Career arcs don’t always conform to a nice easy plotline – there are bumps, unexpected delays and diverging routes. And for C.W. Raines, the newly installed Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Midwestern regional law firm Bingham Greenebaum Doll (BGD), there’s also a homecoming.
Raines began his career at then-Bingham McHale as an associate in the firm’s main office in Indianapolis in 2004. Raines then moved in-house, becoming general counsel at Aearo Technologies until moving to 3M, holding a number of positions within that company’s legal department until he ended up as senior lead counsel.
In August, Raines returned to BGD as COO. He spoke recently with Barbara McGivern, vice president in the Large & Medium Law Firm segment at Thomson Reuters Legal, about finding profitability for his law firm, the lessons learned on the corporate side and what his days as a professional soccer player taught him about the legal business.
BARBARA MCGIVERN: What was it like returning to your old firm as COO?
C.W. RAINES: Although I did have a history with the firm, at least half of the firm was new to me, because of the merger that occurred when I was at 3M. [BGD was formed in 2012 by a merger of Bingham McHale and Louisville-based Greenebaum Doll & McDonald.] It was great to reconnect with people that had been at the firm for years and catch up on personal relationships. But another part of that task was to get out to our offices and meet as many people that are not based here in Indianapolis, so I could understand their perspectives and backgrounds, and start building a relationship with them.
Beyond that, I began doing a deep dive on where the firm is now, how it’s evolved since I left, what the skill sets are that we’re selling to clients now, what’s the expertise that we have and what has gone on, particularly with the history of our merger. Understanding the history of what went well and what didn’t was a huge undertaking for me, but it was important so I could understand where we are as a firm today.
MCGIVERN: What made you want to come back to the law firm side?
RAINES: I had migrated through several different business roles during my time at 3M, which was just tremendous! The exposure I had to the business world there was fantastic. So, when I got the email from one of BGD’s board members asking whether I would be interested in a role like this, it really seemed like a perfect fit. It was the confluence of my legal background, my business experience, as well as my efforts to drive growth, productivity and sales in the corporate world.
MCGIVERN: So, as COO now, you have a broader team. In addition to the roughly 200 lawyers at the firm, you have the nonlegal team that reports to you, as well as the marketing, HR and IT teams. How do you keep all those functions aligned toward your goals?
RAINES: The firm has done an excellent job combining all of those different areas and putting them in one department underneath the COO’s office. My focus to our team is always: How is our financial performance as a firm? Let’s talk about that and start with that as our No. 1 goal – let’s achieve the firm’s top-line and bottom-line expectations.
That way – whether you’re in HR, marketing or wherever – we’re all focused on pulling the oars in the same direction. Sometimes that means helping drive growth and other times that means helping pull back on costs, so we can all deliver on our shared goal.
The challenge of keeping these disparate parts moving together is the real beauty of the role for me. In any given day, I move from budgeting activities to evaluating lateral candidates to addressing network and phone system issues to looking at social media plans.
The excitement and complexity of all that is what I enjoy the most. I really welcome that opportunity and have greatly enjoyed it so far.
MCGIVERN: I know you spent several years playing professional soccer. What has that taught you about the legal world?
RAINES: Soccer’s always been the perfect analogy for either the business world or the law firm world. Business, in the broadest sense, is a contact sport, and it’s certainly a collaboration of many different talents, experiences and thinking, just like that of a soccer team.
Evaluating how people operate in the field, making quick decisions and trying to fit all of that into a team concept is no different now than when I was on the soccer field.
MCGIVERN: Coming back to your firm after almost 10 years, you must have noticed a lot of change – especially in the way the firm uses technology, for example. What role do you see legal tech playing at BGD in the future?
RAINES: While I think BGD is very forward-thinking, I can’t say that we’ve seized on a lot of those opportunities yet. We’ve been doing cautious analysis of this, and 2018 and 2019 will be very big years for us in the technology department.
In my previous roles at 3M and Aearo, we made very conscious, very direct, very measured technology investments that usually had to have a much shorter turnaround time. That’s kind of the path that we will take at the firm, too. We need some short-term technology wins to truly show efficient growth within the firm, to show our attorneys that these investments are good places to spend their money and that they are winning by creating efficiencies both for themselves and for our clients going forward. And that will begin a bigger investment cycle for our technology needs.
The artificial intelligence component opens an opportunity for us, but the process improvement path that we’re on right now is also vital. In the end, our clients want to pay us for our sophistication and ability to help them solve their problems, not to have us sit down and draft an agreement for 10 hours.
MCGIVERN: You mentioned your clients. How are you providing value to them and especially, how are you differentiating the firm?
RAINES: A substantial portion of our client base is midsize and small businesses – and they touch many areas within our firm. Often, they come in for one certain matter, let’s say a labor and employment issue or a tax issue, and they end up staying with us because they find that we’ve become that trusted adviser. We become very close to them, and they know we’re used to dealing with small businesses and that we understand the responsiveness they need.
They don’t need a 12-page memo on a particular area of the law; they need to be able to call your cell phone and get a visceral response to a particular problem so that they can sleep better or take action or make a decision about their business. If the client is happy and is winning, then we know they’ll be returning to us for other matters in other areas of the law.
MCGIVERN: What is your biggest challenge now as COO?
RAINES: That’s tough for me to say, but if I had to boil it down, my biggest challenge would be focusing BGD on future growth. Everyone talks about the challenge of law firm growth, and then they talk about law firm profitability – but that’s just a huge challenge that boils down to growth, too.
It’s also a longer-term challenge for me because BGD is on very solid footing and has had one of its best years of growth in the firm’s history. However, defining where the firm is going and where future growth will come from are significant challenges for me. I’d love to say I have the answers after just a few months, but it’s one of those things that we need to do a lot more strategic analysis on to point us in the right direction.
That will be my biggest challenge, probably for years to come.