With growth it’s about making key business decisions for both the firm and our client needs

A Conversation About Life In the Legal Profession with Marjorie McFarlane Lucas

Marjorie McFarlane Lucas is a Director of Lateral Legal Recruiting at Fennemore. Marjorie loves what she does. Her passion and main objective are to incorporate best practices and programs that make law firms better places to work for all people. She is responsible for the strategic growth of our practice areas and geographic locations through the acquisition and retention of elite legal professionals. She manages all aspects of our firmwide partner recruitment process, including aligning partner recruiting strategies with the firm’s strategic plan across all 15 offices. Marjorie is also involved in the firm’s D&I counsel and diversity strategies.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Marjorie this week about how the worst piece of career advice turned into the best.

Hi Marjorie, I hope your week is getting off to a great start after a fun weekend watching the Super Bowl and awesome halftime performance by Rihanna! Did you get the chance to watch the Super Bowl? What’re your favorite ways to relax and rewind on the weekends after a work week?

I watched the parts I wanted to see, so the commercials and halftime performance, but my teams weren’t playing so I wasn’t that super interested in watching the game. I loved the halftime performance; I thought Rihanna was amazing! I loved her song selections and performance. And, that EPIC personal announcement without saying a word! Like BRAVO! My husband and I watched it together at our home, but normally if friends are having a big super bowl party we will go to that.

There are a lot of wonderful things that I like to do especially around the space of self-care and mental health care because you know those are very important for me to recharge. A great way that I do that is via regular exercise, specifically, running. On the weekends if I have time I will go on a long run. It could be anything from running a 5K to a 10K. If not a run, then my husband and I may just go for a long walk. I’ve done spa treatments and enjoyed that as well. And absolutely, always spend time with my family and friends.

Throughout your career you’ve done amazing work putting together cohesive and productive legal teams! Fennemore is an ever growing firm, what does your work look like with our continual growth?

Since I joined our Firm, there’s been a big change in the size and our practice groups have grown, and you know with growth it’s about making key business decisions for both the firm and our client needs. Our firm is constantly looking for growth opportunities, such as combination opportunities, so it is important to keep listening and talking to people. Our culture is very important to us. If a terrific opportunity came along that we thought was a great cultural fit, that also was a practice fit, we’d be interested in talking to them. We are in a growth strategy, and we must have a regular dialog with prospective laterals, practice groups, and firms.

We’ve found our next fantastic team member(s). How wonderful! The work isn’t done — the work is just beginning. We don’t simply show the new attorney(s) to their desk, give them log-in information, and hand them files. It’s making sure that folks are integrated into our culture seamlessly, not just for those who are joining the firm, but also for those who have an established presence at the firm. It’s imperative to be intentional about setting them up for success during their orientation, onboarding, and continued training and development. Onboarding goes beyond the first day, it’s an ongoing journey that could take several months. The ultimate goal is to set our team members up to be successful and contributing members of the team.

Check-in often. I continually check in with folks and make sure that they’re okay and still happy with their decision to join our firm. For example, I set up daily check-ins for the first two weeks. I also ask teammates how it’s going, what questions they have, and what they need to be successful in their job. Recruiting is very expensive and no firm wants to hire a lateral that does not work out, so the time you invest in them now will pay off.

I like to refer to myself as a talent scout. I go above and beyond to look for impressive talent who will be a great addition to our Firm. It’s very challenging to find quality talent, why? Because everybody is hunting in the same forest. I call those difficult-to-fill openings my purple squirrels, and yes, everybody’s looking for purple squirrels. I’ll go everywhere to find them. I’ll go to the moon if I have to! Some days I’m successful some days I’m not, but that doesn’t deter me because this is not work that happens overnight. It’s work that you do every day. The war for laterals and clients is intense, so we must maintain a great talent base and the quality of our lawyers at the Firm.

On top of your work as a recruiter you spend a lot of time working on diversity initiatives both within and outside of Fennemore. Can you tell me a little bit about where your passion for these initiatives comes from and how it impacts the professional world?

Thank you for that question. DE&I is in the fabric that I wear. It’s who I am. It’s part of my soul, you know? I think we’ve come a long way. I’ve been in this space, talent acquisition space, for many years and there was a time when, you know, DE&I wasn’t a part of the conversation. I have the experience that when DE&I is not top of mind for key decision makers at your firm, then you don’t see the results in the space you exist in; to have a diverse and inclusive workplace it’s important to empower people by respecting what makes them unique and different in terms of ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, just to name a few that fall under the umbrella of DE&I.

DE&I can’t be an afterthought. It has to be a part of the conversation and it comes from and top of the pyramid, it starts with firm leadership. Key decision-makers have to be on board to see a true shift in the pendulum, that’s the only way it’s going to happen and the firm experiences measurable positive results. Whatever I can do to promote diversity, I do it and I do it every day through education and meaningful employee engagements. I don’t take that role lightly, so whatever I can do to help my firm, my colleagues, and my friends, I will. We’re family and we’re in a diversity relay race, so I’m a part of the relay team and that’s the baton I carry with me every day to help us cross the finish line. I’ve read that there are significant advantages of diversity in the workplace, for example, better opportunities for creativity and problem-solving; smarter decision-making; an increase in profits and productivity; reduced rates of employee turnover; improved reputation for your business; client response to diversity, and my favorite, diversity makes it easier to recruit top talent. DE&I is a WIN for everyone! 

