Best Practices Of Personal Marketing For Women Attorneys
10 Lessons To Learn From Respected
And Accomplished Women Rainmakers
Co-Author: Best Practices In Building Your Professional Network For Attorneys
Last week, I saw a headline in the New York Times that highlighted the fact that only 17 percent of partners at major law firms nationwide were women in 2005. I guess that I was a bit surprised by how low this number was.
So I decided to pick up a superb new, book over this past weekend, entitled: Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women's Success in the Law. It describes the institutional impediments to the retention and advancement of women in the legal profession. The author is Lauren Stiller Rikleen, a partner in the Framingham, Mass., office of the Worcester, Mass., firm of Bowditch & Dewey
Ms. Rikleen was appointed in 2005 by the President of the ABA to serve on the 12 member, ABA Commission On Women In The Profession.
On the basis of our training work as well as this recent reading and reflection, here are the conclusions that we can certainly draw:
1) Regardless of gender, marketing; selling and relationship management are vital professional skills for ALL attorneys to embrace for greater career success and satisfaction
As Ms. Rikleen puts it, The Sun Always Shines On Those Who Make Rain (whether a man or a woman). In fact, many of the problems highlighted in Ms Rikleen's book cut across gender lines. But, the basic answer is the same for everybody: excelling at business development puts you in control of your own success. By building these skills, you can attract the kind of clients that you want to work with; do the type of work you enjoy and take the action needed to build your reputation. If you land new clients and serve the full range of client needs then there is no question that you are creating value for the client and firm. Firms respect and reward these results and if they don’t, you can easily find a firm that does.
2) But, there is no question that women attorneys do clearly face some unique and daunting challenges (Ms. Rikleen's book contains a thorough analysis, review of implications and recommendations for change)
Over the history of the profession, for a host of cultural and demographic reasons, fewer women have either reached the pinnacle in the ranks of practicing attorneys or leadership roles in firm. Therefore, today there are fewer mentors and role models available to coach, develop and support current women attorneys. Also, it is no secret that the past male-dominated culture and performance measures have led many women to seek alternative career paths and opportunities. The book further relates the alienating perception among women that business development has long relied on the "old-boy" network and rewarded overt self promotion.
From our training work, I can certainly attest to the fact that women we work with describe a set of common challenges such as a) the time demands of business development, b) need to balance life/work demands, c) discomfort with being perceived as pushy, unseemly or overtly promotional, as well as d) not liking to "compromise" personal or socially based relationships for business development purposes
3) On the other hand, women attorneys are increasingly benefiting from market, client and personal advantages that they can capitalize upon. It is up to you (not your firm) to find and seize these opportunities. So, think and act like an entrepreneur.
The good news (for everybody) is that the times are changing. The market (both client and labor) is becoming increasingly diverse. Many major clients (e.g. Wal-Mart) value diversity and seek out diverse attorneys as a matter of policy. More women are buyers of legal services -- since a high and growing percentage of both general counsels and senior executives are women. And more women than men (11X) are starting their own businesses. In addition to these market forces, as more and more women enter and stay in the profession, firms are hopefully looking for ways to recruit and retain the best women attorneys. But, the bottom line is that both clients and firms reward results. Regardless of gender and pedigree, if you deliver business results for clients, you will earn your client's ongoing business, loyalty and referrals. And, if you make rain, law firms will reward you. So, for women attorneys, as Ms Rikleen advocates, perhaps the best thing you can do is to build the skills and entrepreneurial mindset you need to grow your practice.
10 Best Practices In Personal Marketing Suggested By Women Rainmakers
At SAGE PDI, we have been fortunate to train, coach and consult with many accomplished and respected women rainmakers (both in law and other professions).
So, in the rest of this newsletter, we will give you their advice and counsel. While the lessons learned apply to all attorneys, these best practices are especially applicable for women attorneys.
