Friday, October 30, 2009

Women as Rainmakers

Several recent articles have highlighted that women partners in law firms tend not to be in the top tier of firm rainmakers. We could debate over the course of several blogs the causes of this issue (and maybe we will?); a past experience and a recent experience shed some light on part of the problem.

Those who study how we, especially women, communicate in the workplace often say that women can be too apologetic, too trying to please everyone, and trying not to offend. "You may have already tried this approach, but how about trying to move the depositions to ..." You see the lead in cuts into the woman's idea. I can recall a meeting probably about 10 years ago when I was a mid/senior associate in a big meeting (and the only woman). We were reviewing a pleading and trying to come up with a different word for what was being said. The GC of a big client was in the room as well as partners from my law firm and partners from another big firm. I suggested a word; I believe it was "scheme." They kept going on. Maybe 2 minutes later, big mouth partner W from other firm said "scheme." The GC and others all loved it and it got in. I shook my head....was this the Twilight Zone? Didn't I just say that? It wasn't that I said "well, this isn't very good, but how about scheme?" That of course wouldn't have been good. I think W just said it louder and with more force -- and perhaps his thoughts held more weight at the time. But maybe my voice hesitated, maybe I was a little too meek in my suggestion. When we feel less confident or unsure -- we need to overcome that and speak up, just like W. Remember, not all successful attorneys and other professionals are successful simply because they are smarter or worker harder than you or me; some of them just project confidence and aren't afraid to promote their ideas and themselves.

Finally, a recent case in point illustrates this point of women being too cautious, too afraid of ruffling feathers in the rainmaking category. Lawyer Anna came to HP because Anna got a referral from another firm where a family member works. The area of law was not in a field Anna practices. Rather, other lawyers in the firm would be doing the work and Anna had touched base with a partner in that other group to see if the matter would be something partner would be interested in. Partner had a preliminary conversation with referral client to explain to referral client the qualifications of the particular practice. Anna was wondering how to go about formally opening the client matter. She said she was going to talk to partner and ask partner if it was OK to run a conflicts check, open the sheets etc. I told her she needed to be more proactive -- this was her baby -- the client came in through her family member, not because they knew the other partner (I also happened to think other partner would understand that and other partner not overly confrontational). I said to her, instead of asking, you need to be proactive in a non-chalant kind of way. Oh, partner X, I've got Susan (secretary) running the conflict check to make sure there's no issues, and she's working on an engagement letter and the new client sheets. I will let you know when everything is clear."

See, in this manner, Anna gets the client credit, and looks proactive, and doesn't have to fight over credit. She's making rain and it really isn't open to debate...the papers are just moving ahead. Now, we might discuss the issue of a more difficult partner to deal with/position of authority, but this is my advice. We, as women -- and really this is advice relevant to all -- need to be less hesitant and more proactive, less apologetic -- especially when it comes to getting business, collecting from clients, etc. There's plenty of ways to deal with these issues without causing any major rifts in the relationship.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

negotiating; further on networking

Interesting questions and feedback, thanks. For the individual who was asking about negotiating salary, I just don't think this is the time to do that. There are so many candidates for jobs, most of them well qualified, that firms and businesses don't really have to negotiate in most situations. You don't want to be viewed as a prima donna or otherwise high maintenance from the start. These days, firms and businesses figure if the candidate won't accept on the terms offered, they can just move on.

An interesting aside I thought I would mention. I talk about networking a lot, but thought you could use some examples. Recently, I was at a seminar. At the end of the seminar, some people stayed around to introduce selves, exchange business cards, etc. I re-introduced myself to a lawyer I had worked with some years back. We had a good conversation. In fact, I need to email him to tell him I enjoyed the program (he was partially responsible for it). But here's the networking part. Another woman walked up to the same guy while I was leaving. I don't think she knew him. But, she went right out and asked him if he knew anything about a job recently posted at a great, interesting company for a counsel in the area of practice that the seminar focused on. The funny thing is that I had seen that job and it interested me too, not that I was necessarily applying but I thought it sounded like a fabulous opportunity with cool issues. This lady was reaching out to the speaker guy to see if he had details about the position -- but she probably wanted to see if he had any connections there. Now, I am not sure how effective this is overall if he doesn't know her and thus probably wouldn't be recommending her....but I thought it certainly showed some initiative and using networking to at least on the surface find out more about the job. I couldn't hear the rest of the conversation so I am not sure if it was a productive one, but at least the lady did something proactive, which is more than I did just kind of thinking about the job. Remember, thinking doesn't get you the job, you need to undertake steps to move your resume forward.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Hello...I know it's been awhile...and I apologize to those who were waiting. Life things came up and between work and home, I had to take a break from the blog. If you still want to read, great; if you're tired of waiting and need more consistency, feel free to move on. I will try to post at least twice a week - perhaps with a specific goal I will be more consistent.

So, what have I been seeing? Well, I do think things are picking up -- but mainly for people with experience. And, of course, there's many applicants for each job...but the good news is I think I see more jobs out there. Entry level, of course, much harder. Many firms are moving away to the "way we've always done things" and deciding that when they do need to hire again, they can go into the lateral pool.

With a couple exceptions, people I know who have obtained new jobs have gotten them through a combo of qualifications and -- you knew this was coming - networking. With so many people submitting resumes into "blind boxes," it really makes a difference if you can come up with some connection between you and the organization where you are seeking a job. Does your former roommate have a relative who works at XYZ company? It may be they can get your resume in the hands of someone who will pay attention to it. Think about who you may know at the firm/organization where you would like to work. Use sources like Linkedin to look for connections. Don't be shy (well unless you have a job and looking laterally and you need to keep it kind of quiet). Put yourself out there.

Now, if you have someone who helps -- by giving you advice on the phone, by forwarding your resume, etc...make sure you show some appreciation....sometimes HP and HP's friends have helped out and then we never hear from that person. Bad form. Your career is all about building -- building knowledge, building expertise, and yes, building your network. I'm not saying you have to send flowers, but if someone takes time out to help you, you should certainly show some appreciation -- even a short note: Dear HP, I've landed a new job at: XYZ company. Here's my new contact information. Thank you so much for your advice during my search. Please don't hesitate to let me know if I can be assistance, and let's schedule lunch over the next month." Remember - think in the now but look into the future. Build build build.