It is possible, and imperative, that lawyers are a little bit of everything.
When I was a second-year lawyer, I interviewed at a firm, and the “elder statesman” of the firm told me that I could not be a good litigator and a good mother, so I was going to have to choose. Which was I going to be: “a good lawyer or a good mother”? I was so taken aback by the question—I can hear it just like it was yesterday, and it was 15 years ago—but as a result of being so shocked, I cannot recall my response.
Later in my career, just before starting my own firm, I was invited to interview at a small firm with a big reputation. One of the name partners asked me how I expected to develop business because in his experience women were not very good rainmakers. To me, this was a 35-year-old point of view, not based upon any analysis or consideration of the current legal community. But at this interview I was more prepared, and I explained why I would be able to bring in additional business and add value to the firm.
I sometimes think back and consider how inappropriate and insensitive these comments were. I know the lawyers and still see them in the community. I am sure they firmly believe that you can’t be a good lawyer, mother, wife and woman. But I’m glad my clients, family and community believe differently.
When reflecting on the role of women in today’s legal community, it often reminds me of the multiple roles of attorneys within a firm. Every firm needs a wide variety of lawyers to make it whole, and the same person can serve in these roles, but oftentimes different lawyers do different things. Some would therefore ask, “So who is the most valuable?” The answer is: Every lawyer is valuable because each brings a vital skill to the table. A good firm is a chicken salad, not a tossed salad.
A tossed salad is one where the parts are still visible and separate, but when you take a bite, the explosion of different tastes makes the salad especially delicious. A chicken salad, on the other hand, is a blend of ingredients that has a single flavor. Law firms need rainmakers, managers, researchers, litigators and drafters. Only by having all the flavors is the law firm complete.
Rainmakers are the cornerstone of a firm. Without them, there would be no clients. Thus, many firms value rainmakers, sometimes to the detriment of the whole. No doubt rainmakers are important, and not least when they are “dealing with” clients. They deliver the bad news when necessary, are involved in discussing options and hold clients’ hands. But bringing clients into the firm is only the first step. After that, the work needs to be distributed, and this is where the manager comes in.
A firm manager maintains the workflow within the firm. He or she assigns the projects and makes sure they get done and returned to the client or filed with the court. The manager also handles the people in the firm—and the problems with the people. He or she is a combination of task manager, psychologist, problem solver, detail thinker and excellent communicator. A firm’s manager is indispensable.
After distributing a project, the first step is to research it. A lawyer that excels in research is where the manager turns. A large part of what the client is paying for is to get the right answers to their questions. The only way to determine the applicable law and how it has been interpreted is to research. Lawyers who are great researchers are rare, and firms shouldn’t take them for granted. Without accurate research, a firm cannot give proper legal advice.
After the research, the litigator’s work begins. A litigator can also be an able researcher, but sometimes it takes two different people to do these two distinct jobs. Some designate the litigator as the style that goes along with the researcher’s substance. Imagine reading a paragraph from a legal treatise—pretty boring, especially to laypeople. A great litigator brings dry or complex legal concepts to life. Not only does he or she explain the law—a great litigator is a persuader, a salesperson who knows how to close the deal. An accomplished litigator presents his or her version of the facts and law and leaves you saying, “Yes, I agree.”
Researchers and litigators need to be backed up by good drafters. Drafters are detail people. Drafters handle real estate closing documents, briefs and memos of law, contracts, settlement agreements and corporate transactional paperwork. Rainmakers may be the cornerstone, managers the brains, researchers the heavy lifters, and litigators the swag, but practiced drafters are the backbone of a firm. Without good drafters, the work of the firm is meaningless and essentially a house of cards that can be blown over by a fierce wind.
All of these roles of law firm members can overlap. Good litigators should be able to draft binding contracts because they understand where the potential for litigation exists. Litigators often make good rainmakers as well, because they have a certain cachet and practiced sales skills that can be directed toward potential clients or judges and juries. High-quality managers share many of the same skills as good researchers and drafters because the devil is in the details. First-rate rainmakers also share skills with good managers because they are responsible for keeping clients satisfied and maintaining positive relationships with the firm. Given the right personality, a good researcher can be an excellent litigator because he or she may have such a good handle on the state of the law.
In a large law firm, the firm must understand, appreciate and compensate the contribution made by every attorney because it cannot be successful without each component. Just like the conundrum of the woman lawyer—whether to be a good lawyer or a good mother and wife—the modern-day firm must do (and be) it all. In solo and small-firm practices, these archetypical lawyer functions often fall on the same person, but that does not mean that solos or small firms are chicken salad. In fact, solo and small firm lawyers usually excel at wearing many different hats because no one else is there to do the job. Every day in communities all over the world, lawyers repeatedly prove that it is possible to be a little bit of everything.