On April 19, the IBA’s Law Firm Management Committee, with the support of the Women Lawyers’ Committee, produced the webinar, “The Secrets of Women Rainmakers – How to Become One and How to Create a Culture that Develops Them.”

With more than 400 attendees calling in from around the world, the group discussed their own experience in developing business, their advice to young women lawyers launching their careers, and what law firms can do to establish and grow a culture of promoting women and encouraging business development.

Our speakers included women rainmakers from around the globe. Pooja Mahajan from Chandhiok & Mahajan in India, Nadège Nguyen from Gide in Paris, Annalisa Reale of Chiomenti in Milan, and from the United States, Naana Frimpong of DLA Piper in Atlanta, Georgia and Lande Spottswood of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, Texas. I moderated the program from Farone Advisors in New York.

How do you become a rainmaker?

We kicked off the discussion talking about the essentials of being a good lawyer and how mastering those basic skills is key to moving ahead and developing the talent to generate business. “Client care must be a big focus of any good lawyer,” Annalisa Reale said. “You need to treat your client’s file as if it is your own file, and concentrate on their problem as if it is your own problem.”

Being an excellent lawyer and always being prepared are table stakes at a law firm, but as Naana pointed out, “You need to go beyond that and figure out what you are really good at doing. You need to identify your superpower.” Naana sees a superpower as a combination of a lawyer’s particular skills and expertise, joined with what the need and opportunities are within the market. “Putting that together with what your passion is about, and you’ll find an intersection of these things.”

The group agreed that mentorship is an essential part of the equation, both in getting guidance on the practice law and how to develop business, but also in helping to navigate and position yourself within the firm. By doing so, you will also see the people that have come before you and see real-world examples of what they’ve done.

Pooja said that mentorship has been very helpful to her and that one thing it does within an organization is give access to opportunities. “It can be particularly helpful when it comes time to having those difficult conversations about compensation or about promotions. It’s very important to have your internal mentors.”

Lande pointed out that you also need to ensure that mentors are people who will actively help by investing in the development of your practice. “not just because it is good for you, but because it is good for the firm.” Lande also talked about gaining experience and developing a sense of ownership over your career. “When you get into a firm, get lots of experience because you want those skills.”

Nadège offered three concepts that are particularly important when one aims to develop business: listening, caring and being a problem-solver. “You should try to understand what the challenges are for your clients and what they expect from you, but the very important thing here is the personal relationship. It’s the trust that you create with your clients, so your clients will see your expertise,” Nadège said. “I think they will also choose you as a lawyer because they trust you.”

We also talked about the importance of networking and using the opportunities, once you meet people, to collaborate and build relationships. Nadège’s advice, “Grow your own internal network with those lawyers from different practices because you grow business development over that network. When you are a young lawyer, you have to grow a different relationship with the young members on the team of your clients, so generation through generation you actually grow with your own clients.”

 

What are the steps one can take to develop business?

All of us agreed that networking is essential, but at the same time, we understand it can be difficult. Pooja said she has been advocating for everyone at her firm, from partners to junior associates to write a business development plan. “I tell them to write down all of the steps that you will be doing and start every day by looking at your plan.” We also talked about the need to practice networking as a skill and that like learning anything else that is new, it can be difficult and take practice. However, with small steps in mind, maybe beginning with a few conversations with a fellow lawyer about their practice, you will get better at speaking with clients and prospects.

How can law firms improve?

The advice for law firms was wide and varied. Many on our panel agreed that an essential ingredient in having a firm where all diverse people are valued and encouraged is a leadership team that believes in diversity and helping young lawyers succeed. In addition, the group pointed out the importance of ensuring that firms have women in key leadership positions and who are involved in any key client programs. Naana observed that young women must be given both the resources and the time to develop a practice. Lastly, the panel agreed that diversity and inclusion efforts should be an essential part of driving a firm’s strategy. If firms do not change their ways, clients may be the ones who demand it.

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