Leaders with Ambition - Stuart Davis

Leaders with Ambition - Stuart Davis

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Stuart Davis - Global Director of Marketing and Business Development, Litigation at Dechert LLP

“Keep your eyes and ears open – and your mouth shut!” Unlikely as it may seem, these words of advice from a wizened WWI veteran resonate still today for Nicky Acuna Ocana’s guest on this episode of Leaders with Ambition.

Stuart Davis, Global Head of Marketing & Business Development, Litigation at Dechert LLP, believes being alert and attentive is key to building valuable relationships in all areas of life – and success in professional settings.

Based in Washington, D.C., Stuart shares the cumulative wisdom he’s gathered throughout his life’s journey – from growing up in rural Wyoming to signing on to help restore Hadrian’s Wall to building a successful marketing career within law firms.

At every stage the goal has been to augment his portfolio of value-add skills, including an MBA at Georgetown University and other ongoing education.

He explains why networking and discipline are cornerstones for any legal workplace culture, along with a commitment to ensuring all team members feel supported. The ethos is collaborative and the work-life balance intentional for Stuart, who prioritises innovation and an atmosphere of growth.

Learn about the lessons he has picked up over 20 years of driving business for top law firms as well as why – for all his professional success – it has been the relationships and proximity to brilliance that have inspired him most.

The episode concludes with thoughts on the impacts of AI, importance of ED&I and challenges ahead for law firms navigating the quickly shifting sands of change.

Enjoy this thoughtful conversation – and actionable words of wisdom!

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If you enjoyed this discussion, please visit this link to find previous episodes of Leaders with Ambition.

Key takeaways

Stuart’s unlikely path from an upbringing in Wyoming to pursuing his passion for history via an interesting post-college opportunity restoring Hadrian’s Wall to selling wine in a Colorado ski resort town where his future wife happened to be!

What Stuart’s introduction to marketing looked like at the dawn of new tech tools and in workplace environments that encouraged his creative, entrepreneurial spirit.

Working smart and bringing extra effort combined with pragmatic ideas equates with clear value-add for Partners.

Continuing education

How an MBA at Georgetown University grew Stuart’s network and made sense as an umbrella for the marketing and BD skills he was cultivating.

Reading the room

Why Stuart fully subscribes to sage words of wisdom given to him as a young man: “Keep your ears and eyes open – and your mouth shut!”

Lessons learnt along the way

  • There are no failures. Only lessons learnt!

  • Coming in as an outsider over a qualified internal candidate can be tricky.

  • Not all landscapes are the right fit, especially when organisations are in flux.

Moving on to McDermott, Will and Emery led to career growth – both deepening BD skills and broadening into the nuances of practice management.

The power of mentoring

How staying open to the people around him at every stage of life has shaped Stuart’s personal experience and professional development.

Collaborative ethos

What Stuart brings to his teams, especially younger members, in terms of inviting ideas, on-the-job training and education in a supportive atmosphere.

Work-life balance

How a combination of progressive law firm cultures and vigilance have helped Stuart modulate workflow and the burden on team members.

The power of prioritising work and helping staff to do the same in order to foster retention, continuity and sustainability.

Leveraging AI tools

How Dechert is harnessing analytics and machine learning in outward-facing client communications, internal corporate ops, the business of law and marketing innovation.

Biggest business challenges

  • Figuring out how to bring the most value-add – and the metrics to demonstrate it.

  • Integrating a variety of old-school and digital legal styles.

  • Determining the degree of importance in cultivating business relationships.

  • Prioritising and balancing fees versus pitches versus events versus upstarts.

  • Assessing the competitive landscape and clarifying priorities.

Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

About the “tireless” work that Dechert’s leadership is doing to promote conversation, accountability, empathy and forward progress.

Stuart’s career highlights

  • Solving a range of problems and issues.

  • A thousand interactions with a thousand inspiring people!

  • Securing his MBA.

  • Benefiting from and being part of the “brilliance” of his co-workers.

  • Supporting career development among younger colleagues.

Stuart’s career challenges

  • Finding the KPIs and marketing metrics that validate value-add.

  • Understanding myriad competing pressures at all levels of the firm.

  • Keeping up with the changing business: AI, outside accounting firms.

  • Retaining valued team members.

Words of wisdom

  • 'Pay attention.'

  • 'Be accountable and make sure others do the same.'

  • 'Maintain discipline on a daily basis.'

  • 'Continually develop relationships and grow your network.'

  • 'Keep your eyes and ears open – and your mouth shut!'

Key quotes

  • “One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to work very, very hard. But you also have to work very, very smart... It makes the most impact, at least for me.”

  • “Having an MBA gives you a different sort of centre. You understand the hard work that goes into what people are doing and what you need to do and what you can learn.”

  • “You don’t have to be the centre of attention but you always do need to be interested in other people … You sometimes just have to ask questions to find out how interesting people are!”

  • “When you’re on the practice management side you really see how the sausage is made and what a profitable client is, what a good client is, what you need to do with personnel, how good lawyers work and junior lawyers need to be developed.”

  • “Managing people is incredibly rewarding but incredibly difficult as well. (It’s about) learning how to build a great team and keep them interested.”

  • “I think for a lot of people, no matter what they’ve got going on, there are a lot of pressures outside and inside of work. Being upfront and letting people know what’s going on helps.”

  • “It’s been good to play with (AI) and understand it more. The way we always put it is, It may not always be the person who knows AI the best but the person who can ask the right questions.”

  • “(ED&I) impacts people working at the firm, it impacts your clients, it impacts so many people on so many levels.” (Nicky)

  • “The career that I’ve chosen has given me the ability to meet so many different, interesting people in so many ways. Seeing brilliance every day and being part of it is really a highlight every day.”

  • “How to retain and attract the calibre of people you need is always going to be an ongoing challenge at law firms and professional services firms.” (Nicky)

  • ·“Make sure that you do listen and you do observe what’s going on in the world. That helps when you do open your mouth to say good, smart and valuable things!”

About Stuart Davis

Stuart Davis, Global Director of Marketing and Business Development, Litigation at Dechert LLP in Washington, D.C., holds an MBA from Georgetown University and has over 20 years of experience leading business development at multiple Am Law 100 firms.

He brings a deep understanding of creating and implementing metric driven growth plans that bring client value. His passion is for developing strong relationships and solving interesting problems.

About Nicky Acuna Ocana

Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and US, 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.