By Richard S. Rivitz
The Section's Goal IX Committee was formed to encourage and pro-mote opportunities within the ABA for women and minorities. At last year's annual meeting in San Diego, the committee and the ABA Commission on Minorities co-sponsored a CLE program called "Promote Yourself: Effective Marketing Tools for Lawyers." In the interest of sharing the valuable insights gleaned from the program, this column highlights that session. The panelists included Andra Greene of Newport Beach, Regina Petty of San Diego, Anthony Ching of Los Angeles, Harold Piazza of New York City and Michael Perez of San Diego. Phyllis Rubinstein of Richmond chaired the panel.
As a preliminary matter, all panelists agreed that first and foremost a woman or minority lawyer must be competent in his or her field. As a corollary to this, the panel suggested that women and minority lawyers should focus on treating their colleagues like clients to engender their colleagues' respect and help establish that the woman or minority lawyer is capable of doing the work and getting good results. Ms. Greene noted the importance of letting colleagues know about successes. Self-effacement is often not a successful strategy in these circumstances, even if it is a more comfortable personal style.
The panel turned to client development efforts outside of the firm. It is essential to rainmaking efforts to establish a reputation beyond the four walls of the law firm. Bar association activities can be an excellent promotion technique, but only if the fit feels right. Ms. Petty recommended engaging in bar activities only if they are an enjoyable part of a business development plan. Because these activities take a lot of time and referrals take years to develop, patience is essential. Sometimes a "thick skin and sense of humor" are helpful. Nevertheless, bar association activities ultimately can be very satisfying.
Ms. Rubinstein noted that the ABA is an all-inclusive association that provides a chance to brainstorm with lawyers (including clients) in a non-competitive setting. Peer competition is sometimes an impediment in local bar activities. ABA activities can produce rewarding contacts with national and international lawyers.
The panel also discussed diversity from the institutional client's perspective. Many institutions have in place programs that emphasize women and minority hiring. Of course, excellence and competency are a must. After that threshold is met, an institutional client may review the composition of a law firm for diversity. Mr. Piazza noted that his company, Teachers Insurance & Annuity Association, and other institutional clients focus on the form as well as the substance of minority diversity in selecting and retaining law firms, assuming that the requisite competency levels are present. He observed that, if all things are equal, the diversity issue could be a deciding factor. Diversity in background, practice, color and gender are all important. In presentations, firms do well to show realistically that they have and will use a diverse group of lawyers and other professionals in staffing matters.
Sometimes retaining and growing institutional clients require patience. Women or minority lawyers may be offered a smaller or less challenging piece of work to have the chance to prove themselves. The key is to do a superb job on every representation and be persistent, with the hope of eventually increasing the representation.
Mr. Ching explained that, in marketing to Pacific Rim clients, one must understand that Asia is not monolithic and that many different cultures exist. Just because a lawyer is culturally related to the client does not assure that the lawyer will be successful in attracting or retaining the business. Cultural networks are still important and, of course, the lawyer's skills must match the client's requirements. Thus, law firms that would like to be in a position to capitalize on international business should consider hiring well-connected minority lawyers with appropriate language skills who are part of the networks needed to get things done in different countries and with foreign clients.
ABA as an Outreach Center
The ABA has made diversity a priority; this commitment has helped make diversity in the ABA a reality. The ABA needs to continue in its efforts to make the profession and the ABA more hospitable to all lawyers, including women and minorities. This is necessary so that women and minority lawyers do not feel that they need to rely exclusively on specialized bar associations to achieve the satisfaction of being part of the "inner circle" of a chosen professional activity.
The panelists felt that the ABA could expand the inner circle by promoting women and minority lawyers in section activities. Substantive programs, publications and committee work are all excellent ways to become involved in the ABA. Minorities are especially under-represented in the real estate and probate and trust fields and the Section should continue its efforts in this regard. To expand the number of minorities in the Section and showcase their abilities, Mr. Ching suggested that affirmative efforts may be needed to seek out minority lawyers to participate in the Section's programs and publications.
As with all rainmaking efforts, patience and following through to demonstrate a long-term commitment are very important. With these efforts, the ABA can continue to open its doors in a meaningful way to women and minority lawyers.
Richard S. Rivitz is a partner with Kahn Kleinman Yanowitz & Arnson Co., L.P.A. in Cleveland, Ohio and co-chair of the Section's Goal IX Committee.
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