1) Create your own personal board of directors:
This idea was suggested by Jan Anne Dubin, Director of Client Relations at DLA Piper Rudnick, Gray, Cary at our last associate Web seminar. She suggested that women attorneys assemble an elite cadre of personal advisors to counsel them on building their practice. The team can include senior women (and men) who are colleagues, clients, professional allies and rainmakers in other professions. The prime benefit is leveraging their ongoing wisdom and practical advice based on their own experience and success. But their role and value includes support, fellowship, skill development and accountability.
2) Market and sell as a team with trusted colleagues
Regina A. McConahay, Director, Global Marketing & Communication of Interlaw Ltd. provided this suggestion from the Women Lawyers of Interlaw group. By teaming up with a colleague, women can reduce the time commitment they face in marketing, combine their collective networks and blend talents/interests. It also helps to remove any discomfort with meeting a client or prospect on an individual basis. As a final added benefit, both research and experience shows that team selling improves the personal chemistry, depth of diagnostic interviewing and ease of follow up. All of these factors combine to maximize your chances of success.
3) Put the client, their trauma and business results front and center in all business development
Marketing and selling is not based on telling people how great you are and convincing them to hire you. Instead, you put the entire focus on the client, their business trauma, the solution you offer and results they achieve. Your value to the client is not based on your resume, firm, gender or standing. This is the exact approach that Robin S. Lazarow of Mirick O'Connell, one of our 2005 associate marketing all star uses. She has become a prominent, celebrated expert in employment law as an associate in record time. By speaking to business groups and human resource directors, she focuses on the exposures and risks that their business faces based on recent or impending developments in employment legislation and court cases. Because she speaks on the potential points of business pain they might be facing, clients view here as an expert problem solver and business advisor who just happens to be a women and associate. Learn more about Becoming An Associate Marketing All Star (Web seminar recorded on CD)
4) Pick the right niche and focus ALL of your business development on serving these clients:
There are two lessons to be learned here. First, don't waste time doing any form of marketing that isn't completely focused on landing your ideal clients. For example, don't go to general networking events with few potential clients or bar association meetings with only other attorneys attending. Next, pick a niche where you like the clients and work -- and where your expertise and client track record (and you) will be relevant and respected. Jennifer Zimmerman, an associate with Rhoads & Sinon (and another one of our associate marketing all stars in 2006) is a great example of doing this right. She targeted high powered women who were leaving senior positions in the corporate or professional world to start their own business. She created a team of colleagues with the needed corporate, tax and estate planning expertise combined with 2 professional allies from a financial consulting firm (all women and all skilled marketers with an entrepreneurial mindset).Together, they created a series of programs on starting and growing a business aimed at these senior women.
5) See the marketing and selling possibilities in EVERYTHING you do already:
Linda Rikleen's work confirms that women attorneys face acute pressures in balancing work and rest of life demands. So, you need to see and seize the marketing possibilities in client work, participating in organizations and even social activities. Find a comfortable way to let people know what you do and the clients you serve. But, most important, have an antennae for opportunity in all aspects of your work with clients. Be attuned to any "trauma" that you hear or see when working with them. Suggest how you can serve to alleviate the problem. Realize that clients want you to bring them ideas and be proactive in letting them know how you can serve their needs. (Note: Come hear Linda Rikleen speak at our next Associate Web Seminar: Best Practices Of Personal Marketing For Women Attorneys)
Also, be relentless about making time for marketing. Set a daily minimum requirement of 2-3 business development actions (no matter what). Use your downtime for marketing and selling (e.g. send an e-mail to your contacts from your Blackberry when waiting for a meeting to start or call people from your cell when you are commuting). Use your breakfasts and lunches to market and sell.
6) Set "give up" goals
To find the time to balance work and life, as well as to do more business development, you have to prune away other work and professional activities. Simply put, if you want to do more business development, do less of something else. Realize that the choices may not be easy. For example, Robin Lazarow had to forego being involved with a charitable organization in order to accept a prominent role on the board of her regional Chamber of Commerce. But, business development possibilities and exposure to top notch potential clients and business influencers made the Chamber a higher and better use of her time. So, she recruited her replacement for the charitable group and invested her time in the Chamber.
