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Effective Rainmaking for Female Lawyers

by Ed Poll

Numerous surveys and studies indicate that women make up no more than 20 percent of the partnerships at most large firms, and hold an even smaller percentage of senior firm or practice management positions.

One effective way for firms and lawyers to broaden that participation is by emphasizing women's career advancement through marketing. While too many lawyers including women believe they are not skilled at marketing, everyone can market effectively if they approach it within their zone of comfort.

The key is for the lawyer to learn what her comfort zone is and work within it. A successful marketer develops relationships, builds bridges and wins confidence. Marketing in that sense means learning about clients' needs and pinpointing how to meet them, and making clients feel valued and understood when they receive such focused attention.

That brings up a potentially sensitive but completely valid issue: Studies have shown that women are considered more trustworthy than men because they generally are better communicators, willing to discuss how they feel and to listen when others express their own feelings.

For example, in his pioneering 1990s research, Dr. Larry Richard selected 3,000 lawyers nationwide and compared their Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test results to those of the general population.

In three key personality indices extraversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, and thinking versus feeling women attorneys matched general population norms more closely than men.

Such values reinforce the approachability that creates trust and client relationships. Clients and prospects want to explain their concerns as part of having their legal problem solved. Women can be highly effective at facilitating that.

If law firms encourage women to do interpersonal marketing, and if female lawyers seize that opportunity, they will have more clients, as such an approach makes clients feel like part of the team by seeking out their opinions and asking what they want to accomplish.

That requires a communications strategy that avoids the questioning style of a deposition or contract structuring; never put the prospect or client on the defensive. The best marketing "pitch" is a conversation between two friends.

That is not to say that the rainmaker must put her legal instincts aside. Empathy and rapport can be expressed through skilled questioning:

  • What's the biggest project you have going on now?
  • What kind of a year has it been so far?
  • Are you concerned about recent products liability litigation trends?
  • What do you think would give you the most help in dealing with employees or customers?
  • What do you want your organization to look like in one year, two years or five years?
  • Will you be offering new products or services in the next year?
There is only one way to get that kind of information: personal, face-to-face meetings. Social networking on the Internet is effective, but personal contact is the differentiating factor that gets a lawyer noticed.

Women lawyers who use their perceived superior communication skills to lay the foundation for the rainmaking process can expect this to carry over to building successful client relationships and a successful career.

Copyright 2011. Edward Poll. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Edward Poll.

About The Author

Ed Poll principal of LawBiz Management Company, is a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant, and author who has coached and consulted with lawyers and law firms in strategic planning, profitability analysis, and practice development. Mr. Poll has practiced law on all sides of the table for 25 years-- as a corporate general counsel, government prosecutor, sole practitioner, partner, and law firm chief operating officer and been a consultant to small and large law firms for 20 years.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.