Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hair, Toilet Paper and Other Random Thoughts on Client Development

I loved The Junk Drawer's post yesterday, Catholic Veil Fashionista.  It brought back fond memories of the parish in North Dakota where I went to parochial school around 1969-72 or so, I don't remember the exact dates.  I do know that I was there for first through third grade and I had to go to mass every morning and yes, wear toilet paper on my head if I forgot my mantilla.  So that's a neat thing about surfing the internet these days; subscribe to enough blogs and you'll be reminded of the most ridiculous things from your past, from time to time.  I think there is probably a photo of me in my Mom's album that shows me wearing a nearly identical uniform and silly hair fashion.

Another random thought:  I think I am going to have a boatload of ripe tomatoes when I return from vacation.  Remember back in early June when I told you about how excited I was that I finally had planted a garden?  A few months later and there you are, enough tomatoes to supply the entire neighborhood.  I sure wish that client development activities brought about new work that fast.  I don't recall ever planting the seeds of a client relationship and having the work come in within a few months.  I do recall some relationships where the first connection was more than a decade before there was a chance for me to do meaningful work for a contact.  Patience I guess is a virtue, and all that.

You might wonder, what does client development have to do with pre-Vatican II Catholic fashion and my childhood?  Yes, yes there is an obvious connection.  Of course you have to be out there in the world talking to potential clients, and you have to be able to demonstrate that you do fine work.  But most of all, you have to do everything you can to help them remember you when they do need your help.  Maybe an image of me in a plaid uniform with toilet paper on my head will be the thing that helps someone remember to call me when they want to make a planned gift to a Catholic charity.  That would be well worth putting that image in the consciousness of my faithful readership.

For more random thoughts on business development, here is a collection of my published thoughts on the topic.  I continue to believe that the essential path to more women in leadership in law firms is one with more women leading their firms in client originations. So get out there and plant some seeds.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Perspective from the East Coast

A guest post from Lisa Cukier at Burns & Levinson:

As She Think’s June 1 post “Inch by Inch, Row by Row” pointed out, the unfortunate lack of women holding board room positions has not improved. And in the legal field, a recent study pointed out the stalled nature of women becoming partners as opposed to their male peers. Over in Massachusetts, the rate of female equity partners per firm is “higher” than other states, but this difference is still minimal and hardly combats the problem. A group of leading women partners at my firm, Burns & Levinson, got together to address this issue.

We recently kicked off the Burns & Levinson Women’s Forum last month with a discussion featuring Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Fernande “Nan” Duffly. The forum came out of a desire that the women at Burns & Levinson had to share their experiences and create a dialogue for the greater community about the issues facing women in law today.

The forum with Justice Duffly was the first of quarterly events focused on topics of interest to women lawyers. Burns & Levinson hopes that discussing women’s advancement in the profession and issues of social policy, politics and the media with the rest of the community will prompt change or at least further awareness and examination. Each event will feature a presentation or roundtable discussion facilitated by role models: strong women in positions of leadership in the law, judiciary, politics, business or academia. The next event is scheduled for September 13, 2011 and will feature the then retired Federal Judge Nancy Gertner discussing gender dynamics in the courtroom. We hope that the continuing forum will bring more attention and support to the issue—and maybe even some male allies.

Many thanks to Burns & Levinson.  It's nice to see efforts made by firms across the country to address the challenges in advancing women in the profession.  Other firms with similar programs are welcome to post their event through She Thinks, just send me a message.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Unlimited Vacations?

Geez it's hard to get work done and off my desk so I can go on vacation.  Based on my vague recollections of pique over the past few weeks, I think about half of the emails I'm sending to keep projects moving are bouncing back with the happy news that the recipient is out of the office on vacation and completely unreachable until sometime in the middle of my planned break.

The Wall Street Journal this morning observed that there seems to be a trend, albeit a small one, toward "unlimited vacation" policies.  My current employer used to have a variation on that policy--back in the 80's and 90's the unwritten policy was that attorneys could take as much vacation as they liked as long as it didn't exceed the time taken by a senior partner, who notoriously took huge amounts of time off.  Alas, modern employment law scotched that policy some time ago.  I never actually took advantage of it anyway, since with three young kids at home it was all I could do to meet my annual hours requirement just taking time off for kid's sick days, doctor's appointments and that sort of stuff.  So I never have gotten into the habit of a regular vacations, and I've not been "unplugged" from the office for more than an afternoon in about seven years.

I'm not advocating my approach, but I will observe the reality that the modern work environment for lawyers who are working moms allows for precious little opportunity to take a real two-week (or longer) vacation from the office.  I think this is true for lawyers (associates or partners) who are dependent on other rainmakers for work, but it's also particularly true for lawyers who are responsible only to their own external clients.  It's really, really tough mentally to tell your client base that you'll be unavailable for a long stretch of time.  In an era where most clients get anxious if an email or voice message is not returned the same day, I wonder how they'll react when I actually put up an out-of-office message that I'll be unavailable for a whole month.

