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March 21, 2014 Practice Points

Expert Advice on How to "Make It Rain" as a Female Attorney

By Susan E. Mulholland

According to a recent survey of the largest 200 law firms conducted by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), female lawyers still lag behind men in achieving equity partnership and in obtaining leadership positions generally. A significant number of these firms viewed women’s perceived lack of business development or rainmaking abilities as the primary reason for the disparity. More specifically, female attorneys at law firms face both institutional and personal obstacles in becoming rainmakers that their male counterparts do not. NAWL points out, for example, that on an institutional level, women do not get their fair share of credit for new business and are also less likely to inherit business from retiring partners/senior colleagues. On a personal level, women tend to focus more on billable hours and just getting their work done so they can get home to their families then developing business. As a result of these findings, experts on the topic, including NAWL President Deborah Froling and Karen Kahn, managing partner at Threshold Advisors, suggest five steps female attorneys can take to reach their full rainmaking potential.

Build Your Network Early As a young attorney, you should start developing contacts early in your career. While you may need a few years to hone your legal skills before you can focus on business development, keeping up with your contacts from college, law school, and beyond will help build a network that will provide potential business opportunities down the road. It is important to keep in mind that building relationships and developing a network is “not a race, but a marathon.”

Consider Your End Goal You should envision what an ideal career would look like for you, and then work backwards from that objective. For example, consider whether you seek a firm environment or would prefer to go in-house and/or whether you are interested in travel or want to be able to work from home. It is also important to identify your strengths, e.g., are you comfortable independently “working a room” or would rather network as a team. Ultimately, there is no one way to become a rainmaker but rather, you have to find the path that works best for you.

Find a Niche If you are able to develop an expertise in a particular practice area, you will be more successful in business development because you will likely build relationships with contacts you see on a regular basis and leverage their industry-specific knowledge. To that end, you should attend networking events where individuals from your chosen niche industry might be present. Additionally, you need to grow more comfortable with mixing business with pleasure. Friends and community acquaintances can be an incredible source of business and women often shy away from utilizing these personal relationships.

Get Out of the Office Women tend to want to focus getting their work done at the office so they can get home at the end of the workday and be with their spouses and children. However, to be a successful rainmaker, you have to be willing to get out of the office and give up some of your personal life to attend industry conferences and networking events as well as to socialize with and entertain your clients or prospective clients. The latter, however, comes with one caveat—always stay true to yourself. You should invite clients to events that you are genuinely interested in and comfortable doing, e.g., theater vs. a sporting event. If you attempt to fake it, your client will likely be aware and your efforts could backfire. In sum, marketing should be a priority and become part of your everyday routine like exercising or brushing your teeth.

Push for Changes at Your Firm While you need to take responsibility for your own business development efforts, there are changes that can be made on the institutional end to assist in these efforts. For example, firms should ensure there is a fair process in place for inheriting client work as partners retire (as aforementioned, men benefit from inherited business more than their female counterparts). The same is true for how firms distribute and recognize credit for business. Although many partners may work on a pitch together, firms often only allow one billing attorney to get credit. Under such circumstances, it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil—and that squeaky wheel is more often than not a male attorney. You can effectuate these changes by using your firm’s women’s initiative groups to analyze the firm’s own data on who is inheriting work and getting credit and brainstorming ideas on how to make the systems fairer. Firms should also understand that it is necessary to implement such policy changes to retain talent and stay competitive in their field.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, rainmaking, marketing, networking, female rainmakers

Susan E. Mulholland works at Bressler, Amery & Ross, P.C. in Florham Park, New Jersey

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