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Part 3--It's the Money, Honey

Vivia Chen

January 6, 2012

©NatUlric-Fotolia.comSo I lied. Yesterday I said I would give you the solution about how women can drum up clients in a boys' world. To be honest, I haven't the foggiest.

And neither does anybody else. I asked some smart, accomplished women--partners at major firms and business development experts--and no one came up with a satisfactory answer. I knew the situation was bleak when Ellen Ostrow, a well-respected career coach, said to me: "There are systemic problems, and creating women's initiatives and giving them money won't do much." As for coaching individual women about client cultivation, Ostrow says, "That won't address the systemic problems." And this is coming from a career coach!

Then there's this comment from a new Am Law 100 female partner who's been getting training and mentoring from her firm on client development for the past year: "Men seem to have an easier time at it--and the firm's not sure what to do about it."

So women are trying, and (some) firms are trying to help them--and it's still not working. Until the revolution arrives, is there anything women can do to change the power dynamics?

If you ask me, a good start would be for women to get greedy. A lot greedier. Truth is women have not completely shaken the good-girl syndrome. One manifestation is their reluctance to get dirty about money issues. 

Remember that intriguing factoid from the Am Law New Partner Survey--how 15 percent of new female partners are unable to describe partner compensation at their own firm? Well, I was floored--embarrassed by my own sex--by that lapse. But that kind of ignorance didn't surprise a lot of people in the trenches.

"I get calls from women who are up for partnership, and I'll ask them about the compensation system and what capital contribution they need to make," says career coach Ostrow. "And they'll say they don't know because they think it's not polite to ask."

The head of Women in Law Empowerment Forum, Elizabeth Tursi, spells out another reason women don't ask about finances: "It's called F-E-A-R, and fear is a major obstacle to women's success."

That squeamishness to talk about money might also be why women find it difficult to be up front about asking for business--even from their best source: in-house women. “Women interact differently from men, and in my conversations with in-house women, we tend not to talk about business development,” says the new Am Law partner. She says women will chat about the substance of their work and their families.

But when she does broach the subject of business development, she gets a positive reaction. "It's something I have to make a conscious effort at, but I found [potential clients] to be receptive."

So go out there and dip your hands in the money. That's why you're sweating to develop business--and why you are where you are. If you're doing it for any other reason, don't bother.


Previous posts: "No More Miss Nice," "Boys Rule."

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].



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@ Sally - so female participation is low in law, female participation is low in science, and in so many other fields.

Maybe part of the reason is that in the middle of the day, a lot of women are hanging out the coach eating bon bons and watching whoever has inherited the viewership from Oprah.

I find the article, comments and the concept in this series of articles intriguing. I have been practicing as a patent attorney for almost 20 years. So, to the first commentor, I have a sense of women in the sciences as well as the law. In some ways, I went into the law because of the issues in the sciences. I am also non-white (as opposed to "minority," which is inaccurate) to the extent that we need to identify ourselves for purposes of this conversation. As a solo practitioner, I am required to do business development. It is the only way I can suport myself. I am out regularly at meetings, talking to people, and attempting to develop relationships. I do not expect people to hand me a portfolio without knowing my skill set or having a trust that I can do their work; however, I have seen people hand over large portfolios to male patent attorneys with less experience and lower credentialing than I within a few interations. In fact, one company hired a guy who was not a patent attorney to do their work on the representation that he would bring me in. So, the article has a lot of credibility with me when it talks about the systemic biases. These biases bear out in a variety of ways, including the lower salaries paid to women (72% for white women, 68% for African American Women and 62% for hispanic women, while Asian women are above 90%) in comparsion to white males. One of the practices I've taken on in shifting the power dynamic is making it clear that no one is doing me a favor by "giving" me work to satisfy a diversity initiative. I am not interested in being a token and I am not willing to work with someone who really does not trust or honor my efforts and talents, including other women. And, I have also come to realize that there is truth in the adage that "no one ever got fired for hiring GE." I understand and respect that people have to support and protect their own careers. So, I do not necessarily see a no as a rejection of me (although sometimes it is). So, I keep showing up to the meetings where I am welcomed and feel I can contribute and solicit business. And, I avoid those where it is not conducive to growth. This then becomes an interesting issue because "majority" bars and organizations often comment that XX did not stay or they cannot find XX. And they say they have no idea why. As alluded to in the article, in shiftng the dynamic, it's time for the majority groups to ask, Am I being sincere (i.e., is this something that I really want), and is it really what's best for my organization and the person I am bringing in. If not, then don't do it. It is a disaster waiting to happen. Unhealthy people. High attrition. All of which is a hight cost to doing business.

