By ED POLL, Special to Lawyers Weekly
Numerous surveys and studies indicate that women are no more than 20 percent of the partners at most large firms, and hold an even smaller percentage of senior firm or practice management positions.
One effective way for firms and individual lawyers to broaden this participation is by emphasizing women’s career advancement through marketing. While too many lawyers, including women lawyers, 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 to realize she can work within it. 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.
This brings up a potentially sensitive but completely valid issue. Studies have shown that women are considered more trustworthy than men because they are generally 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 – extroversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, and thinking versus feeling – women attorneys matched general population norms more closely.
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 lawyers can be highly effective at facilitating this.
If law firms encourage women to do interpersonal marketing, and if women lawyers themselves seize that opportunity, they will have more clients.
Such an approach makes clients feel like part of the team by 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:
- 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 product 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 this 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 inherent 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.
Editor’s note: Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management, a national law firm practice-management consultancy based in Venice, Calif. For more information, visit www.lawbiz.com.