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In honor of the ABA Women Rainmakers’ 20th anniversary celebration this year, Law Practice has invited the group’s current chair, Jamie Spannhake, and its cofounder, Marty Africa, to develop a collection of writings for 2010 highlighting the experiences of successful women rainmakers. To kick things off, Marty Africa spoke recently with past and present ABA Women Rainmakers leaders about their experiences with the organization, and asked them to share some of their best marketing and networking tips. Watch for her article in an upcoming issue of the Law Practice Today webzine devoted to ABA Women Rainmakers. In the meantime, here are some highlights from the article.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the ABA Women Rainmakers, the organization within the Law Practice Management Section that focuses on providing women with the marketing, client development and networking tools to succeed in the legal profession. One of the leaders of the ABA Women Rainmakers is Vedia Jones-Richardson, a principal in Olive & Olive P.A. and a longtime member and Past Chair of the LPM Section, who took an entrepreneurial and interestingly untraditional path to achieve her success in the field of intellectual property law. She also used her entrepreneurial knack to create the ABA Women Rainmakers’ first Mid-Career Workshop, a three-day event that now occurs biannually, with its next appearance this October 22-24 in Washington, D.C. Here is her story.
The Winding Journey from Law School to Law Firm
Jones-Richardson did not plan to be a lawyer. She received a B.F.A. from Howard University School of Fine Arts with an emphasis in design and communications and focused on business involvement instead. She wound up in law school as a “fluke,” she says, when she was trying to decide what to do post-graduation and found that most of her friends were going to law school. She decided to go too, and was off to Georgetown University Law School. Even then, she focused on developing the business law skills to support whatever venture she ultimately decided to pursue after law school.
Fate may have steered her course when, during her third year of law school, she took a job in the general counsel’s office of an ABC television station in D.C. She continued with the company post-law school, working not as a lawyer, but in the newsroom, public affairs, and audience development helping the sales force and art department frame the station’s story in order to sell air time. In the years that followed, she worked in communications roles for other companies, too, including a syndicated TV program, The Learning Channel and an advertising agency.
The skills she developed in those positions helped her land a job as a lawyer with a company in Chicago in the 1980s. The company, which produced consumer products and a TV show, wanted a lawyer who could speak business and marketing language.
By the early 1990s, when Jones-Richardson and her husband decided to move to North Carolina, she had learned a lot of intellectual property law and had developed an interest in computer technology and computer law. So, she turned to consulting with several companies on such projects as helping legal departments transition to computerization, designing in-house and commercial computer products, and developing some of the first Windows-based programs and lawyer-friendly user manuals.
She finally entered private law firm practice in 1992, focusing, of course, on IP and computer law. After several years at a business law firm, she joined Olive & Olive, a six-lawyer IP boutique that she was drawn to for multiple reasons. First, she was excited that the firm has an entrepreneurial spirit embodied most apparently in its founder, who was the first patent attorney to start an IP firm in the state. Also, the prospect of working with a group of lawyers all focused on IP was appealing because she knew she could learn and grow with them.
She ultimately became a principal, handling trademark, copyright and licensing matters for a broad range of intellectual property owners, from small and midsize businesses to technology developers, inventors, artists, authors and performers. Her nontraditional professional development path mixing the arts, communications and the law found the ideal fit.
Developing Rainmaking Skills—and a Biannual Workshop, Too
Asked how she has developed her rainmaking skills, Jones-Richardson focuses on her entrepreneurial orientation and marketing background, stating that she’s always trying to figure out what clients need and what she has to offer them. She also focuses on trying to find work that she truly enjoys, a quest she believes has been important in her success.
A significant part of her rainmaking education came when she joined the LPM Section in the early 1990s, drawn in part by the Section’s focus on technology but also because it’s the home of the ABA Women Rainmakers. She was excited by the group’s philosophy that if women lawyers learn to bring in more business, then they will have the power to effect change and benefits for themselves and other women.
In the course of helping to plan various ABA Women Rainmakers programs, she observed that sometimes the programs left attendees hungry for more information. Thinking entrepreneurially, she saw an opportunity to create a new kind of program—one large structured outreach program, to be held on a regular basis, that like-minded women could attend for continued support in the areas of rainmaking, business development and relationship building.
When she became LPM Chair-Elect in 2006, she teamed up with other LPM and ABA Women Rainmakers leaders to make it happen. Thus, the ABA Women Rainmakers Mid-Career Workshop was born, with the first event held in Puerto Rico in 2007.
Why the term “Mid-Career Workshop”? While noting that it may mean different things to different women, Jones-Richardson says she thinks of a mid-career woman as someone who has a sense of herself, her strengths and weaknesses, and what she wants to improve, someone who comes to the workshop “with her own agenda based on experience and self-knowledge of what needs to be developed.” Nevertheless, women who are not quite “there” can still benefit from the workshop—in fact, she says, anyone who has done a few things and learned a few skills can be ready to improve further.
Jones-Richardson’s idea for the workshop was to provide a venue small enough for attendees to develop personal relationships with each other, and to ensure an intimate level of interaction in all the programs. “We wanted it to be interactive so attendees could apply what they learned,” she says. The format is also designed to give attendees the opportunity to gather and share notes in an extended program providing the “opportunity to build networking skills with others who are willing to follow up and hold a series of conversations that lead to real business development.”
Summing it up, she says this: “To me, doing this workshop has been like coming up with a business idea; that’s the beauty of LPM. It allows you to run with an idea. If you can launch it and make it viable, LPM will support you. This is what women in law practice seem to need as a business development tool, and developing programming that will serve that need, providing that knowledge and experience, has been a pleasure.”
Jamie J. Spannhake is the 2010-11 Chair of the ABA Women Rainmakers.