NEW YORK — At the end of 2016, the advisory board for Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) initiative wanted to make a bold commitment and do something new for women who are in the process of advancing within their legal careers.
The winning idea was to create a cohort designed to enable a select group of high-potential female partners at Am Law 50 firms to gain access to powerful general counsel and other female business leaders by facilitating networking, mentoring, and business development opportunities. As a result, the inaugural TWLL pilot cohort launched in 2017, representing nine “Rising Star” female partners who were invited to participate in various events throughout the course of the year. Based on positive feedback from the cohort members, TWLL Advisory Board and our industry partners, TWLL is thrilled to begin the program’s second year and welcome a new cohort comprised of 10 female partners!
The launch event for the 2018 cohort was recently hosted at the New York offices of Paul, Weiss. Valerie Radwaner, Deputy Chair of Paul, Weiss and member of the TWLL Advisory Board, welcomed attendees by noting that while the legal industry has made notable strides in improving diversity, there is still so much progress to achieve. Radwaner also credited the sustained dialogue and collaboration that TWLL promotes as an important driver of progress.
One surprisingly underutilized tactic by lawyers is asking the client one simple question: “How are we doing?” Lawyers can also directly ask how the client is approaching the new legal landscape; and most pointedly, how and where are they allocating their legal spend?
I next had the pleasure to introduce the event’s two featured panelists: Jessie Santiago, Director of Technology and Information Services for the Legal Affairs Department at MetLife; and Janet Stanton, Partner at Adam Smith, Esq., who each shared their respective insights and expertise into how law firms can gain a competitive edge in a fast-shifting legal marketplace.
Stanton, who provides strategic management consulting services to the legal industry, said that while law firms still represent the largest category of legal services providers, there is increased competition for market share because it’s “not a growing pie”. While overall demand for legal services is increasing slightly, there is also increased supply from alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) as well as from in-house legal departments that are absorbing more of the work internally.
For those top 5% to 10% of law firms that are outperforming their peers, Stanton credited their successes with “running themselves more like businesses.” This includes being responsive (such as employing account management) when the client calls, the strong use of business professionals working within the firms (also known as “allied professionals”), and strategic business planning.
Toward this end, she said one tactic that is surprisingly underutilized is asking the client one simple question: “How are we doing?” She also encourages lawyers to directly ask how the client is approaching the new legal landscape; and most pointedly, how and where are they allocating their legal spend?
Understanding a Client’s Business and Taking Cues from Corporations
Both Stanton and Santiago highlighted the prized ability of lawyers who can impart advice based on a strong grasp of their clients’ business. Santiago, speaking from the buy-side, underscored the appeal of outside counsel who have studied a client’s specific issues in order to tailor their pitch and ultimately deliver highly customized business solutions. This depth of understanding can often lead to more proactive issue-spotting and advice that arrives sooner rather than later.
Stanton acknowledged that while most lawyers may understandably feel stretched by their daily workloads, getting up to speed on clients’ business drivers, such as their key competitors and challenges, doesn’t need to create an undue burden. “You don’t have to know everything [about a client’s business] but if others aren’t doing it, you’ll stand out,” she said, suggesting simple methods such as creating Google alerts and hiring graduate students to conduct deeper research.
Deirdre Stanley, executive vice president and general counsel at Thomson Reuters and a TWLL Advisory Board member, underscored how important it is to understand the basics of a client’s business model, including its revenue drivers and its major costs. “To be a leader, ultimately, involves having to deal with financials,” she said.
Among the issues that can detract from otherwise solid performance, is when a law firm doesn’t have established processes — and a strong relationship manager in place — to maintain consistency and enable transparency across all teams working on a given matter.
Lawyers will also be wise to surround themselves with colleagues who are experts in other business functions, if those individuals exist within their law firm. “At corporations you’ve got diverse roles, and lawyers can also benefit from the acumen of strategic business professionals,” Stanton noted.
Another way in which law firms should consider modeling themselves after corporations is in the realm of stewardship. As Santiago explained, MetLife has been in existence for 150 years, and its strong practice and tradition of transferring knowledge to the young generations has been integral to its staying power.
Among the issues that can detract from otherwise solid performance, is when a law firm doesn’t have established processes — and a strong relationship manager in place — to maintain consistency and enable transparency across all teams working on a given matter. To reinforce this necessity, Stanton referenced research that indicates collected rates increase when a designated manager proactively drives collaboration with the client and across the firm’s own practice areas.
Diversity Measurement and Closing Thoughts
Reinforcing the aspiration of TWLL itself, Santiago asserted that — from the perspective of the in-house office in which she sits — corporate legal leadership intends to hold law firms accountable for ensuring diverse teams are serving the client beyond the initial pitch. Firms should be prepared to answer questions such as how many diverse candidates are represented from a particular population, the kind of work diverse lawyers are ultimately doing, and to complete surveys to demonstrate this representation.
In closing, Stanley noted that while the diversity discussion may have begun decades ago, “I’m convinced that leadership — and more diversity in all of our organizations — is really going to be required to see the change that we want to see,” she said.
She remarked that it’s a privilege to connect with “Rising Star” female partners who have already accomplished so much in their careers, but still have “a lot of runway for so much more.”