This is interesting. I don't know much about women in the legal profession but I do know much about women in the sciences and many of the problems sound the same. 10+ years ago I attended a conference about increasing raw numbers of women (and minorities) in the sciences where the running thread was "we've recognized the problem--and the solution--for 25 years. so why is woman and minority participation still so low?" Nothing much has changed.

You can't focus only on training or retraining women and their attitudes. You also have to work on the men. And, alas, by the time the men you need to reach are in the system--law school, even--it's too late.

(Disclaimer: My comments contain some broad generalizations which I recognize don't apply to all women. Please see this post for what it is, simply the sharing of personal observations and comments from other women I have heard over the years, however flawed you may believe they are.)

Business Development, by in large, is similar regardless of industry. While not a lawyer, working in biz dev in the legal technology industry for a long time has given me plenty of exposure to female attorneys and their ability (or in ability in most cases) to succeed in business development. Though by no means scientific, my observations are:

1) Business Development is as much about social interaction as it is work. You have to invest time in a relationship whereby people are able to become comfortable with you, trust you, and most importantly, want to transact business with you. It has been my observation that women tend to want to jump to the end without all the stuff in between. There isn't a sales or biz dev person out there who doesn't, but unfortunately clients just don't throw money at you.

2) As per the above comments, business development is a courtship process, and one that women fear the recipients of their attention might mistake for romantic interest. (I have had a woman tell me this).

3) Many women are unaccustomed to pursuing other men, even if for business purposes. They are more accustomed to being pursued, but in their personal life. (Again, I have had a woman tell me this) Professional life and personal life are quite different.

4) Many women fear being judged by female peers, so when trying to get business from other women too much time is spent worrying about how they are perceived vs. trying to close the business.

5) Many professional women are determined to show others that they can do things themselves and don’t require outside assistance. In business development, you MUST exploit existing relationships in order to develop new ones.

6) Every sales or business development person fears rejection from prospects, but women tend to assume that a no means there was a personal failure on their part. They internalize things to try to figure out what they did wrong instead of examining the situation for what it really is. Perhaps the prospect is subject to political factors which prevents the changing of the old guard. Perhaps they are too busy with other matters at the moment to consider you AT THAT TIME, but the door may be open at a later time (See #1 above). Sometimes, you can do everything brilliantly and still face rejection. It happens a lot.

Sales and business development aren’t for everyone. It takes a unique type of person to be successful at it, but that doesn’t mean that EVERYONE cannot be better at it. You may have previously heard the expression “Sales is a numbers game”. It is true. No one closes 100% of their prospects. Rejection is part of the experience. When you are rejected, don’t just walk away; you will learn something every time to help you in the future, if you only ask.

Here is an evolution I find fascinating, and admirable. I have a professional friend I first met when she was the in-house lawyer at a Fortune 50 company in charge of assigning certain types of deals to lawyers. In the early 1990’s, I organized a panel at the NYC Bar Association concerning how in-house counsel assigns work. I recall this person saying she had never given significant business to a lawyer who had not asked for it.
After years in the corporate world (largely a boys club), this person founded a company that helps corporations and law firms communicate with each other and manage outside counsel costs to everyone’s satisfaction. Process improvement inevitably includes talking about money. In the context of working together towards excellent and efficient high-end service, the money discussion becomes an “us” and not a grab.

Spot on with your last remark--that, ultimately, money really is the only reason to stick it out in a big firm. It took me years to learn that. As soon as I did, I quit.

I do think you're right about the fear factor. The few truly successful female partners I've met are those who ask the tough questions, demand answers, don't mince words, and make it clear that they are a force to be reckoned with. They are strong and impressive, but interestingly, I have noticed that these women are generally less well-liked than others among their female peers. Not that the women in question seem bothered by that, but I do think it's telling that many women want to be seen in a different light, even if that impacts negatively on their chances of success within a firm.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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