the go-to market strategy and frameworks and the local brand that were used to win business for what was then a new proposition in the Australian market.
Everyday interactions with Managing and Practice Partners gave Lucy a springboard that she used to coach the team and sharpen her capabilities while delivering to the law firm valuable new business development tools.
When she had her son in 2013 there was a temporal shift in priorities and Lucy worked flexibly for a period of time. She was able to reduce her work hours meaning she didn't have to fully step away from the job. Incrementally and organically, she eventually returned full-time to her work and pursuit of her career goals.
Staying “seen” and fully integrated can be challenging when women executives scale back their roles, but the remote work model that has emerged with pandemic protocols may be a game-changer in levelling that playing field.
A new chapter
In 2016, Lucy migrated back to the UK, where she remained initially with A&O and combined her skill sets to further boost the firm’s profile. As the pandemic showed no signs of going anywhere, Lucy decided it was time to reignite her desire to grow her career and transition to a new job — recognising that she might be putting the favourable work conditions that had fostered her quality of life at risk. Jumping into a new firm’s culture as a single parent felt vulnerable, especially having built up a strong reputation and network after nearly a decade at A&O.
Lucy was in part attracted to Boodle Hatfield for the culture and values it communicated through its company website. She went forward with her new role based on the profile they presented and her expectations have been exceeded.
Collaboration is key
Lucy places a lot of emphasis both on proactive collaboration and communication. It's important to keep the flow of information about BD initiatives and client targeting between the Partners and BD transparent. If you’re not making efforts to stay in the loop, then you’re going to be out of step and liable to being left out or left behind. Constantly sharing and connecting dots makes the product delivered to clients exponentially stronger.
Driving the business forward with marketing
Lucy notes a growing sophistication within law firms that has helped Partners and other staff to embrace the critical role that marketing and business development play both internally and as an external driver of business.
Savvy Partners and other staff at the firm understand that the coaching and consulting Lucy and her team can provide have a huge upside. They bring insights, nuance and suggestions for how best to position, communicate and pitch to clients — all key tools to enhance connections and ultimately attract business.
Confidence is key to growing revenue and protecting against client losses, which is where marketing and business development support can make such a difference. Lucy works hard to ensure all members of the team have what they need to communicate effectively and thrive.
Discovering the business development and marketing career path and the role it can play within the realm of professional services was among Lucy’s early career highlights.
Aha moments! Those times when there have been breakthrough moments with Partners who suddenly understand the importance of questioning and listening as part of the legal consultative process.
Teaching colleagues something new that starts out as scary and soon morphs into powerful new client skills and exciting developments.
Building trusted advisory relationships that have opened up new avenues and fostered an internal culture that values marketing and business development support and its role in helping to achieve the law firm’s goals.
Mental health has emerged as a hugely important factor in maintaining a healthy and productive workplace. Particularly in the BD space, where the pressure can be relentless, Lucy emphasises the importance of wellness and self-care.
Lucy reached a crunch-point during the pandemic that was ultimately transformational. She took a pause and realised that she would never be perfect and couldn’t take on relentless stress and unrealistic expectations (especially of herself) that came with the additional responsibilities during lockdown. She took an important reset and found a structure and balance that worked for her mental health.
While working from home, many have felt a relentless pressure to stay relevant and keep demonstrating value when they aren't pitching. But over time Lucy has come to espouse a philosophy of balance and proportion that she believes preserves creativity and productivity over the long haul. The brain can’t handle jumping from one task to the next without breaks of any kind during which to process information.
Looking forward to the future
Lucy foresees only more growth in business development and marketing generally, with increasingly strategic roles and an increasing need to consolidate and leverage data within professional services. Partners need to shift valuable information to digital formats that can be mined for marketing gold.
Words of wisdom
Lucy believes that above all else it’s important to be authentically yourself at work. If you’re comfortable you will be your best — and that is all you can do. It serves no purpose to beat ourselves up or expect more!
“(Changing my working pattern) was never an issue with the Partners at the firm and actually I got some positive feedback out of it because I set those boundaries.”
“I decided that I’m just going to be me on the interviews. I wasn’t going to change who I am or pretend I was all corporate or knew about an industry when I knew absolutely nothing … but the values and culture of the firm that I picked up on through the website are absolutely true.”
(Firms) have tried to maintain some of the good things that have come out of working from home through agile working so that people can flex their days a bit more.”
“One of my big values is integrity and you can’t be perfect all the time. We all make mistakes. We’re all human. Put your hand up and let’s just solve it. I’m not interested in who’s to blame or getting defensive.”
“Being siloed and not collaborating really is death now in your career.”
“The value we in marketing and business development bring is now properly starting to be realised. Gone are the days where we just make things look pretty … There’s a whole wealth of value that we can bring that savvy Partners are tapping into.”
“It goes back to being yourself at work so that you’re comfortable in your own skin and able to question and challenge … and ask the question ‘Why?’ What are we trying to achieve?”
“A real highlight of my career has been really being able to discover this career path within professional services.”
“When you’re a trusted advisor — and it takes a long time to get into that role — it’s so rewarding. It’s very much that we’re in it together, growing the practice.”
“Talking about (mental health) and making it an acceptable conversation to have at work and at home is really, really important. The pandemic has meant so many things for so many different people.”
“Gaps in work are when our brains are processing what we’ve just learned or what we’ve just heard. It all happens subconsciously, but it enables us to come up with ideas based on that information. Whereas often working at home we are just jumping from task to task to task.”
“The culture of data and tech must meet the culture of ownership of contacts … It’s exciting times for BD and it’s only going to get more exciting.”
“If you’ve made a mistake, then just put your hand up and fix it. We’ve all made them, but we learn from it. How you resolve and learn from it is what sticks.”
About Lucy Rao:
Lucy has deep experience as a senior business development and marketing professional with a strong sales background, focusing in particular on professional services marketing in law firms. Her highlight skills include developing business and marketing strategy and go-to-market strategy for new product/practice launches, sales coaching and mentoring, client relationship management, BD team leadership and developing and implementing promotional tactics to grow revenue.
About the host, Nicky Acuna Ocana:
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Managing Director of Ambition UK, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.