We talk to Ernestine McKay about her international career in professional services, BD and marketing in Europe, and how Totum helped her to find her current dream job, despite lockdown.

Business Development and Marketing Communications (BDM) professional Ernestine McKay has enjoyed the kind of career path that anyone wanting a variety of challenges would envy. Her experience is also testament to the burgeoning opportunities on the continent for business services professionals in law. 

In this piece, we share the story of Ernestine’s career and how, in the middle of Covid lockdown, Totum was able to help her move from Scotland to Switzerland to develop BD at leading Swiss law firm Lenz & Staehelin

Opening doors

Ernestine’s career in professional services is a perfect case study for BDM professionals interested in working across Europe.

Born and raised in Scotland, Ernestine latterly worked at top-Scottish law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn and with her own marketing communications consultancy, McKay Partners. This followed a successful career with global firms in the City of London. 

Her abilities in French, Italian, German and Spanish really broadened her horizons. Her career is packed with fascinating experiences across Europe, including working in Rome, Madrid, Brussels and now Geneva.  

Indeed, language played a key part in securing her current role at Lenz & Staehelin, where she is heading up BD and special projects, tasked with establishing the firm’s BD programme, aligning it with existing marketing operations across offices in Zurich, Geneva and Lausanne. ‘Zurich and Geneva in particular are very different markets and partners recognise the value of investing in shared BDM support to ensure consistently high standards of client service across the business,’ she says. 

For Totum too, it is always a pleasure to work with candidates with such strong language skills. We are working on increasing numbers of business services roles with European firms, and good language skills enable us to quickly match up candidates that have strong expertise from the UK market with ambitious firms across attractive European locations.

But we knew it wouldn’t just be language that would give Ernestine an advantage. She has built a wide breadth of experience over her years in BDM – not just working for some of the leading brand names in the sector, including Clifford Chance and Freshfields, but also heading up BDM for some important global legal networks. 

Networking success

Between working as a Senior Marketing Manager at Clifford Chance (2000 to 2004) and CMS (2007-2009), Ernestine worked for global legal network MultiLaw as an International Business Development and Marketing Consultant.  She later joined international alliance of HR law firms, Ius Laboris (2010-2103), as Head of Quality Assurance and Projects. 

Her law firm network management experience gave her exclusive insight into independent member firms, their diverse client base and management styles. Her remit included guiding firms on best practice, bringing together lawyers and specialist support in a collaborative approach that allowed them to achieve much more, often with limited budgets. 

‘At Ius Laboris, I established our first online client quality programme, where we reviewed members’ entire service offering, including billing protocols, project management and marketing. The quality programme was recognised as a major factor in our winning The Lawyer’s Global Network of the Year at the time, which was incredible,’ she says. 

Brand leader

But while she clearly enjoyed the alliance work, which taught her many of the skills of working on an international platform, Ernestine has always wanted to balance this with experience at the heart of cutting-edge law firm development, working for the industry innovators. 

And she has plenty of experience in that respect too. At Clifford Chance, which she joined to head up the marketing of the firm’s online services division, her role included showcasing its client extranets and virtual dealrooms – ‘it was hugely entrepreneurial,’ she says. She later helped CMS reposition its Law-Now client online services, reviewed EY’s European client relationship programme, and worked for Freshfields (2014-2016) in its Competition practice. Across firms, Ernestine has led an impressively wide array of projects. 

‘At Freshfields, I was tasked with helping to keep the practice in pole position, explore new client markets and ensure we communicated well with cross-practice teams in London and our offices worldwide,’ she says. Her experience collaborating with senior management and multi-disciplinary support specialists – particularly, she says, with the knowledge management teams – created a very positive environment. She describes it as a role where she very felt very much part of the team. 

At Totum, we knew that her background at such a wide variety of leading brands would be highly attractive to firms seeking sophisticated insights to build BDM capabilities. 

To Lenz & Staehelin

When the opportunity at Lenz & Staehelin came up, Ernestine made a compelling choice of candidate with her breadth of experience and language skills. And it was quickly apparent that this role could offer a lot of what Ernestine was looking for at this stage in her career. 

With Brexit still unfolding, Ernestine wanted to be in the heart of Europe geographically and, with bilateral arrangements being firmed up between the UK and Switzerland, knew that the two countries would be working closely together into the future. When we asked if she would be interested in talking to partners about the firm’s new BD role, she didn’t need to consider it for long. ‘Lenz & Staehelin is such a highly respected firm with a substantial client list and impressive international credentials. I knew speaking to them was a real opportunity,’ she says.

Ernestine has worked with many Swiss lawyers over the years, including some Lenz & Staehelin partners.  ‘However I hadn’t met any of the partners who interviewed me online. They had a very clear idea of what they wanted – someone responsible for establishing a tailored BD programme that reflects the culture of the firm, understanding its client proposition and bringing together a team of internal and external specialists to deliver. This really appealed to me and I found the partners’ style very engaging,’ she says. 

Beyond lockdown

But all this was happening in the winter of 2020/21 when Covid levels were rising fast and further lockdowns looking ever-more likely. Totum was pleased to be able to act as an intermediary in these difficult times, helping the flow of communications and setting up virtual interviews through October; we were delighted when Ernestine received an offer by December. 

Then the January lockdown hit and everyone had to rethink plans. ‘The firm and Totum were really good at keeping in touch and being completely honest. We agreed that I would head to Geneva in February and the firm would fast-track the necessary paperwork,’ she explains. ‘But no-one had been vaccinated at that point. I arrived and I had to quarantine for 10 days at a time when nothing was open. The streets were empty.”

The firm again proved its credentials. “We stayed in touch and the firm communicated really well. Then I got a clear test and was able to leave isolation after eight days,” she says. The city started to open up again at the beginning of March and with the vaccination programme picking up speed, normality has started to return. 

It is still early days for Ernestine at Lenz & Staehelin but she has relished the chance to embark on this new role with an excellent firm in these exceptional times. It has also been a real pleasure for Totum to work with Ernestine again and support candidates and firms through international placements like these.

Whether in the UK, Europe or further afield, we look forward to helping more candidates fulfil their career aspirations with firms that have bold plans for business growth beyond Covid.

Huge thanks to Ernestine McKay for allowing us to share her experiences of BD and marketing in Europe. If you would like to know more about how we work across Europe and beyond, or would like to know more about current opportunities overseas, contact [email protected]

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