Written by Alison Walsh, J.D.
This article is based on the Dec. 17, 2008 “Women Achieving Partnership at Law Firms” Teleconference. The speakers were Michele Bendekovic, Director of Recruiting and Professional Development, Steptoe & Johnson PLLP, Jane DiRenzo Pigott, Esq., Managing Director, R3 Group LLC, Jennifer Kennedy, Esq., Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, and Jacqueline Klosek, Esq., Goodwin Procter, LLP.
The old mantra is even more critical today, “don’t just manage your day, but manage your career.”
In 2008, only 18.74 % of partners at law firms were women, according to the National Association of Law Placement. The National Association of Women Lawyers stated in their 2008 Report that within the Am Law 200 law firms, only 16% of the equity partners were women.
In the current economic environment, it will likely be even harder for women to make partner. As Jane DiRenzo Pigott, Managing Director of R3 Group LLC recently said during the “Women Achieving Partnership” teleconference, “it becomes even more important with what is going on in the economy for women lawyers to be particularly strategic in thinking about their careers in implementing a career plan that is geared towards success and promotion.”
What are the key elements to maximizing your career and increase your chances of becoming partner? Female lawyers should develop and nurture a career plan. The plan goal should be to create a positive firm profile and include characteristics such as exhibiting leadership skills, being a go-to lawyer both inside the firm and externally, seeking out desirable projects and doing excellent work, expanding existing business and building new business, adding value to the firm and developing social networks. A career plan incorporating these elements means you seek to be more than just a typical hard working attorney.
Although a harsh reality, profit per partner is a critical component in partnership selection. Therefore, it becomes critical to maximize your ability to generate business. Some practical ways to do this are (1) take on a leadership role in cases since it shows you can handle a case and be relied upon, not to mention that it gets you in contact with the client; (2) get more client responsibility; (3) develop a special skill or expertise that could service either new or existing clients; (4) stay current on the law and stay current about your clients’ businesses and develop ideas on how you can service the clients’ needs; (5) become active in organizations outside of the firm whose membership includes professional non-lawyers who could eventually become a source of business; (6) do top quality work in every assignment; (7) mentor with an equity or other successful partner who will help you to bring in business; and finally, (8) be assertive and learn how to ask people, especially in-house counsel, for their business.
In addition to creating new business for the firm, a critical component to achieving partnership is developing social networks within the firm. This is something that men tend to be very good at. For women, however, it generally does not come so easy. It is not enough to be a good lawyer, you also have to know the right people in the firm. A good place to start is to select a good mentor, someone who will advocate for you and build up your profile in the firm, sits on important committees, and someone you are comfortable with. It is also important to look for people in the firm that you want to work with and who are in positions of power and ask them if you can work with her/him on a case, deal, project, publication, presentation or committee.
Of course, it would also be helpful to get on a “power” committee in the firm, but it is not likely that a young associate will get this opportunity. However, be patient and position yourself for placement in the future. For example, put in your time on other committees, consider taking on leadership roles in other committees, be an effective and impact player, and seek out the members of the committee you are striving for and talk to them about your interest.
Ultimately, a female lawyer needs to seek out and create her own opportunities, invest in her career and be responsible for her success.