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2009 ABA Annual Meeting
July 29 - August 2, 2009
Seven Secrets Every Lawyer Must Know to Thrive, Even in a Recession
August 25, 2009 - August 25, 2009
Domestic Protection of Cleantech IP
September 15, 2009 - September 15, 2009
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September 15, 2009
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September 29, 2009
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Meet the rainmakers
Susan Mac Cormac
Interview by Natasha Innocenti
Name: Susan Mac Cormac
Firm Name: Morrison & Foerster
Address: 425 Market Street, San Francisco, California 94105-2482
Nominated by Martha Fay Africa
Practice area: Corporate Law
Susan Mac Cormac is a partner in the Corporate Group of Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office. She currently serves as a co-chair of the Venture Capital/ Emerging Companies Group and the Cleantech Group for the firm worldwide. She is also co-chair of the Clean Technology and Climate Change Committee of the ABA Section of Science & Technology Law.
Susan has extensive experience representing start-up to late-stage private companies primarily in the clean technology and sustainable sectors. She provides corporate and finance advice in connection with mergers, acquisitions, asset purchases and sales, reorganizations, joint ventures, and equity and debt financings. She regularly advises boards of private and public companies, special committees, and CEOs on corporate governance and Corporate Social Responsibility issues.
Most successful/favorite rainmaking tip:
For younger lawyers I would recommend two things. First, know your area of law really, really well. Before you can think about being a rainmaker you must be a very good lawyer. My second tip for younger attorneys is to always follow up. Take the time to get right back to people, send an email to someone you meet at an event, and always do everything you say you are going to do in a timely manner. Each interaction is an opportunity to build the relationship. Finally, you should take a long-term view of relationship and business development.
Best career advice:
Find an area you really love. You sell much more effectively if you care about what you are doing and you really believe in it. In my case, this area is clean technology. I focus less on direct selling and more on building something of substance, with real value for clients. I recommend finding a group of peers in your firm in complementary areas of practice with whom you can cross-sell. As you help your partners build their own practices, those relationships become reciprocal. Not only are you helping your firm bring in more business, you are providing value-added services to your clients by expanding the relationship and providing more comprehensive advice (for example, understanding the impact of IP or environmental regulation on corporate issues).
Percentage of time devoted to marketing:
Prior to 2006, my time was divided roughly as follows: 65 percent billable, 30 percent internal administration, and 5 percent client development. I developed most of my personal client base in clean technology/sustainability from referrals with very little marketing (other than an occasional lunch). Since 2006, I have shifted, and now spend close to 60 percent of my time on billable matters, 35 percent of my time on client and practice development, and 5 percent of my time on internal administration.
About 80 to 90 percent of the time that I devote to business development, I am not selling for my individual practice; I’m selling on behalf of the firm. I feel as though I’ve been entrusted with the firm’s brand and reputation, and I am responsible to help build the cleantech business for all of my partners in different practice groups.
I have been working as part of a team of corporate lawyers, in-house counsel, and law professors in drafting a new chapter of the California Corporations Code. If adopted by the legislature and approved by the governor, this new legal entity would give broad discretion to boards and management to avail themselves of a safe harbor—in addition to the business judgment rule—to consider an agreed social or environmental purpose (in addition to shareholder value) in making decisions in the ordinary course of business and in change-of-control situations.
Knowing what you know now, if you were starting out as a lawyer today, what would you do differently?
I got here in a convoluted way, but everything I did, right and wrong, got me to this point in my career. Although I didn’t always take advantage of business development and other client-focused opportunities before I made partner, I was busy becoming a good lawyer. If I had taken a different approach, I wouldn’t have had the journey that led me to clean technology. I don’t have any regrets. But there are more than a few people (myself included) who are surprised that I am still with a big law firm.
Tell me about a rainmaking strategy or tactic that worked particularly well:
We built an excellent practice group that met the market at just the right time. Part of that was luck, but we also put a lot of thought into it. When I first wanted to build a cleantech practice, the firm hired GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable businesses (for example, they worked on GE’s Ecomagination). They worked with our firm to help us develop our strategy for this business. I wanted to build a broad business so I went about it very carefully. I worked hard to foster our team and follow our strategic plan. In clean technology, your clients are best served by a team approach with practitioners who specialize not just in corporate but also in IP, energy, and environmental law. Without employing a team approach, it is likely that you will miss significant issues.
We also dedicated two marketing professionals to our clean technology practice. It is really important to be visible in the space you want to sell within. Starting in 2009, we coupled our marketing with a public relations strategy. Now, when a newspaper wants to write an article on clean technology, they (hopefully) know about our expertise and call us. All of these approaches build on one another, but it all comes down to having a great team that serves the clients with substance and reliability.
If you were mentoring a young woman lawyer, what advice would you give her regarding rainmaking?
I suggest choosing a practice area that you are passionate about and that is also strategically important to your firm. These days there are fewer resources, and the platform will support you more fully if there are greater resources available for your practice area.
Remember that it takes time to develop a robust practice. I began contacting people in companies in the sustainable space in 2001. I developed relationships with some of the lower-level in-house counsel, and over the years those people got promoted and put into increasingly higher level roles. By the time they were general counsel, I already had a good relationship with them. At a certain point all the networking builds upon itself and suddenly you have a big practice.
I would also urge young women to just go for it. Success builds on success. Push yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. For example, begin speaking publicly. At first it can be uncomfortable, but in time you can master it. Also, I have found that men are much more likely than women to speak publicly on an issue and present themselves as “experts,” when women (who opt to be in the audience) often have equal or greater knowledge.
Finally, I would say don’t get stuck with the “soft stuff” in your firm. Women are often tapped for recruiting and for managing administrative support in law firms. At a certain point, I gave up most of those responsibilities and just focused more heavily on client development. I have three buckets I focus on: client billing, client development, and leadership for the group. And I am very careful about how I allocate my time among the three (and still have time to spend with my two young boys).