7) Apply an empathetic and listening mindset when selling:
Allan Boress is a renowned business development trainer and coach of women in the professions. He teaches that professionals should "sell" by acting like a business doctor. Like a doctor, use your time in front of a prospective client to conduct diagnostic interviews, relate to the client's distress and listen your way to selling work. "Based on working with thousands of professionals at top firms over the years, I believe that many women are just naturally better at listening, empathizing with clients and asking insightful questions. When they harness these strengths, their selling performance goes way up. I found that the best women rainmakers are the best client diagnosticians, listeners and relationship stewards". (Note: To learn more, download 2 free chapters from Allan's book, I Hate Selling. Go to http://www.sageselling.com/products3 and hit the PREVIEW button).
8) Set ground rules with clients and colleagues
Very few human beings can read minds today. So, Allan suggests that women attorneys can in a friendly and assertive way agree on ground rules and boundaries with clients and prospects. And further agree on options and alternative ways of getting things done. For example, if you don't want to go to an after-work dinner or cocktail meetings, then buy breakfast the next day instead. Be firm in your limits, state your rationale and offer flexible options.
9) Get your firm to squarely support your personal initiatives
Give your firm a personal marketing thrust to invest in and support for YOU.. Don't wait for them to come to you or put in place a program for all women and associates. Create your own opportunities. This is what Jennifer Zimmerman did superbly. She approached her executive committee as if they were investing in a business venture. First, Jennifer worked with her mentor at the firm (who was a senior women partner there) to develop a plan, participate in the marketing program and sell it to the firm. They showed how they would attract high powered women starting their own business to programs co-sponsored by an allied financial planning firm. She also got the owner of the allied firm (a client of Rhoads & Sinon) to help sell the idea to the firm. As a result, she got the budget, time and promotional support she needed. And now colleagues are sending their own clients and contacts because of its stature in the women's business community. Learn more about Becoming An Associate Marketing All Star (Web seminar recorded on CD)
10) Get comfortable with asking your network to help you to grow your practice. Regina A. McConahay of Interlaw says that many of the women in their network have discussed their hesitancy to approach a casual, personal, or social relationship for conversion into business approach. They feel they are intruding or imposing on their relationship -- and crossing some boundary. Instead, remember that people like helping other people. Your posture can simply be to get to know the person better, understand any business trauma they may be facing and suggest a solution for them. You are not imposing, you are helping THEM.
The Sun Does Indeed Shine On Those Who Make Rain
In the same New York Times article I read, the writer profiled Haynes & Boone in Dallas. This 425-member firm has 38 female partners, about 25 percent of the firm's overall partnership base. It intends for that percentage to increase, adding that one thing that attracts a diverse group of lawyers to his firm is its compensation practices.
What is Haynes & Boone's big secret? They reward entrepreneurship. Lawyers at Haynes and Boone are rewarded for teamwork, not individual accomplishments. And compensation and career progression is also based on a number factors, including leadership, client service and business development activities, among which billable hours are just one component," says the Times.
My personal belief is that entrepreneurialism is the great equalizer. If you can attract clients, earn their loyalty & referrals, serve a broad range of their needs and make money doing it; then your position in the profession is assured and your life is more under your own control. If you don't land clients, keep them and sell work, your life will be more under the control of others and their whims.
The good news is that client service and business development are skills that you can learn and develop rather than solely a natural talent. So, regardless of gender, it is really up to you as an individual to improve these skills and reap the benefits. Whether you work at a big firm or a small one, be an entrepreneur and make your own way forward. By their very nature, entrepreneurs find ways around, over and through obstacles. But, stay motivated, be creative and press ahead. There is plenty of room for rainmakers at the top of the profession.