What’s Working for a Small Women-Owned Firm
Business development at small firms poses many challenges different from those faced by women lawyers at larger firms.
Since 2006, we have been a certified majority women-owned firm and now have 27 lawyers in New York and Chicago. The firm, however, was founded in 1969, when two male senior associates left a large New York law firm to start their own practice. The firm was comprised of five male partners in 1978 when I joined it as its first associate. Another first-year woman associate—now a real estate partner—followed a few months later.
From the point of our arrival at the firm some 30 years ago, the partners ensured that the firm’s women lawyers could develop professionally as skilled lawyers. They placed us in the position to develop relationships of trust with existing clients, and to develop as leaders of local, state and national bar associations. As we progressed in all of these areas, the male partners continued to encourage us to develop new client relationships. They provided the access and support, both moral and financial, to do so. This led directly to the success of the women lawyers in the firm, and that, in turn, allowed the women to achieve majority ownership status.
The key components of that original strategy are the keys to successful business development by women at small firms today. This is a different strategy than that which pervaded big firm practice in the 1980s and 1990s. But it was, and remains, a successful one for women at small law firms.
Here’s a rundown of the necessary components:
Women instinctively are excellent communicators and inherently responsive, two keys to success in business development. Promoting oneself and the women in your firm professionally—nationally, statewide and locally—and facilitating access to clients and potential clients provides the visibility and exposure that are needed to achieve rainmaking success.
Beth L. Kaufman is a partner with Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman, LLP, in New York City. She concentrates in the defense of complex litigation and chairs the firm’s Product Liability and Mass Torts practice.