The only job security any lawyer has whether as a partner or as a sole practitioner is the ability to generate clients. Leadership and power in a law firm of any size attaches to the lawyer who brings in the most business and keeps herself and other more junior lawyers supplied with work. Yet typically, the major rainmakers in law firms are primarily men.
The National Association of Women Lawyers in the US in their 2009 annual National Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms (www. nawl.org) found that half of the larger law firms in the US had no women amongst their top ten rainmakers. The statistics for smaller firms were not much more encouraging.
The challenge of finding new clients and developing a practice is especially difficult for women lawyers. There are many reasons for this. The business world – despite the many gains made by women – is still largely a man’s world. This is especially true at the senior management and executive ranks where the decisions are made about which law firm or lawyer to hire. If the male senior business leader has networked with a male lawyer at a hockey game, on the golf course or over drinks – it may be that lawyer who springs to mind.
This presents a second challenge for women: how to ask a male client to a hockey game or for a drink without the awkwardness of feeling like it could be a date. The same holds true in the reverse. It can be equally awkward for a male lawyer to ask a female client to an evening event. One solution is to ask others along and attend the event as a group. This resolves the “date” dilemma. A novel solution I experienced once when I was the in-house lawyer client invited to a hockey game by a consultant was the inclusion of both our sons to attend the game with us.
Another challenge for women lawyers is the time crunch. Many women lawyers need to be out of the office at a regular time in order to get home and start their second job as a parent. It is difficult to give up evening time devoted to preparing dinner, homework, driving kids to soccer and dance practice and all the other activities of a busy family. Most women with children work as efficiently as possible while at the office. This includes working through lunch because they cannot usually stay late or work in the evenings to make up for any lost time during the day. This makes even client lunches a challenge for a woman balancing the many demands on both her professional and personal life.
A trap that some women partners fall into is working diligently for another rainmaking partner who needs support for his clients but then failing to develop clients of her own. This can start when the bright, hard working younger woman joins a law firm and sees herself more in a support role than a leadership role. I see many young women lacking the confidence of their male peers to go after clients and become a leader in the firm early in their careers.
So if these are the hurdles – what are some solutions for women lawyers?
- Take female clients to women friendly events – whether it is the theatre or something you can do with your kids.
- Network with male clients in groups or with another colleague to remove the date awkwardness.
- Work with a business development coach to learn how to be more effective at client development.
- Learn the business of your client so you can talk to them about how you can help.
- If you have no free evening time for networking, then find other ways to reach potential new clients – pick up the phone, send articles, put on a client event during the day.
- Promote yourself within your current circles – at school events or on the soccer field. One successful women lawyer I know advertised in our school phone directory with a picture of her and her daughter so that parents would connect the names and realize that there was a lawyer they knew in our community.
- Join the ABA Women Rainmakers (open to non-ABA members) or purchase their book Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips. The third edition just came out and it includes 150 marketing tips for women.
- Their top tip is to ask for work. It sounds simple but women are often much more reluctant than men to ask people in their own network for work. My favourite tip amongst the 150 is never buy clothes that lack a pocket for your business cards! Too many women fail to pass out their cards because the cards are buried in their purse and take too long to locate.
Becoming a rainmaker is an essential skill that women must learn in order to become partners and leaders in law firms. It is this lack of business development and consequent lack of power in a law firm that more than anything else holds women back from becoming partners. As they say in the rainmaking books – “Law firms follow the Golden Rule. He (or she) who holds the gold makes the rules!”