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December 2, 2009

Women to Women: Rainmaking Tips

A Panel of women rainmakers discussed “Generating Business … Different Styles, Different Approaches,” during the Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference in November.

A panel of women rainmakers discussed “Generating Business … Different Styles, Different Approaches,” during the Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference in November.

A recent survey of the top 200 law firms by the National Association of Women Lawyers found that 72 percent of respondents have no women among their top five rainmakers, and nearly half of respondents have no women in their top ten.

To help address the gender disparity, a panel of women rainmakers at “Generating Business … Different Styles, Different Approaches,” during the Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference last month, shared advice to help women lawyers develop business.

Panelist Julia Corelli of Pepper Hamilton LLP recommends that women first figure out where they are now, where they’d like to go and how to get there. Those answers should then be incorporated into a personal business development plan.

In creating a plan, lawyers should also observe what others are doing to be successful. “Be informed what your competitors do, but plan your own path to success,” Corelli said.  “You cannot just follow in another’s footsteps.”

Once created, that plan should be revisited often for retooling and for measuring progress.

Panelist Christine Baker of Realogy Corporation suggested that some lawyers may benefit from law firm initiatives that are specifically designed to help advance women lawyers. Reflecting on her work as a founding member of a women’s initiative at former employer Drinker Biddle, she said, “the office had monthly meetings with clients, potential clients and referral sources to share ideas, plan programs and meet the female staff and attorneys.”

Corelli agreed that women’s initiatives can help, but just participating in one is not, by itself, going to amount to much. Instead, active, thoughtful participation is key.

She said women’s initiatives will give insight into the habits of successful rainmakers, and participants should take that knowledge and figure out how they can apply it to their own professional lives, in their own way. “Client relationships are very personal and you have to dedicate yourself to making that connection,” she said.

Observing the rise of many women’s initiatives at law firms during the late-90’s when she was chair of the ABA Women Rainmakers, panelist Rachel Silverman of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP warned that these law firm initiatives are not created equally, and emphasized that the most successful ones are the programs with firm management committed to making them worthwhile for participants.

Outside of formal programs, women can also be resources to one another. Panelist Heather Jefferson of the Delaware Counsel Group LLP recommended never going alone to a client meeting.  Bringing a junior partner or associate along to a meeting can serve as a training opportunity on pitching and asking for work, she said.  “This is not something lawyers are taught at law school or will just pick up walking the halls of the firm. Before they ever need to make a pitch, bring them to the lunch so they can see and hear how you interact with the clients and how you make the ask for business.”

Such mentoring relationships can even help young lawyers learn the fine nuances of taking care of clients, such as never billing clients when taking them out to lunch.

Panelists urged lawyers to not shy away from opportunities to meet new clients and develop business, such as networking at conferences. At large firms, there may be cross selling opportunities, too. “Come prepared, know what you’re selling, and there may be an opportunity for you to meet additional client needs.  Make sure potential and current clients know what you are an expert in and what your firm can offer,” Jefferson said.

Besides developing clients, good rainmakers also know when to let certain clients go. Jefferson stressed that lawyers should not be afraid to fire clients who are taking too much time and not bringing in revenue.  Put resources where they bring the most value, she said.

The Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference was organized by the Section of Law Practice Management.

Learn More About:  Women and the Law / Gender Bias