As featured in Forbes on Jan. 05, 2022.
A few years ago, a CMO friend referred a talented young lawyer to me. The lawyer was on the precipice of great career success but wanted to improve her abilities by working with a marketing coach. I already had several law firm clients and looming deadlines, but like anyone who has trouble saying “no” to people who strike a personal chord with them, I gave her whatever time I could. We ended up spending a few hours early one Saturday morning on the phone. Since that day, I have felt remorse for the fact that I wasn’t able to do more for her. Yet if I had the chance to go back to coach that young lawyer, here is what I might say.
Don’t Be One Of The Boys
You don’t need to be one of the boys if that means talking about sports, playing cards or going out after work for drinks if that is not your bag. Fortunately, these days, I’ve found that there is more room for developing your own style and figuring out what works for you.
Unless you love the sport, spending your Saturday playing golf with clients may not be a great use of your time. Instead, experiment and figure out what is of interest to you and your clients so you can do that activity together. Consider attending a seminar or taking a walk. Attend a gallery opening or arrange a small party to introduce your prospective clients to people who may be of interest to them. During pandemic times, just making a phone call to check in and let someone know we are there for them is often the greatest form of networking.
Create A System
Today, many lawyers have even greater demands on their time. Having a system in place to help you market may be the difference between success and failure. I’ve worked with lawyers who have very simple systems, including one who keeps a list of his top 10 prospects on his desk, and another who uses a particular calendaring system of reminders. I’ve worked with clients to carve out a specific time each week devoted to marketing and with others to use state-of-the-art technology to remind them to do business development tasks. Find a system that works for you so that the time you spend on marketing is stress-free, focused and productive.
Look For Role Models
Many leaders of law firms are recognized and rewarded for generating business. The women I know who lead law firms generally have great leadership skills and have developed a strong book of business. But what happens when you are not invited into the pitch or when you are not working with people who can serve as role models or act as mentors? You may feel like you are on your own in terms of having a role model. My advice: Look outside to associations and other groups to which you belong to find other women in leadership positions. See what they are doing to advance their work, and how they network and develop business. While you shouldn’t copy their style wholesale, be aware of what elements you think may or may not work for you.
Build A Network
While casting a wider net in search of role models, create a network outside of your domain. Go beyond cultivating friends at similar firms or corporate law departments. Having a diverse network is an asset that can serve a lawyer well year after year. By building a wider network, you can help ensure your business will come from a wider variety of sources. A well-rounded network also allows you to connect with people from various industries and help your clients find solutions to all sorts of issues.
Be Your Own Advocate
Many law firms I’ve worked with are improving how they train lawyers to develop business, but each person learns at a different pace. If women lawyers don’t have role models, mentors and sponsors within a firm, they may need to find other ways to get outside of their comfort zones and stretch their marketing muscles. There is real value to generating business that goes beyond compensation. The ability to develop business can lead to greater autonomy in designing your own practice, it opens up additional leadership roles within a firm, and it allows greater portability should you ever decide to make a career move. Like any new skill, it can be difficult to master at first but will get better over time as you practice. If you are uncomfortable asking a contact for an initial piece of business, that’s understandable, especially the first few times. Practice by taking an associate to lunch and telling them about your practice, and then do the same with a colleague. After a while, you will get better at selling yourself, and before you know it, you could become a rainmaker.
Recognize Imposter Syndrome
Establishing a reputation within a firm is a great way to begin to develop a reputation as a lawyer. Many young professionals tell me that they often feel like imposters when they enter a boardroom. Women and minorities who generally see fewer people in the room who look like them may face twice the amount of the WAIH (Why Am I Here?) feeling. How do you get over that? Recognize that most others in the room have felt the same way at some point in their career. The worst-case scenario is that when you offer an idea or provide input, someone in the room may not agree. If that happens and they demonstrate their dissatisfaction, which one of you looks unprofessional? Another method for getting rid of the weight of imposter syndrome is to start by reminding yourself of all that you’ve accomplished to get where you are in your career. You are in the room. Know that if you open your mouth to say something, it’s likely to be a brilliant start to furthering your reputation.