I spent a number of hours this week speaking with women lawyers of various ages and stages in their careers—senior associates, newly minted counsel and income partners, and highly experienced, long-term income and equity partners. And the verdict was unanimous—all are deeply frustrated by the continuing lack of progress of women in the legal profession.
More than thirty years after women began making up roughly half of all law school graduates, women still earn significantly less than their male counterparts and still hold a shockingly limited number of equity partnerships and positions of power in law firms. Just “Google” the most recent NAWL survey to get the specifics if you need them, but, if you are working in the law, you do not need a survey to know that something is not quite right. To be fair, this sad state of affairs is not limited to the law; however, there is no doubt that the legal profession lags behind corporate America in creating opportunities for women to advance.
So what can be done to move the profession forward? Women complaining and citing the dismal statistics clearly has not worked, and has, in fact, been largely counterproductive. The time for casting blame, or wishing and hoping that things will improve simply because they “should,” is long past. Women need to take action, take control of their own careers and, in a purposeful way, seek out and engage others, particularly men in power, as “allies” to help them.
As a noun, the term “ally” is defined as “one with whom you associate for a common purpose or cause” or “an associate in a common activity.” Relevant synonyms include: partner, helper, collaborator, confederate and co-worker. In theory at least, men and women who work together in law firms are, by definition, allies. However, it appears that all too often men and women simply do not see each other as such.
What can women do to be recognized by men as desirable allies? Women can learn to step outside their comfort zones and actively promote their capabilities and accomplishments in ways that are both authentic and effective. They can learn to ask for what they want in clear and direct ways and advocate for themselves in the same way they advocate for their clients. Women can make explicit that their careers are as important to them as they are to their male counterparts. Finally, women can make clear that they recognize and are fully prepared to work together with men to achieve common goals: to develop new business, and to meet the needs of new and existing clients and thereby advance the firm’s interests. In this way women will advance not only their own careers, but also the careers of the men with whom they collaborate.
What can men do to become better allies to women? Men can learn to recognize and be aware of how and when gender bias may be at work in the choices they make every day, both big and small, from whom they invite to lunch or to take with them on a pitch to whom to assign a new, high profile matter. They can learn to act as mentors and, more importantly, as sponsors or champions for women, actively advocating for their promotion to partner and other important positions in leadership. Finally, men can accept and acknowledge the growing body of research that indicates that the most successful organizations are those that have a significant percentage (30% or greater) of women in senior leadership positions and, therefore, the ultimate long-term success of their firms depends upon them taking action to promote women to positions of power and authority.
What can law firms do to help promote and facilitate men and women working together as allies? Some systemic changes likely to help this process include:
When men and women, with the help and support of the firms in which they work, come to recognize their common purpose, they cannot help but conclude that they are natural allies who, by working together, will ultimately do better and accomplish more, both individually and collectively for the benefit of their firms, than they ever could have on their own.
This is the time of year when partner meetings, conferences and client events abound! Many of you question whether going to these events is a good use of your time. You review past attendance and think: “That occasion was fun but I didn’t get anything from going.” For future events you can increase the return on investment (ROI) of your time by taking the following steps:
Events are valuable when you think of them as ways to begin and/or deepen relationships. This value has the greatest chance of being realized when strategizing occurs in advance of the event, spending most of your time there engaging in conversation that focuses on the needs and activities of others, and following up, via e-mail and/or meetings, to continue the discussion that was begun at the gathering. Spring is a great time for relating—get out of the office and learn about how you can attend to the needs and opportunities of those you meet.
Ask lawyers about their biggest challenge in becoming a rainmaker and they will reply, “Time!” Believing that their highest priority is serving the needs of current clients and partners above them on the pecking order, most lawyers select to engage in activities that require the most immediate attention and that quiet the demands of others. They often forego attending to productive actions that, over time, could deepen their connection with potential clients, an important step in becoming a rainmaker. Consider adopting the following very effective and time efficient actions to build your book of business in a sustained, systematic manner:
1. When you are busy working on a deal or a litigation, take 60 seconds to ask a client how he/she is…..and carefully listen to the answer. Forging a personal connection with a client broadens the relationship, plants seeds for future conversation when the legal work is concluded and increases the likelihood that new work (and introductions to other potential clients) will come in the future.