Well, it's time to find out.  I am indeed going to take my once-a-decade break in August.  My husband is going to great lengths to make sure that I won't check my work voice messages, and my secretary and partners have promised to cover everything.  Maybe I'll have a practice to return to, and maybe not.  I am so ready for a break that I'm pretty sure I'll be okay with either outcome.

In the mean time, if you are one of my colleagues who is currently on vacation and have put my project on hold until you get back from your vacation, either get back to me next week or don't bother until September.  I promise I'll get everything done then.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What's for Breakfast?

I first published this post on March 11, 2009, which was some time ago. I thought it would be a good one to re-post for my newer readers. Peggy's book is one of my favorites on people skills.

This month's book club selection is The Hard Truth About Soft Skills, Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner, by Peggy Klaus (it's in my Amazon list—see the sidebar). Peggy's writing style and sound advice make this an accessible primer on the people skills that are necessary for everyone who works with other people.
I really enjoyed Peggy's style. She has organized eight chapters around the basics: self control, getting the job done, listening skills, learning from constructive criticism, office politics, branding and bragging, diversity, and leadership. While whole books have been written on each of these topics, (actually, whole shelves of books on each), this lesson book gives an excellent overview of the skills with enough practical advice to help focus in on the areas that are most important. Each chapter is then segmented into half a dozen or so segments, perfect little bites of advice, just enough to read and then ponder for a while.

Three of the segments were particularly interesting to me. In the chapter on getting the job done, Peggy writes that "whining is for kids, and even then, no one wants to hear it." It's a pep talk, a good shake, and a sharp reminder to shape up. It reminded me of my mom's favorite saying: build a bridge and get over it.
The gender and diversity chapter includes a very, very important piece of advice for women: don't take it personally. Putting it very bluntly, the segment reminds women that they must never, ever cry in a professional setting. Never.

But my favorite part of the book is the advice on branding. We all develop a brand, either with intention or by chance. Think of yourself as a cereal brand, she writes. This little bit of advice reminded me of a school project each of my kids did in about third or fourth grade. The elementary school teachers included it in the curriculum as a fun way for the kids to get to know each other at the beginning of the year, build self esteem and I suppose practice their skills with scissors and glue. The kids had a great time cutting out magazine pictures of superheroes, writing fanciful ingredient lists, and using adjectives to describe their talents and aspirations.

So, I am going to design my own cereal box for me. My brand will include a statement of my core values and my twenty-five word description of my law practice, and probably a snappy photo or two. And the color of the box will, of course, be rose pink.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy

I've commented a few times before about appearance in the law office, what constitutes appropriate attire and even occasionally the injustice of it all...why should women be judged by what they wear?  Why should professional women have to wear masculine suits to be respected?  What's wrong with peep toe shoes?  All these are very good philosophical questions suitable for discussion over a few glasses of wine with other professional women.

But I have to admit that I do eventually draw the line on some choices that women lawyers seem to make on hot summer days.  How do you know the heat has gone to your head and the cute outfit you thought would be cool is, well, actually too hot for the office?  Here are some clues:

--Do your undergarments show?  NEVER OKAY in a work setting.  Bra straps and camisole straps are cute on teenage girls flaunting the dress code in high school, and that's what you look like when you show up at your law firm dressed that way.
--Are you dressed to visit the beach right after work?  PROBABLY NOT OKAY.  Unless your office is on the beach, I suppose.
--Capris or shorts?  NO.  Sorry, it just doesn't work for me.
--Way cool shoes are okay, but flip flops ARE NOT.

That's about it for my list of absolutes; otherwise, wear what's comfortable, professional and stylish.  Knock 'em dead with your style.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Gold Standard

The Women in Law Empowerment Forum on June 14 released the initial list of law firms qualifying for its new Gold Standard Certification — a designation for firms that have integrated women in top leadership positions and compensated them well.

The organization invited more than 300 firms with 100 or more attorneys to apply for the certification by June 1, and 32 met the criteria. You can read their full report and the list of certified firms here.  The certification process went beyond simply looking at the percentage of women employed at law firms. It focused on whether they are significantly represented in positions of power and among the top-earning attorneys.

To be certified, firms had to meet at least three of the six criteria:
  • Women account for at least 20% of equity partners.
  • Women represent at least 10% of firm chairs and office managing partners.
  • Women make up at least 20% of the firm's primary governance committee.
  • Woman represent 20% or more of the firm's compensation committee.
  • Women make up at least 25% of practice group leaders or department heads.
  • Women represent at least 10% of the top half of the most highly compensated partners.
That last criteria is disturbing, though.  WILEF noted that 84% of the applicants met the standard that women constitute at least 10% of the top half of the highest paid partners.  In my view that is because it's a pathetically low standard.  Ten percent of the top half of highest paid partners?  Why not 50%?  It seems to me all the standards should expect representation that is commensurate with the percentage of law school graduates who are women.  We've accounted for half of the graduating lawyers for decades; the goal should be equivalent representation on all markers of success.  To hold firms to a lower standard really just allows for business as usual, and that's not good enough.