Tips for Building Connections and Books of Business for Women Junior Partners

Topics: Business Development & Marketing Blog Posts, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Efficiency, Law Firms, Leadership, Legal Executive Events, Personal Effectiveness, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


Strategic networking skills are critically important to women’s advancement in the legal profession, especially for newer women partners, explained two leading women lawyers.

The comments came from Valerie Radwaner, deputy chair of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; and Michelle Mancino Marsh, a veteran intellectual property litigation partner at Arent Fox. The pair were speaking to a group of women lawyers who had been nominated by their firms as 2019’s “Rising Stars” class, as part of a Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law event recently. The panel was moderated by Sheila Murphy, president and CEO of Fast Forward Consulting LLC and former associate general counsel at MetLife.

Radwaner and Marsh shared a variety of useful tips on how they have effectively connected with potential clients to maximize business development. Their insights included:

Reframing the Mindset on Business Development — Early in their careers, Radwaner and Marsh both had viewed networking for business development as a difficult chore. But they eventually realized that efforts to nurture connections and new business were essential for their professional development. Marsh said she successfully reframed her mindset by redefining networking as “taking an interest in another person.”

Both women came to view business development as investing in themselves, recognizing that business development is a long game. Marsh said she evolved her psychology around these efforts by remaining unattached to outcomes, letting go of expectations of relationship-building, and freeing herself from the feeling of rejection if an expectation is not met.

Building the Right Connections — When attending a conference or event where business development will be a primary activity, Radwaner and Marsh suggested obtaining the attendee list in advance, if at all possible, in order to identify with whom you want to connect. If the attendee list is unavailable, show up early to review the list and then to prioritize whom to try to meet, they suggested.

With the short-list of people you want to meet in hand, Marsh and Radwaner discussed techniques they have used for initiating a dialogue. Both encouraged asking questions about the other person to get the individual talking about himself or herself. Radwaner said her go-to conversation starter is simple: “What do you like to do outside of work?”

Tips for opening chats was a recent topic of the TWLL Q1 Ask-a-mentor session. Learn more networking hacks here

The Importance of Follow-up — To win new business, both Marsh and Radwaner stressed that it is crucial to follow up and keep in touch. Asked if they keep following up when they get no response, both said yes, because it can take connecting with someone as much as a dozen times before they’ll enter into a serious conversation around buying legal services.

Marsh said she has learned not to take it personally if she does not get a response. She described meeting with a prospective client annually for the last few years. When she asked him what she needs to do to earn the opportunity to work with him, he offered no concrete answer. However, she said she kept meeting with him because she knew he was interested in hiring her. At the next meeting, she plans to ask him about the “obstacles he faces for them to work together” and whether she should meet with other leaders within his legal department to earn their confidence.

Murphy stressed the ease and importance of using LinkedIn as a key tool for keep-in-touch strategies. As an example, LinkedIn has automatic reminders for “happy birthdays,” “work anniversaries,” and “new job announcements” with suggested responses. With one click, it is easy to say “congratulations on your work anniversary.”

Both Radwaner and Marsh recommended initial follow-up within 48 hours of meeting. To stand out, Radwaner also suggested writing personal notes and sending small gifts of gratitude. To initiate one relationship with a client, Radwaner sent her favorite book about Ruth Bader Ginsberg along with a personal note to the client after she learned of their deep shared interest in the Supreme Court. It was the start of a wonderful business relationship that has now lasted more than 30 years.

Asking for Work — Another hot topic was how to ask for work and how to gain the courage to do so. Radwaner and Marsh suggested that being less direct can be more comfortable. For example, Radwaner suggested raising the “opportunity to work together”; and Marsh suggested starting with “I would love to find a way for us to work together…” and then elaboratiing on some possible next steps.

In situations where there is not an obvious opportunity for work, Radwaner and Marsh focus on continuing the relationship by asking “How can I be helpful to you?”

To address anxiety about asking for work, repeated practice helps. Asking for work is like building a muscle, Marsh said, and the only way to improve is to “just get out there and do it.”

Also, one of the common fears for women is asking friends from law school or college for work, and potentially undermining the friendship. Murphy and Radwaner suggested to ask for introductions and referrals if you sense there is some tension around the possibility of taking the friendship into a business relationship.

Managing Your Time to Follow up — Making time for building relationships is a common challenge for new partners, and Radwaner and Marsh and other attendees offered the following tips to ensure time is made:

  • Marsh makes a calendar entry for marketing every month;
  • Radwaner keeps a running list of contacts, including connections from law school, nonprofit boards, and conferences, next to her computer;
  • One attendee has a sticky note next to her computer with the number “5” on it to remind her to take five actions to connect with people in her network every day; and
  • Tope Yusuf, a member of the 2018 Rising Star class who hosted the session at Arent Fox in New York City, makes use of an “accountability” partner, whom she meets with for 30 minutes every other week. Sometimes, the two share business development tips and sometimes they use the time to focus on future actions for business development.