While there are many reasons the legal industry is changing, including the recent diversity effort, new work from home policies and the Great Resignation, the playing field is rapidly being leveled for women attorneys. In the not-to-distant past, the idea that a woman could or should make it rain or run their own firm was considered absurd. It was a “man’s world” and women were only allowed to be in it. Well, today it’s a very different story. We now have women managing sizeable firms, leading GC roles and bringing in more business than many men do. And in my humble opinion, the best is yet to come.
The first step is to look at the positive shifts in the legal landscape. In data found in a 2021 ABA study we see some interesting trends.
- More women are entering the profession of law than ever before. 54.1% of law school students are women and rising.
- Men’s enrollment in law schools is down 29% over the past ten years.
- More women are in corporate “power roles” than ever before.
- Law firms are more interested in hiring and promoting women than in years past.
- The Great Resignation is leveling the pay-gap of men and women from previous years.
- Building and maintaining your own book of business is the ultimate equalizer in obtaining power within the current law firm model.
Doing what I do, and interacting with attorneys at all levels, I’m seeing positive changes happen every day for women attorneys I coach and speak with daily. Of course, developing your legal skills, personal brand and book of business is of critical importance to become a powerhouse in the legal industry. In my experience coaching women lawyers for the past 14 years, the keys to success fall into three primary areas of focus. Here are three tips to implement that have proven effective with the women I’ve helped dramatically grow their law practices.
Fretzin Tip #1: Stop “winging it” and start planning for it!
Many lawyers are out there just doing what they “think” they should be doing and hoping that business comes from their efforts. The key is to develop a solid plan that cuts right to the bone. As you know, wasting time is the same as wasting money. Every hour spent doing the wrong things, with the wrong people, the wrong way, will most certainly keep you from accomplishing your business goals. A good step before writing a plan is to begin taking stock of your clients, referral sources and contacts. Always focus on the low hanging fruit first. Here’s my ranking of business opportunities from easiest to hardest.
Easiest to obtain to hardest to acquire:
- Getting more business from your existing clients.
- Cross-marketing your clients with additional services.
- Obtaining quality introductions from your existing clients.
- Leveraging your strongest relationships for direct business opportunities or quality introductions.
- Developing strategic partnerships with good referral sources.
- Attending conferences where prospective clients and referral sources are.
- Attend/join local networking groups/associations to meet new referral sources or to develop new business.
Based on your experience doing business development and how strong your network is, you may be able to work the top of the list. Others may have to begin from the bottom. Whatever the case, create a list of people to contact and set aside time every week to proactively reach out to meet with them.
Fretzin Tip #2: Get out of the “friend zone” and ask for what you want.
While creating a plan to reconnect with key clients and contacts is a great start, without the right attitude and approach to business development, it might all be for naught. For me, the easiest way to get my head wrapped around this seemingly difficult issue is to believe that I’m the best at what I do. I derive this confidence based on my past successes and results with my clients. My success therefore, drives me to want to help more and more attorneys to succeed. For example, I know that when I work with an intelligent, motivated and coachable attorney, no one can get an attorney better results. Can you say that about your work as an attorney? If you know you’re great at what you do, it’s easier for you to buy into the idea that your GC friends, neighborhood CEO or past law firm partner who went in-house would truly benefit from working with you. If this is not the case, keep working on your lawyering skills!
Once you have the belief in yourself, it’s time to craft some language to make the “ask” without ego or pandering like a cheap dime-store salesman (gross). For many women attorneys who are stuck in the friend zone, you should try saying something like, “You know Sarah, I love meeting with you at these conferences and truly appreciate our friendship. I am curious as to why we’ve never discussed working together. Have you ever considered this?” Or, “You know Sarah, I love meeting with you at these conferences and truly appreciate our friendship. While I would never want to jeopardize our relationship, I know I would be of great value to you and your company. Would you be open to discussing a way for us to work together?”
At the end of the day what’s the worst that could happen? If your friend has great reason why you can’t work together, well, now you know, and you can move on. If your friend loves the idea, you will be kicking yourself for not bringing this up years ago. One of the best things I’ve learned in business development is that knowing is always better than hoping or wondering. Sound’s simple, but most business developers live in hope that things will happen. To me, hoping is like dreaming. It rarely leads to clarity, assurance or real results.
Fretzin Tip #3: Did you have the day or did the day have you?
Is balance really achievable for successful women in law? Can you develop your book, gain a leadership role at your firm and take care of your family without going nuts?
In my experience, this is only achievable to the lucky or the women who master the skill of time management. Like with business development, time management is a learned skill. In fact, I was incredibly disorganized when I first started my business over 18-years ago. My desk was a disaster, I was always pushing important tasks off and I could never seem to get anything done on time. After my first year, I realized that this wasn’t sustainable and decided to begin studying the art of time management. After six-months I had cleaned up my clutter, eliminated time-wasting activities and crafted my week for efficiency. Here are three things I did that made all the difference.
For me, step one was cleaning up all of my messes. I went through my two offices and my emails to throw out, file away or take-action on everything in front of me. This purging took over eight hours, but once completed it felt like a thousand pounds had lifted off of my shoulders. Without doing this first, it would have been very challenging to continue my progress.
Once the purging was done, I moved to phase two. This was to look at my workday in 15-minute increments to better understand what I did all day and what I needed to change or remove from my life. This exercise will blow your mind. We are distracted most of the day doing unproductive and medial tasks. Ask yourself:
- What should I be doing or not doing?
- Is this mission critical or something I need to put off?
- Am I doing this efficiently?
- Is this task below my pay scale?
- Is there someone else that can do this?
- Can this be done early, late or over the weekend?
The key here is to write your entire day down to better identify wasted time, poorly executed efforts and tasks that can be delegated. The end result should be more hours opened up for business development activities and family time.
Many of the women that I’ve work with start out with the same concerns you might have about balancing a heavy work load, personal health and the needs of the family. In the end, their optimism, motivation to succeed, combined with excellent planning and execution won the day. The good news for women in law is that things are getting better every year. While I’m not suggesting that any of this easy, nothing worth doing usually is.