I spoke at the Ms. JD Conference last week, advising the best and the brightest law students in the country how to crack the seemingly bullet-proof private practice glass ceiling.
Just to remind you of the dismal statistics, although women represented approximately 50% of the associate hires during the eighteen years prior to 2001, they accounted for only 15-16% of all AmLaw100 partners. To add salt to the wound, the women who make it to partnership status are paid less than their men counterparts.
It’s Time to Do It For Ourselves
As I told the young hopefuls with unbelievably impressive experience, education and promise, there are only four words that matter in law firm practice today.
Portable means you can walk out your law firm’s door.
Book means your client list.
Of is the preposition connecting you to ownership.
Business is the amount of money your own clients generate for your law firm every year.
Portable. Book. of. Business
I am the Ghost of Christmas Future
When networking I tell young women associates that I am the Ghost of Christmas Future.
“Ghost of the Future!” Scrooge exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”
It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.
After twenty-five years of legal practice, my law firm was in disarray and would soon be swallowed by another. I was making damn good money. Damn good. And I had not developed a lick of business. I had no clients of my own. None. Zero. Zip. Nada.
I didn’t think I had it in me. All that back-slapping and favor trading and Bar Association Committee work. I just wanted to do my job so well that I would become indispensable.
Let me tell you something. None of us are indispensable unless we have . . . .what?
A portable book of business.
How Do I Get Me One?
Network, network, network, network.
When I commenced my mediation practice I began living in a completely different world. A world in which I wasn’t automatically supplied with a mail room, an IT department, clerical help, paralegals, a great salary, bonuses, an expense account, medical and life insurance, a desk, a receptionist and all the office supplies I could eat. And I was so ungrateful for all of that. Accepted it as my due. Plus a great salary. Silly girl. I worked hard. But I didn’t work smart.
You build business one contact, one step, one networking event, one Bar Association Committee, one friend in a corporate law department at a time. You do favors for them. You like that. You’re naturally generous. You love being of service. You don’t have to learn how to play golf and take the Chairman of the Board to Pebble Beach. You can make phone calls, see how things are going, connect one friend to another, circulate someone’s resume when they’re out of work and you’re not.
Start with NAWMBA
A few years ago, after leaving legal practice and the soft cocoon of law firm life, I started a Professional Women’s Network. I just made it up. Pulled it out of a hat. Started it on meetup; moved it to LinkedIn; and migrated it to ning. I met great women there – many of them non-lawyers who would eventually refer business to me. They did that because they knew my name, my trade and my reputation for leadership in this cardboard, toothpicks and duct-tape structure of a networking group.
It doesn’t have to be grand. It only has to exist.
One of the first women I met was a power house named Stacey Gordon. Stacey did everything right. She showed up. She invited me to her events. She accepted invitations to mine. We made a million plans to do something together and never did. But we stayed in touch.
On April 1 of this year, Stacey became the Managing Director of the National Association of Women MBAs (NAWMBA). The women who belong to that organization are your future clients. In three or five or seven years, they will have climbed their corporate ladders and they’ll be in a position to recommend an attorney. And if you’ve done committee work with them or exchanged emails and opportunities over the years, stayed in touch, been a friend and supporter, a sponsor, a mentor or a colleague, they’ll think of you. They’ll send you business. And the next thing you know,
You’ll have a PORTABLE. BOOK. OF. BUSINESS.
And when you have that, you don’t need no stinkin’ badges. You don’t need diversity and inclusivity programs. You don’t need class action lawsuits or laws ensuring women get their fair share. You will be free!
GOT IT? Start your engines ladies! Your career awaits you.