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.



Anonymous said...

I'm a guy, and generally do not have problems expressing my opinions, but when it comes to rain-making - or being vocal about my part in it - is that my firm has a culture / atmosphere where partners are very wary about associates stepping out of bounds and into business development territory. For those of us who do not want to risk the ire of senior partners freezing us out when we step on their toes, what can we do?

Thanks for bringing up an important topic.

Anonymous said...

who cares??

Anonymous said...

I am always surprised by whom partners chose to take with them on client events. So often, it seems it is someone they complain about not being a very good attorney and they don't give a lot of work to. By contrast, there is almost a sense that they would be threatened to take star associates or junior partners, and I agree with 5:57, it often does feel like a minefield you have to navigate.

Anonymous said...

Glad you're back, Hiring Partner! I know the blog deals mostly with associate issues, but wondering if you could comment on mistakes/good things for new partners. You've probably got lots of stories for that.

Anonymous said...

How about a post for us deferred associates? (As discussed on ATL)

Should we be looking for work? Career-wise, would it be smart to take a lower paying, less prestigious position rather than gamble? Like say, an in-house gig assuming we could get one?