Career Development

Client First, Culture First: One Firm's Approach to Service

CCBJ spoke with Catherine Zinn, Chief Client Officer of Orrick, to discuss the firm’s unique approach to client service and hear her thoughts on shifts in the way law firms and in-house clients can exceed expectations on both sides.

CCBJ: Chief client officers and similar roles are a growing part of the legal industry, but you’ve been at it longer than most. How are you seeing this role develop across the industry?

Catherine Zinn: It’s telling that within the last 30 days, I’ve been contacted by recruiters, not to make a move but to talk about what qualities employers ought to look for because their clients are hiring their first chief client officer. The first recognition is that we are market-facing, spending more than half of our time interacting directly with clients, prospects and referral sources. We will often be obtaining some type of client feedback. We might be catching up informally because we share some common interest, or we may be doing a formal assessment of the client’s business and how Orrick might be of additional service.

I’m personally passionate about helping our clients and friends of the firm find their next job. Maybe there’s a woman who’s interested in her first general counsel job or a general counsel looking to place a new head of litigation and we have just the right person. When we make a match, it’s really satisfying.

I also focus on placing directors at public and some private companies, with a particular emphasis on diversity, which is increasingly important to companies and in the market, especially in California.

How do you and your team support Orrick's commitment to clients?

We’re pretty obsessed with obtaining client feedback in any way possible, one-on-one or through our more formal client feedback program. We are very thoughtful about asking somewhat regularly, “How is your business doing?” We try to glean what success looks like for our clients. What are the top three things that the CEO has said the general counsel needs to accomplish? We want to know what those things are.

Another way we support our commitment to our clients is to use their time well. For pitches for a specific opportunity that we’re trying to win, for example, we work hard to prepare our team to make sure we’re going to have a productive conversation and be responsive to what we think the client is looking for.

When you receive positive or negative feedback from clients, how do you make it actionable?

I have had the privilege of sitting alongside our chairman while visiting clients, and themes bubble up regularly with almost all of them around innovation, diversity and talent. We hear, fortunately, quite positive feedback on innovation and diversity, but there is a recognition that all of us in the legal industry could do better.

So we invited our clients to join us on three client advisory boards that are focused on innovation, women and other types of diversity, specifically people of color. These boards are largely made up of general counsel of large companies and some business people. For example, a true thought leader in the area of design thinking at Stanford is helping us in the innovation space. With our diversity- and women-focused boards, we have other recognized leaders, like the CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, the chair of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, and the founder of Diversity Lab. The boards themselves are quite diverse, and they’re giving us guidance on how Orrick can put the pedal to the metal and accelerate our focus in these areas.

The general counsel have told us that they’ve taken what they’ve learned during our candid discussions and gone back to their own organizations to make positive change, so much so that other departments are looking to the law department as a lighthouse for how to make

material change on goals for diversity and inclusion. That’s a win-win, and we’re so grateful that our clients have linked arms with us in these conversations.

Describe your team for us. When you're hiring, what do you look for in candidates?

The team that I have the privilege of leading is comprised of sales and marketing professionals, and I oversee the sales and marketing at the firm globally. We’re organized by sector, practice group and, in Europe and Asia, by region. A large number of professionals on our team are lawyers. They’re not currently practicing, but they have had significant practices previously and an MBA or another advanced degree.

At any level, whether you’re a lawyer or another team member, we look for a combination of grit and excellence in our professional staff. Grit, curiosity and teamwork are a magical combination. You also need to have a balance of spectacular confidence and deep humility at the same time.

To be able to find your dial and know when to lead and when to sit back is critically important.

Working in a law firm is not for everyone. I love it, and the reason I love it is I respect and admire lawyers. These men and women are under a tremendous amount of stress, and having empathy for everything that they need to do to deliver for their clients is critically important in being of service to them and helping them be successful.

Who and what informs your leadership style?

I’m guided by the maxim that you show everyone the same level of respect regardless of their position in life, or in a law firm in this case. I am able to live that value at Orrick, and I feel very strongly that as a leader, telling people what to do is not effective. We are a coaching culture. My job is to help other people be successful.

Being in a culture that really fits me has changed my life. I didn’t know how important culture was until I was in one that really fit. Tone at the top is everything. Our chairman embodies and demonstrates the most important quality of leadership: making those around you better.

What are your hopes for further developments within the industry?

The law and how services are delivered are going to change quite a bit. With innovation and automation, legal work will probably not always be done by lawyers, and I think that’s a good thing. Hopefully, the work that’s left will be so much more interesting for the lawyers and bring more joy back to the practice of law. My hope is that we will embrace the change and that as we automate – be it bots, or blockchain, or AI – we do so in a way that allows time to really connect on what people need to do together, in a personal way, and even in person. Relationships, literally looking someone in the eye, have never been more important.

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