Legal Community Collaboration: The Key to Open Business Development Pathways for Women (Part 3)

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Law Firms, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


By working together, law firms and general counsels have the opportunity to generate innovative ways to create and build business development opportunities for diverse lawyers.

Earlier this month, in-house counsel and law firm lawyers gathered at a Fireside Chat to discuss these opportunities and how to create them — as part of the Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law initiative — with the focus on how to remove the structural barriers to women’s advancement in the legal profession.

At the recent Fireside Chat, findings from research from Carol Frohlinger’s white paper, “Business Development in the New Normal”, were discussed, and then audience members participated in round table discussions using scenarios developed from the study to identify solutions that could move the legal industry toward greater gender parity.

Another scenario focused on “Sarah,” who had risen through the associate ranks at her first-tier law firm by working very long hours, always being available to the partners she worked for, and by being extremely diligent in her follow up. She had interacted with clients in the context of doing their work, but hadn’t really spent time developing those relationships. She doesn’t have a strong external network, but now that she’s a partner, she’s been told she has to start doing business development.

Just as she is wondering how she is going to do that, she gets a call from “Judy,” her best friend from law school. Judy is excited to tell her that she has just been named head of M&A at a Fortune 500 company, and that she is moving across the country for the new job. She and Sarah have lunch before she goes, and they reminisce about old times, and talk about both of their new roles. Judy has asked for the check, and their time together is almost over, but Sarah hasn’t “made the ask.”

Building Relationships into Business Development Opportunities

Very few women in law firms fully leverage their relationships and friends to drive business. At the same time, women who work as corporate counsels or in corporate legal departments don’t fully take advantage of their potential power in driving their company’s business to female law partners. These roundtable discussions focused on the potential scope of power in these relationships between women both on the law firm partner side and the general counsel side.

Key solutions offered to Sarah by audience participants at the Fireside Chat included:

  • Use humor to break the ice about the possibility of increasing their professional partnership by saying, “Wouldn’t it be fun to work together?” or “I’ll expense lunch if we talk business.”
  • Ask Judy for more information about her corporation’s process for deciding outside counsel and then ask for your firm to be included in the next decision cycle.
  • Try to be helpful to Judy by suggesting ways she could get ahead in her new role through client networking and attaining CLE credits.

On the other hand, Judy has the opportunity to help too by opening up the discussion with Sarah, for example, by saying, “Does your firm have an M&A practice?” or “Can I bounce legal issues or ideas off of you?”

Naturally, audience members also had ideas for what the law firm could do to help Sarah operate in her new role as a potential rainmaker, and the following actions were suggested. The firm could:

  • provide talking points to Sarah to help educate Judy on the firm’s services;
  • sponsor training, mentoring, coaching and role modeling various business development scenarios that would teach Sarah how to develop business and leverage connections that already exist; and
  • prepare Sarah by asking for help from other partners for networking opportunities.

There is no doubt that if women law firm partners ask for more business from their connections and personal friendships, and women general counsels offer business opportunities and make introductions to their friends and connections, it would result in greater success of women as rainmakers.

Help us to continue the conversation by letting us know what you think in the comments section below.

(This is the third part of a three-part blog series on this recent Fireside Chat event.)