A review of the Women in the Legal Profession Summit recordings
by Alison Walsh J.D.
Statistics show that women are going to law school, graduating law school and becoming associates in law firms at a percentage that is consistent with male counterparts, according to NALP.
However, women are not staying in the legal profession at that same rate.
According to a recent report from NALP, 47% of law school enrollment comprises women, 45% of law firm associates are women, but only 18 % of partners are women and 18% of the General Counsels of Fortune 500 companies are women. Even more disturbing, only 1.65% of law firm partners are women of color.
During the June 25, 2008 Women in the Legal Profession Summit, an outstanding panel of diverse speakers gave tangible advice on how women and law firms can improve these statistics.
For firms, of primary importance is getting buy-in from senior management. Commitment from the firm leaders will ensure that any women’s initiative has a chance to succeed and that firm resources will be devoted to the retention and advancement of women. Additionally, organizational accountability must exist so that managers and partners are rewarded for their efforts and success in diversity initiatives (i.e. giving financial bonuses for successful efforts or counting hours spent on diversity initiatives as billable hours). Moreover, firms must monitor the efforts to get women involved in client relations since business development with new and existing clients is critical to any lawyer’s success.
Other factors that firms must consider are workplace flexibility (there is a strong business case for part time/balanced hours programs including retention, recruiting, client satisfaction and controlling the high cost of attrition), a formal mentoring program, and training in business development and leadership skills.
What you know & who you know.
The two most important components to firm advancement for the female lawyer are business development and visibility/reputation. One of the best ways to ensure being taken seriously is the business you generate. Business development is a career-long pathway and there are some key factors relevant to succeeding in this arena. Always make existing clients a top priority; do good work; be the one to offer to send the brief or other papers to the client; speak up in client meetings; be timely and responsive to the client; be available no matter what the day (or holiday); work to be the one that the client goes to and relies upon to keep the case/deal going; and, have a personality!
Never forget that existing clients will move to different companies throughout a career, and they will repeatedly seek out the lawyers they previously trusted and relied upon.
It is important to help write papers and become the “expert” on a topic, prepare speeches, stay current on key issues in clients’ industries, and write client memos on areas of interest to them. This will continually get your name before a client.
Finally, a client can come from anywhere or be anyone so look around – a former classmate, a neighbor, someone from a social group or volunteer organization. The more a lawyer is involved in, the more networking opportunities that will be created, the more contacts that will be created, and the more referrals for business. Don’t forget: if you want business, ask for it!
Reputation, of course, is the other top priority since your name is everything. This begins the day a lawyer walks into a firm. So, be available for clients and other lawyers, have a good work ethic, do outstanding work every day, have a positive attitude, and have a professional appearance. This will lay the foundation for future success in the firm. In addition, to advance within a firm, every female lawyer must increase her visibility in the firm; make your needs, interests and desires known to the relevant partners; ask to get involved with the right projects/cases; seek one or more advocates and/or mentors’ take on a leadership role in a committee or practice group; read professional literature not only about your practice area, but also your clients’ businesses; join bar association committees; and, learn what the firm is looking for in a partner and what matters in the partnership decision (i.e. hours, cases, business development).
Develop into the best possible lawyer. It does not happen overnight, but go to work every day with your “A game” and you will earn respect, build a name for yourself, and you will succeed and advance at the firm.