4 Business Development Truths for Women Lawyers

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We all know there are currently more women than men in law school and more women than men in associate ranks. Those numbers have still not translated (yet) to partnership and leadership levels within law firms. Men still dominate both. 

Power and influence in law firms are determined by marketing prowess. You can generally make partner based on merit, but equity partnership and leadership are influenced by your personal book of business. To reach those heights, you need one.

So, if business development is the key to seeing more women in equity partnership and leadership, what do women lawyers need to know? I’m glad you asked.

1. There are gender differences in business development.

Consulting and research firm Nextions has studied gender differences in business development. Nextions’ conclusions resonate with my own experience working with women lawyers over the last 17 years. 

Women develop relationships for the intrinsic value of those relationships...

Women develop relationships for the intrinsic value of those relationships while men develop relationships for the potential yield from the relationships. From the very beginning, men approach prospects with the goal of obtaining business, and women approach prospects with the goal of building a relationship. 

Additionally, there is a difference in the perception of reciprocity in the development of business. Men see asking for the business as a mutual benefit for themselves and the contact; women see the ask as a unilateral request for a benefit from the contact and for themselves. 

women see the ask as a unilateral request for a benefit...

Another observation on gender differences is how we network. When men start a conversation with a contact, they generally begin by discussing business. Women generally begin by discussing their families or some other personal topic. 

The good news is the people making the decision about who to hire in terms of lawyers and law firms are, increasingly, women. They will recognize and appreciate the business development norms of their outside counsel brethren.

2. To see an increase in origination numbers, you must devote at least a half hour per day to business development.

In its “Women Attorneys Business Development Study,” the Legal Sales and Services Organization included this quote: “I feel that I don’t have time to ‘do it all.’ I struggle to meet billable goals, struggle to get my kids everywhere they need to be, and struggle to keep up with volunteer activities. At work, I like legal recruiting and spend most of my non-billable time on that or on team activities (like associate training and personnel issues). This means business development falls to the bottom of my list.” 

Sound familiar? 

Many lawyers juggle competing tasks and struggle to devote significant chunks of time to business development as often as they would like. While that is understandable, frankly, it is only with about ½ hour per day or 2.5 hours per week on business development that origination numbers significantly increase. 

...start small.

So, start small. Do what you can, get comfortable with a few business development activities, and focus on them. All of us – no matter how busy – can find a few marketing minutes just about every day.

3. You already possess the skills necessary to become capable at selling. 

When I ask women lawyers to tell me the challenges they have with business development, they often reply, “I’m just not good at it.”

But the truth is, the traits needed to be successful at business development are some of the same ones needed to be a successful lawyer – negotiation, listening, overcoming obstacles, and driving toward anticipated outcomes. 

...the traits needed to be successful at business development are some of the same ones needed to be a successful lawyer

Additionally, women lawyers generally focus on service and client experience more than just the resulting outcome, and that mindset leads to greater client loyalty. The value women attach to the relationship itself, rather than just the transaction, equates to a more holistic approach and experience. 

4. Just do one thing right now.

Maybe a name of a client, prospect, or referral source has come to mind as you have read through this article. Reach out to that person. Outreach can be as standard as invitations to coffee, lunch, or happy hour, but they can also be dropping a brief thank you note in the mail. Or forwarding one of the firm’s client alerts with a personal note about why it should matter to them. 

Consider how you can do a favor for one of your key contacts. Who can you introduce? Can you help someone’s kid get a job? Can you write a letter of recommendation for an award nomination? Or better yet, take the lead in nominating them yourself!

Consider how you can do a favor for one of your key contacts.

Recognizing these business development truths is a good step toward getting in the business development game. Plan the work, and work the plan.

We all look forward to celebrating the women who will fill out the law firm leadership ranks as a result.

*

[Society 54 co-founder Jill Huse is renowned as a trusted professional services advisor. Jill, a certified Worldwide Association of Business Coaches coach, is highly regarded for her progressive ingenuity, research-based strategy and, most importantly, her ability to deliver results for clients.]

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