August 2012 | Survival Guide for Young Lawyers: Taking Charge of Your Career
Meet the Women Rainmakers!
Retta A. Miller
Interviewed by Rachelle J. Canter
Name: Retta A. Miller
Retta is a trial lawyer who represents financial institutions in litigation and arbitration, with a primary focus on FINRA securities arbitrations. She has first-chaired over 30 trials and arbitrations that were tried to conclusion. She has handled litigation nationwide, from New Jersey to Seattle, California to Florida, and everywhere in between. Her clients describe her as responsive and efficient. She views her clients as partners, and her goal is to reach the best possible resolution for her clients.
Most successful/Favorite Rainmaking tip: The most successful tip for rainmaking is to remember that it’s all about relationships. I built my book of business on relationships and referrals that are based on relationships.
Biggest influence on career/best career advice: The best way to control your work and your career is to have your own book of business. This advice was shared with me by the biggest rainmaker in our firm when I was a baby lawyer.
Percentage of time devoted to marketing: Not enough! I try to spend some time every day, whether it’s sending someone a note, making a phone call, or planning a rainmaking approach – it probably adds up to 25 percent of my time being devoted to business development.
Proudest legal accomplishment: I was part of the three-person leadership of a trial team that won a case that was named one of the Top 10 Defense Verdicts by the National Law Journal. We represented a Japanese firm that was sued in San Antonio – and we won! Our level of preparation made a big difference as did our ability to make the jury feel sympathy for our client in a city that has a strong military presence. Even though our client representatives didn’t speak English, the jury commented after trial on how likable they were and how they thought it would be a good company to work for.
Knowing what you know now, if you were starting out as a lawyer today, what would you do differently? I would have spent a lot more time on business development a lot sooner. I spent the first five or six years of my career totally focused on billing hours, doing what I thought a good associate is supposed to do. Having learned from that, our firm is now encouraging our associates to begin business development in their first or second year and providing them with benchmarks to do so.
Tell me about one rainmaking strategy or tactic that you initially thought would work, but it failed. Why did it fail? Networking events – I am not good at speed dating. Because business development is all about building meaningful relationships, I don’t find networking meet and greets a helpful way to generate business; it just doesn’t work for me.
Tell me about one rainmaking strategy or tactic that you initially thought would fail, but it was a great success. Why was it successful? I became involved in a women’s organization sponsored by our regional chamber of commerce. When I went to the first meeting and realized that at least a third of the women in the group were lawyers, I thought it might be a dead end. But I stayed with it and really concentrated on getting to know the women involved. Now, 15 years later, I have a group of amazing clients that I met through that organization. Once I worked with a few of the women as clients, they became my biggest cheerleaders with the other members of the organization. And, best of all, they are some of my closest friends as well.
What has been your greatest frustration about trying to get new business or new clients? The time-management issues. As a senior trial lawyer, I try cases, and as section head and a member of the firm’s management committee, I have many administrative responsibilities. You have to carve out time to develop business and you have to be strategic in what you do; there is no time for the “shotgun” approach.
If you were mentoring a young woman lawyer, what advice would you give her regarding rainmaking? Make business development a habit, something you do each and every day. Focus on your existing relationships first, because that’s the best source of business, and then build on that.
Would you say you ever had a mentor that made a genuine difference in how your career turned out? If yes, please describe. From a business development perspective, it’s Sara Holtz. As a young partner looking to build my business, I received a mailing from Sara regarding her Roundtable program and convinced the firm to let me participate. First I went through an intensive two-year training program, then annual refreshers, individual coaching, and some team coaching, so I’ve sampled the full array of Sara’s programs. Both through the program and individually, I’ve worked with Sara many times, and she has been a tremendous help with my business development.
Think about when you started out as a lawyer. Now think about the new female lawyers just starting out. What is different now compared to when you started? The sheer number of women practicing law is so much greater. When I started, there was one woman partner ahead of me in the trial section at my firm; most judges, clients, and opposing counsel were also men. Now there are many women judges, clients, and lawyers. There are also many women in senior management at law firms, including mine. Our firm has a strong women’s initiative, JW2, and excellent programs to support young women coming up, including alternative work schedules that allow women with children not only to remain on track but even to make partner while working part time. In short, there are many more opportunities for women to become successful now.
List words that best describe you: Determined, focused, caring, mentoring, detail-oriented, procrastinating.
Anything else? I would encourage all women to take control of their careers through developing business. You will be so much happier when the clients you serve are your own.