How Women Lawyers Can Make Rainmaking Work
by Ed Poll
Women lawyers have inherent communication skills that they can emphasize to advance their careers through marketing.
Numerous surveys and studies verify that the demographic profile of women in the legal profession is in the shape of a pyramid. At its base are law students, since women are more than half of the first-year students at law schools nationwide. At the middle of the pyramid, in large law firms, women typically constitute 40 percent or more of all associates—well above a decade or two ago. However, the pyramid culminates in a narrow peak: Women are no more than 20 percent of the partners at most large firms, and they hold an even smaller percentage of senior firm or practice management positions.
There is general agreement that this pyramid should broaden at all levels, if for no other reason than that firms for their own future survival must more closely resemble the demographics of the business community and society in general. One effective and often overlooked way for individually and organizationally accomplishing this is by emphasizing women’s career advancement through marketing. Granted, at most firms, the epitome of marketing is still the rainmaker—the man (inevitably) with the Midas touch, unsurpassed at aggressiveness, glad-handing and promotional skills. But effective legal rainmaking is much more.
How the Comfort Zone Factors In
While too many lawyers, including women lawyers, believe they are not marketing oriented or skilled, everyone can market effectively. But people have to stay within their "comfort zone" and do the things that come naturally within that zone. Just as there is more than one type of personality who can successfully run a company, there is no one personality type necessary for being a rainmaker and successfully bringing in business to a firm—all lawyers are capable of it. The key is for lawyers to learn what their "comfort zone" is and to realize they can work within it. With this understanding, the marketing path becomes clearer.
True rainmaking means that a lawyer should assess her personal strengths and use them to reach out to potential clients. A successful marketer develops relationships, builds bridges and wins confidence. Marketing in this sense means learning about a client’s needs, pinpointing how to meet them, and making clients feel valued and understood when they receive such focused attention. Marketing is founded on relationships, and relationships are founded on trust. Trust is created when clients or prospects see that an attorney understands and empathizes with their needs and feelings—and can produce results to match.
Trust and Interpersonal Marketing
This brings up a potentially sensitive but completely valid issue. Studies have shown that women are considered more trustworthy than men. One reason is that they are generally better communicators, willing to discuss how they feel and to listen when others express their own feelings. Clients and prospects want to explain their concerns as part of having their legal problems solved. Women lawyers can be highly effective at this kind of marketing.
In his pioneering 1990s research, Dr. Larry Richard selected 3,000 lawyers nationwide to complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test and compared the results to those of the general population. In three key personality indices—extraversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, and thinking versus feeling—women attorneys scored closer to the norms of the general population. Such values reinforce the approachability that is the foundation of trust—and of good marketing. (See Dr. Larry Richard’s "The Lawyer Types: How Your Personality Affects Your Practice," ABA Journal, July 1993.)
Obviously this is not a scientific study of gender and marketing. But it does indicate that if law firms encourage women to do interpersonal marketing, and if women lawyers themselves seize that opportunity, they will have more clients. And in a law firm, those with the most clients win. The process does not have to be complicated. Effective rainmakers find out not only what clients or potential clients need, but also what they want. That requires finding out how clients best receive information and then providing it to them in a way they find useful. Successful rainmakers communicate in a way that builds loyalty and collaboration over time by putting the emphasis on the client and not on the lawyer.
What Rainmakers Do
Rainmakers take a customer-service approach to dealing with clients and prospects, making them feel like part of the team, seeking out their opinions and asking what they want to accomplish. This requires a win-win communications strategy that avoids the style of questioning required when taking a deposition or structuring a contract, never putting the prospect or client on the defensive. The best marketing "pitch" is a conversation between two friends.
This is not to say that the rainmaker must put her legal instincts aside. Empathy and rapport can be expressed by using a lawyer's skill to ask a hypothetical business client questions like:
There is only one way to get this kind of information: personal, face-to-face meetings. Social networking on the Internet can be effective, but personal contact is the differentiating factor that gets a lawyer noticed.
An excellent example of how to do this is attending a trade show. There may be no better way to establish effective marketing relationships with prospective clients than by establishing a presence at industry trade shows and association meetings. By properly researching and targeting attendance, a lawyer can meet more prospects in one day than might otherwise be possible in months. A physical presence at these meetings of potential clients demonstrates knowledge of their business, understanding of their concerns and seriousness about offering solutions.
Trade show attendance encompasses all the essential elements of personal marketing. The reason for attending the show is to actively identify, meet and pitch to potential clients—not just look for leads. The lawyer who attends should know in advance who she wants to speak to and what she wants to say to them. There is a psychology to the trade show environment that goes beyond glad-handing and networking. At a show the attendees are in control of the encounter and should be treated as an actual client, no matter what their initial interest level—remember, any given one may be a viable prospect who will remember the brush-off, the snub or a condescending attitude. People remember attitudes and behavior that make them uncomfortable, and there is no second chance to correct a bad first impression.
In addition, maintaining that personal contact after the trade show is vital. Handwritten thank-you notes and other traditional communications are becoming rare in light of technology—and will surely catch the recipient's eye while emphasizing the interpersonal skills of the lawyer who sent them. This goes directly to the heart of successful rainmaking, in which the lawyer’s primary goal is differentiation. As social trends move us away from ways of connecting with prospects that were used in the past, using those techniques today becomes a differentiating factor. Potential clients want to know the lawyer will be there for them. A handwritten note symbolizes care and attention and epitomizes personal marketing.
Selling and Collaboration
Lawyers "sell" all the time, both consciously and unconsciously. A conscious effort has a better chance of succeeding. However, be aware that resiliency is essential for success in this kind of marketing. Even successful salespeople will frequently meet rejection, but their focus is consistently on achieving the next "yes" rather than dwelling on the last "no." The real challenge comes with turning the prospect into a client because it’s obvious that what the prospect wants isn’t just a lawyer—it’s a collaborator. Collaboration is the culmination of a process in which the client’s needs are met and exceeded, an accomplishment that, over time, earns the client’s loyalty. In a collaborative relationship, lawyer and client work together to assess needs and develop a proactive, interactive approach to a legal challenge that is mutually beneficial.
Clearly, communication skills are essential to a successful lawyer-client relationship. The obligation to promote quality communication between attorney and client and to ensure that the client has a good understanding of what to expect lies squarely with the attorney. Women lawyers who use their inherent communication skills to lay the foundation for such a relationship during the rainmaking process can expect it to carry over to successful client relationships—and a successful career.
For more insight on this topic, see the information on "What Do Clients Want?"© Copyright 2011. Edward Poll. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Edward Poll. Reprinted from August 10 issue of "Law Practice Today".
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.