2. Spend 5 minutes a day on LinkedIn. Read current profiles of individuals you have not thought about in a while to see where they are working and what activities occupy their time. Send an e-mail to one individual whose profile references a current personal or professional interest you share and tell that person about your desire to “hear more.” Offer to get together for a drink or lunch or, if they don’t reside in the area, a “virtual cup of coffee” (send a coffee gift card in the mail and enjoy a coffee break together over the phone).
3. Allocate 10 minutes to speak with a lawyer in your office about how you can expand work with one of his/her clients by lending your expertise. First, a “don’t”: Don’t stop in your colleague’s office and say, “I see you are working with ABC. If they need a labor and employment lawyer, let me know.” This gesture is too vague and does not underscore the specific value that you can offer. Instead, take a moment to research what the client might need. For example, your partner is intellectual property attorney working with a retail client on a piece of litigation concerning a trademark infringement. The client has a large number of hourly employees. You are knowledgeable about new laws guiding employee manuals. Stop in the partner’s office and say, “I have some ideas about ways I could help you expand your work with ABC. There are some new regulations about language that must be included in employee manuals that will significantly impact the way they hire and fire. Would this information help you?”
Every contact you make with an individual inside your firm, a member of your personal/professional network, a past or current client or a company/individual in your industry area of expertise can move a relationship forward and drive you toward more business. Actions can be small and not time consuming. Be personable; say something interesting or relevant to the person you are contacting, and move on to the next task in your day. One minute rainmaking is all it takes to sustain and deepen connections.
Leading ourselves and others in our practices isn’t always easy. Maintaining our focus and balance is critical—and entirely up to us as leaders.
Here’s what we know:
Here’s what we often forget:
My former partner used to say to clients, “all we can offer you is our time.” But in reality, all we can offer to clients (and to our colleagues) is our undivided, focused attention. Time is not enough; quality attention is what’s required to be truly effective.
One term for this type of focus is mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leading writers and researchers on mindfulness, defines it in this way: “Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” To me, that means staying focused and centered, free of distraction, and responding appropriately to what’s happening without reacting. This sounds easy but often it’s not.
So what does this look like in the practice of leadership in law firms? The following are some practical suggestions each of us can to maintain focus in the midst of increasing demands:
1. Leave enough “white space” in your calendar. Take time to transition between meetings and phone calls. If you are scheduling meetings/calls, allow attendees time to get to their next meeting (if at all possible). Allow time for the predictable informal conversation after the meeting or call. As a leader, demonstrate what you know about how meetings work and help attendees be successful by not rushing them.
2. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. This is not an optional, “feel good” suggestion. It’s an all-too-real recognition that being out of balance physically (e.g., exhausted, in pain, over-caffeinated, etc.) or emotionally (e.g., overwhelmed, depressed, saddled with unresolved stress, etc.) can interfere with our mental acuity and focus, and accordingly our ability to serve our clients best.
3. Pay attention to “team hygiene.” For example, if your committee is unclear about what it is expected to produce, get clarity as soon as possible. Confront problems as early as practicable. Is there a nagging, unresolved, “elephant in the room” issue that needs to be discussed? If so, have the courage to put it on the table. Confronting problems directly (even if they can’t be entirely resolved at that time) shows courage and leadership, and frees energy for more productive conversation. It also builds trust, because people trust you more if they know you’re willing to say what needs to be said.
All of these challenges can inhibit our individual and organizational effectiveness. So I encourage you to stay focused and balanced to help manage the demands of your practice.
I welcome your comments.
Time, relationships, and knowledge are a lawyer’s three most precious resources— without them, few lawyers can succeed. Wasting one or more of the three resources is a recipe for underperformance. Lawyers’ education (both law school and CLE) has traditionally emphasized the acquisition of legal knowledge, with little attention given to the other two resources. As a result, many lawyers struggle with business development and practice management.
