By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
Last week, the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) and Flex-Time Lawyers honored the fifty best law firms for female lawyers. And while the competition was fierce, according to Deborah Epstein Henry, Founder and President, Flex-Time Lawyers and author of Law & Reorder, the legal profession still has a lot more work to do.
She said, “Our data has shown that the partnership structure has an impact on women’s success in terms of how senior they get in law firms. In firms with a one-tier structure – with just an equity partnership track – women were promoted at higher rates. The trend is moving away from the one-tier structure, and this is negatively impacting women.”
But it’s not all bad news, Henry continued. Firms are recognizing the value of flex and technology. “There is an increased recognition of the ability to work differently and use technology without negatively impacting the bottom line.”
Yet, she continued, while the policies are in place, the firm-wide culture may not fully support flex. “When you look at the usage rates, the proof is in the pudding about whether the policy is viable. A tremendous stigma still surrounds working flexibly or on a reduced hours schedule. The policies have to be gender neutral and reason-neutral, and not just about child-care.”
With a mixed environment for women in the legal profession, women need to be sure they are performing their best to get to the top, she said, and one way to do that is to bring in new clients. Henry continued, “Rainmaking is so important. It is your measure of how you will be compensated and how powerful you will be.”
Why Rainmaking is So Important
Henry said, “Without the ability to generate clients and build your book of business you will not be compensated as much, and you will not have the same influence. It provides you with the flexibility to walk away if you need to.”
She continued, “Part of the reason for that is the law firm structure and the way business is awarded and work is credited.” Because origination is not always clear, she said, “Women need to take the initiative. Women need to be effectively trained on how to self advocate and how to self-promote.”
According to Henry, women should get more comfortable in traditionally male venues where deals are made, but equally important, women should work on creating their own niches. While the demands of family responsibilities may make networking and marketing more challenging for women, she said, it should not deter women from seizing opportunities as they arise. “Be effective at maximizing your time and multitasking,” she said. “That means overcoming awkwardness in translating your personal network into professional opportunities and figuring out ways to gain access to power brokers.”
One way to do that, she explained, is “becoming a point person and using that to leverage access to networks of power.”
She recalled how, as a junior lawyer and coach of her son’s soccer team, she was approached by one of the team dads for a recommendation on a good lawyer. “I could have been upset that he didn’t see me for that role, but instead I recommended a colleague,” she said. “At the firm where I worked, as an associate, if you brought in a client, you got a percentage of the revenues. The soccer dad ended up hiring the firm, and I got credit for that origination.”
“Even though I did not have the seniority to bring in the client on my own, I was able to be the point person to direct that action and reap the benefit for it while helping the client obtain the services he needed.”
Five Rainmaking Tips from Top Clients
Last week, NAFE and Flex-Time Lawyers hosted a roundtable discussion on the topic, asking five high-profile general counsels, “How should lawyers build their book of business?” Here are their top five pieces of advice.
1. Know Your Firm’s Diversity Metrics. As companies around the world are growing more diverse, operating in new geographies, and identifying new sources for clients, diversity is becoming an even more important aspect of the process of awarding business. Randal S. Milch, Executive Vice President & General Counsel, said that his company has a stringent diversity policy internally, and while relationships account for a big part of why firms win his business, he is beginning to look more seriously at the diversity rankings of the firms on his list.
He has expressed this to his outside counsel, and he is beginning to “move work toward firms doing better than other firms.”
Terri Minatra, Acting Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary at National Public Radio, agreed. She said, “It’s a value of our company, part of our culture, and I want you as outside counsel to understand it’s important to me.”
2. Be Confident. Robin Smith, General Counsel and Secretary at LEGO Systems, Inc., said that confidence is key – women shouldn’t be afraid to make the ask. She said, “What I have noticed and heard is that some of the younger women are not confident enough to throw the pitch in at the end or they haven’t had the training.”
She explained how, when she was first starting out, she could “talk a good game,” and was taken to big meetings and encouraged to speak up. She had the social skills to rise to the top, she said. But women who are a bit more reserved should seek out training.
3. Be Strategic in Your References. Jeffrey Gewirtz, Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer, NETS Basketball and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, said, that making sure your references are in order is key to winning business. Do some research, and choose references that that make sense. “To me, the follow-up is the most important part. If I get a golden recommendation from someone I know, that’s important.”
4. Build on Your Natural Relationship Skills. Peter Fontaine, General Counsel, RSM McGladrey, Inc., said that in his experience, women tend to be more relationship oriented and client focused – which usually means they get things done. He joked, “While men are snoozing, women should be schmoozing and cruising.” Minatra agreed. “We’re very good at relationships,” she said. “I think women can build on that. Build relationships with people you want to be your client.” And she added, don’t let two or three years go by without speaking – make sure to maintain relationships you hope to leverage.
5. Make Sure to Pitch the Right Person. Finally, Milch pointed out, even though he’s the leader of his team, he’s rarely the one who evaluates pitches. “The best people who pitch Verizon really never talk to me,” he explained. He might give the O.K. in the end, but trusts his deputies to listen to the pitch and make the right decision. If you are pitching a company, do some research and make sure you’re talking to the right person.