Michelle O’Driscoll has been in the legal marketing industry for more than 30 years, which means she’s pretty much seen and done it all.
As the Senior Business Development Manager at Sheppard Mullin LLP in San Francisco, Michelle is responsible for leading strategic practice group and industry team marketing initiatives to help lawyers increase their revenue and expand visibility.
In her bio, she calls herself “results-oriented, a connector and a “doer” and a critical member of any marketing SWAT team” which I think is clever and terrific.
Michelle previously worked in marketing roles for Bingham McCutchen, Sedgwick and Heller Ehrman. She is the mother of identical twin sons and co-authored the popular book “Play Around the Bay: A Guide to Bay Area Outings for Families with Young Children,” first published in 1999.
Learn more about her in this Women Who Wow profile.
Why did you choose your profession?
Like so many others, I fell into this profession more than 30 years ago, as it perfectly combined my law firm experience with my marketing degree. Working at law firms since high school, I considered becoming a lawyer and took the LSAT after college.
While employed as a paralegal at a San Francisco firm, I read an article in California Lawyer about a new profession in law firms – legal marketing – and thought it might be a good fit. Coincidentally, this issue of the magazine also had a list of the city’s largest law firms, so I sent my resume to each one that had a marketing department (only about 10 of the top 25 at that time) and Heller Ehrman responded, as they’d just hired their first marketing director. I’ve worked in legal marketing since then and never looked back.
As one of my first assignments to target prospective clients, I headed to the main branch of the San Francisco public library to research the city’s top industries (back then, tech wasn’t even in the equation and there was no internet), then spoke with Wells Fargo’s regional economic advisor on his predictions for the future of business in the region. How times have changed!
I also have the distinction of providing content for the first law firm web site in 1993 – so you can blame me for law firm web sites mirroring brochures for so many years.
I was lucky to start at a law firm that didn’t place great hierarchy between lawyers and staff, and enjoyed learning from these smart individuals, who placed equal weight on client work and pro bono service.
Giving back to the legal community has been a big part of who I am – from hosting tsunami relief fundraisers to publicizing election protection programs to stuffing backpacks for kids at the SF SMART Program.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that every day is different so the work is never boring, with the underlying theme of either developing new business or expanding visibility.
I most love being on the “hunt” for new business – identifying a prospect, finding a case to pitch (my specialty is antitrust and competition marketing), drafting the pitch (with lead partners writing the legal component of course), working with them on the in person presentation, and the excitement of winning the work. Providing strategic advice to lawyers and helping them generate revenue is very rewarding, and being a core member of the team is highly motivating.
I’ve also developed a communications specialty and wrote Bingham McCutchen’s submission to Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work” contest, winning a spot on the highly coveted list for 12 years running.
I currently lead Sheppard Mullin’s attorney alumni program and serve as editor of our alumni newsletter, interviewing client alumni from various regions. It’s gratifying to be the “voice of the firm” and promote a great place to work.
Tell us about a woman you look up to and why.
My very first boss, Lorraine Vidal, was my original female business role model. She offered me a job at age 16 as the Saturday receptionist at a San Francisco law firm and guided me in my career. We worked at a small plaintiffs’ firm in the early 1980’s when there was a true dividing line between men and women, which is how I developed my thick skin for “interesting” comments.
Lorraine was the office manager, head of human resources and chief financial officer all rolled into one. She was able to nimbly manage both her work and family life (including three children), which became a roadmap for me. She was greatly respected and truly ran that office, and I still live with her mantras in mind – be responsive, double-check your work, don’t be late to meetings – but always put family first. She encouraged me to obtain my marketing degree and was a great sounding board as I moved through the San Francisco business world.
Do you have a mentor?
There are several women who’ve guided my legal marketing career but two rise to the top: Lonnie Zwerin at Heller Ehrman, as she built its marketing department and spent considerable time educating me on law firm strategy, communications and marketing technology.
We had our first marketing retreat at her home in Stinson Beach (developing marketing goals and planning for the next year), and she hosted my work baby shower when pregnant with my identical twin sons. She was an innovator who truly cared for her people.
Then after serving with her on the LMA Bay Area chapter board, Vickie Spang hired me at McCutchen (prior to its merger with Bingham) and again at Sheppard Mullin when Bingham was faltering. She has always been supportive and her humor and marketing savvy have been a source of inspiration. Her ability to let you run with a project and not micromanage has allowed me to take on new responsibilities, giving me a sense of autonomy.
What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
If you’re not happy at a firm and your boss isn’t supportive, don’t be afraid to leave. As a mother of two young sons, I stayed at one job far longer than I should have because of the financial security it offered, but its toll on my mental health was quite damaging.
When I finally made the choice to leave, I made sure the new firm was headquartered in California and that my boss was supportive. Listen to your gut and don’t be a martyr.
Also, look for opportunities to present at meetings and get your voice heard, or get involved in industry associations (such as LMA) where you can obtain leadership training and practice public speaking. The experiences and friendships I made through the LMA Bay Area are still strong today and include some of my closest confidants. Don’t be shy to put yourself out there and let your ideas flow.