A few attorneys are fortunate enough to have mentors or firm-wide development programs, and others may have mastered these skills before beginning their legal career, but most lawyers must learn for themselves how to develop relationships and manage their time. Many lawyers ignore relationship building altogether and only focus on their immediate projects and cases, which is often all that is asked of them in their first years of practice as they deepen their knowledge of the law. Although they may also learn how to manage their time, few learn the strategic importance of investing it in relationship building, business development, and practice management. Knowledge and skills in these three areas are often absent or poor.
As a lawyer’s practice grows and matures, available time becomes increasingly scarce. Many lawyers can talk at length about the difficulties they face in finding the time for marketing activities and the reasons why those activities repeatedly get put on the back burner. Part of the problem is that they think about “finding” time rather than “making” it. Business development activities should not be thought of as something to fill in the white spaces of a lawyer’s calendar. Lawyers should instead schedule time each week exclusively dedicated to business development activities.
Making time is one-half of the challenge of business development; learning how to make the best use of that time is the other. Poorly designed business development plans are difficult to follow and inefficient. Well-designed plans save lawyers time and energy by being systematic, actionable, and strategic.
Systematic plans create a sense of discipline and order that make it easier for lawyers to market. Templates and processes are established so time is not wasted trying to reinvent the wheel or figure out what should be done first and what should be done next. Information on clients, industries, and trends is acquired, organized, and stored for quick and easy access. Savvy lawyers often use a client relationship management system (CRM) to support their marketing efforts. Some firms create their own CRMs, while others use commercially available products that reside on their computers or in the Cloud. The more sophisticated CRMs let lawyers make notes, calendar future reminders, track their progress with a specific contact, and coordinate their efforts with others. Although CRMs require an initial investment of time and money, they usually end up saving both over the long run.
Actionable plans are realistic. The most elegant business plan is of little value if it is so complicated or expensive that it can’t be executed. Sometimes law firms waste time and money crafting plans that are too ambitious and impractical. As Winston Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
Strategic plans keep lawyers from taking a shotgun approach to marketing where everyone and anyone seem to be a possible contact or prospective client. By helping lawyers focus on specific industries and legal niches, strategic plans allow lawyers to tailor their marketing message and value proposition to a select audience. The precious resource of lawyers’ time is invested where it will potentially yield the greatest returns.
Business development plans that are both strategic and systematic rely on data, and that is where a problem often arises. Lawyers need to know about trends in their practice area and industry, and what is being said about their clients, prospective clients, and competitors. With this knowledge, they can identify client opportunities and quickly respond to emerging challenges and threats. This competitive knowledge can also be used to benchmark a firm’s efforts against what other firms are doing. To be an effective marketer, lawyers must be well informed. Sending a prospective client a timely and information-filled article of great relevance is far more effective than the slew of generic emails that clients often receive.
The good news is that the internet is an incredible source of competitive intelligence; the bad news is that it can be hard to sift through all the data to find that which is truly useful. Good business plans can grind to a halt when lawyers are overwhelmed by data. Many lawyers read trade and legal journals (either print or online) to keep abreast of recent developments in their practice area and industry. More technologically savvy lawyers may use search features like Google Alerts to track the latest news about clients, prospective clients, and their own firm. Regardless of which method they use, they face the challenge of finding useful information without spending an undue amount of time. The sheer volume of available information makes it all the more difficult to discover relevant competitive information.
Emerging technologies now offer lawyers a way out of this conundrum. Subscription internet services such as Manzama [manzama.com] let lawyers create profiles at the firm, practice group, and personal level that specify the kind of information they need. Manzama will “listen” for this information from a truly amazing range of sources and then forward it to lawyers though daily or weekly emails, RSS feeds, detailed customized reports, or the hands-on use of the online Manzama platform.
Using a service like Manzama means that lawyers and staff do not have to dedicate huge amounts of time to monotonous searching. Since it’s being performed for them, they have more available time to execute their business development plans. With the information acquired from Manzama, they can respond much faster to client needs, competitive concerns, and substantive legal issues that are important to their practice.
By filtering through a veritable ocean of data, Manzama saves attorneys time and provides them with the knowledge they need to stay afloat and build and sustain client relationships.