Who is your hero – or the person who has had the greatest impact on your life and career?

There are quite a few people but the one from when I was a kid would be my momma. I call her my ”she-ro.” My momma is my she-ro because she always seemed to sort of make the impossible happen. She’s the person that every time I encounter something that I thought was difficult I would remember an instance where she did something that was sort of superwoman, and I said well if my momma could do that then there is nothing I can’t do. She’s the person who’s sort of laid the blueprint for me, in how to successfully handle difficult situations, and I carry that with me my entire life from when I was in high school into college into graduate school and my career. I just had that sort of tenacious spirit and I got it from her. Nothing is impossible. If this door closes there’s another. That closed door was not the door for you, and there’s another door that will open for you eventually so keep going. No trial is too heavy, when adversity takes the place of prosperity, always remember it’s only a season, not a life sentence. This is the genesis of my foundation.

A few other people that I look up to, that I admire, because they’re doing things that from the outside looking in that just seemed impossible would be Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful women in her space, entertainment/media, and she’s a Black woman. Kamala Harris is another. She’s the first Black and Asian woman to become vice president of our country. Ursula Burns was the first Black woman to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Xerox. I mean these women are all just phenomenal. I just look at these women as individuals who against all odds persevered and they continue to do what they were driven to do in the first place and achieved immense success.

What’s the best – and worst – piece of career advice that you’ve ever received?

So the worst piece of career advice that I received was when someone told me many moons ago that a DE&I department was not necessary. I’m an avid reader, and I try to stay abreast with current developments in my work life. In some readings, I noticed what was happening in the DE&I space and so I had a conversation and just said “Hey we need to start a DE&I department because I think clients are going to be very interested in what we’re doing in that space,” and I was told no. They said this is not happening and is not top of mind, I should just leave it alone and I decided to turn the negative into something positive. I didn’t take that person’s feedback and I used it as a resource to learn more about the DE&I space and that drove me to go to graduate school. Had that person not saying that to me, I wouldn’t have gone and perhaps done it in the way I did. And, so far, my contributions in the DE&I space have been tremendous.

One of the best pieces of advice was when I was on my way to law school and I pivoted into human capital management. My mentor and sponsor at the time were at Columbia law school and she knew I was studying for the LSAT. She told me, “Marjorie, I’m a student in law school, I just finished my summer program at BigLaw and I’m having second thoughts about returning to work at BigLaw,” so she was just having an honest conversation with me. She encouraged me to do what she didn’t do which is work in a large law firm and get exposure to that environment. It wasn’t what I expected and I sort of pivoted based on the exposure I had, so it was suggested that I explore a career in legal recruiting instead. I sort of fell into this role and found my tribe and I ended up doing what I love.

What are you currently listening to (podcast or music); reading; and watching/streaming?

I’m reading The 10 Commandments of Making Money by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. The other book I’m reading is for Black History Month, and it’s called Racial Subordination in Latin America, The Role of the State Customary Law and the New Civil Rights Response by Tanya Kateri Hernandez. That’s what I’m currently involved with, and next, I’m reading the book we received on the retreat, Build for Tomorrow by Jason Feifer.  

For shows, I’m sort of obsessed with all things royal so I watch The Crown, and I watched everything with Megan and Harry. Those are great fun for me as a sort of escapism. My husband recently got me hooked on Your Honor, Like, WOW, that’s an intense show! I’m a huge Oscars fanatic, so that’s coming up and I make sure I see at least 80% to 90% of all the movies that are nominated for the Oscars. I think I’m just about there! It’s been a great year for movies.

A few songs I have on heavy rotation are, Pure/Honey, Cozy and Alien Superstar, by Beyonce;  Vegas by Doja Cat, Free Mind by Tems, and People by Libianca Fonji.

Last but not least, someone has decided to give you an all-inclusive, entirely paid for vacation anywhere in the world you would like to go. Where would you choose to go and what would you do there?

Gosh, can it be multiple places, or just has to be one place? So I do love a good holiday! I try my best every year to go somewhere new and immerse myself in that country’s culture. It could be through local cultural stuff, such as the music, the food, visiting an area off the beaten path where I get to meet local people, and just doing something that is not touristy, something that is both educational and fun.

So with that being said, I would fly from New York, JFK airport, to Italy or Greece. I would start my trip in one of the Mediterranean countries because that water it’s just so mesmerizing. So I would spend you know about five days there right then fly to Dubai just to do all the touristy stuff, a bit of shopping at the Mall of the Emirates, visit the Sky pool, skydive and take a drive in the dunes and spend no more than four days there because it’s all you need.

Then from there, I’m heading to Egypt to go up the Nile, and I want to experience all of the things I read as a child in the Bible. I need to revisit some of these sites and they’re still there, the Pyramids of Giza, cruise up the Nile, visit the Egyptian museum, and explore historic Cairo and the Valley of the Kings. Next, I would go to Kenya to go on a Safari trip. After I’ve done all of that, I’ll finish my trip to an island in Bali. I’m a huge fan of the James Bond movies, and one of them takes place on an island in Bali. I just want to live out my dream of recreating some of those scenes! And, finally, my last stop is at Golden Eye resort on my favorite island, Jamaica!

Many thanks to Marjorie for all of her inspiring insights!

And for more information about joining Fennemore, please visit: https://www.fennemorelaw.com/careers/