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“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”
Although the retention and advancement rates for women lawyers in law firms continue to be dismal, the landscape is different in corporate legal offices. A recent article demonstrates the progress that women are making in corporate law offices and the improved attitudes about the woman lawyers pool in corporate law departments.
It is no secret that many women lawyers have left law firms for in-house legal jobs. It also is no secret that they have left those law firm jobs, at least in part, for the greater flexibility of job sharing, flexible work hours and part-time positions offered in corporations. Although that is good news for the women who need the flexibility to stay in the profession, it is bad news for the law firms that lose all that talent. (You already know that it is part of the Best Friends at the Bar mission to change the law firm culture and raise the retention rates for women in law firms. But, we still have a long way to go. My new book, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, to be released soon, is specifically targeted to that mission.)
This improved landscape for women in corporate legal offices is good news, and, like most good news, it creates significant opportunity. In this case, the opportunity is for women in law firms to use the special interests women lawyers share to develop relationships with the women in-house lawyers and develop more corporate clients.
One thing we know for sure is that women in corporate law offices are looking for their counterparts on outside counsel teams. It is a repeated theme in programs and media today, and it makes sense. It should not be written off as just an exclusionary attitude that diminishes the value of male legal counsel, but, rather, it is that age-old documented habit of people preferring other people like them. This habit is at the heart of why men often prefer to promote other men, who remind them of themselves, and that is a kind of unconscious bias that women lawyers have fought for years and continue to fight. We don’t like it, especially when it stands in our way, but what if we can make our own “preferences” work for us?
I am not suggesting that we repeat the mistakes of the past and discriminate in harmful ways. But, reality is reality, and opportunity is opportunity, and there is nothing harmful about women lawyers gaining more clients for their firms. In fact, that alone is the most certain way to advance in a law firm, and we need to make the most of these opportunities. If women are appearing in powerful in-house legal positions in increasing numbers, then it is time for women in law firms to take advantage of what has become a great client development opportunity.
So, get out there and take advantage of the changed landscape. Do some research and find out where your greatest opportunities lie, and make women in-house counsel front and center in your client development plan.
The time never has been better for women to develop clients. Make the most of it!
Learning the rules of law firms is critical to your success there. I have included a lot of material about how law firms work in my book, Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2012), and it is important information. You cannot possibly be successful in a law firm unless you know the ropes and understand how the business works. As a cog in a much larger wheel, you need to understand what makes that wheel go around and what your role is in producing the desired result.
I was interested by another approach to this subject matter that I read on Above the Law recently. The concept is “RULES,” a simplistic approach to a complicated subject matter about law firm management and profitability, and here is how it works.
R stands for Realization. It stands for how much you are worth as a cog in the law firm machine. The formula is “fees collected divided by the value of time billed,” and the concept is how much you received as fees compared to how much you were supposed to get for the number of billable hours multiplied by the billable hour rate. Clients often are able to negotiate preferred rates, and the benefit for that negotiation is known as a discount. Attorneys also initiate discounts as ways of demonstrating good will and encouraging follow-up business from clients.
U stands for Utilization. This is all about billed hours divided by the number of billable hours targeted for individual lawyers. It is typical for law firms to project a 2000 hour per year mark for their individual lawyers, and some firms include pro bono, marketing activities, etc, in those projected hours. Some do not, however, so look out for it.
L is for Leverage. You have heard of the legendary law firm pyramid model, and that is what leverage is all about. In other words, the ratio of how many non-partner attorneys there are for every partner affects profitability. Because associates bill out at rates much lower than partners, it is possible to keep a lot of associate lawyers busy generating fees on an account. And, don’t feel sorry for the partners. There is another thing called “generation credits” that allows them to cash in on the associates hours also. See, a great big pyramid.
E is for Expenses. There is a simple formula for this: 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3. The three categories of expenses for law firms are people, rent, and everything else, as in salaries, the cost of physical space (owned or leased) and miscellaneous expenses, which includes things as insignificant as the cost of envelopes to things as significant as technology software and hardware.
Finally, S is for Speed in terms of the date charges for legal services are incurred and the date that payment for those services is received. The most “speed effective” clients are the ones that pay shortly after being billed. However, they can be few and far between, and clients usually need a little encouragement on the speed issue. Law firms can be a frenzied place at the end of the fiscal year when billing attorneys are running around like crazy to get clients to pay up before the partners close the books for the year and divide up the profits pie. That should make you better understand why all lawyers need to get their billable time recorded according to deadlines and why submission of billing logs is not just an arbitrary requirement. What has not been recorded cannot be billed. It is simple.
So, there you have it. File this away. When you are feeling overworked, used and ready to jump ship, read it again first before you act impetuously. It is much more logical than you like to think, and you may not feel as compelled to leave one firm for another one where the RULES will be the same.
RULES are important. Pay attention!
“Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it.”
“Never give someone the opportunity to waste your time twice.”
Progress — significant progress — was made yesterday when one American law firm leaped far ahead of the others in terms of paid time off for maternity leave. That law firm, Orrick , Herrington & Sutcliffe, announced that it has increased its parental leave benefit and will now offer 22 paid weeks off for both its male and female attorneys. And, lawyers also will have the option of taking a total of nine months off of work without the risk of losing their jobs.
That’s big, and it was “the buzz” at the Polsinelli law firm reception I attended last night in DC. I was very pleased to be asked about it and to applaud Orrick. One of the leaders behind the generous family-focused policies at Orrick is a friend of mine who works hard on behalf of all women lawyers. Patricia Gillette, a partner at Orrick, is a major force for women in our profession, and I can see her influence all over this ground-breaking announcement.
As described in this article, the new policy adds four weeks of paid leave and two months of unpaid leave to the prior policy at Orrick. It is reported to be the most generous policy offered among large U.S. law firms and includes provisions for non-attorney staff for up to 14 weeks of paid leave and seven months of unpaid leave. The firm is also adding a “Leave Liaison” to help parents transition back to work as well as training for those in leadership for how to support parents. These new programs are in addition to existing law firm programs addressing onramping for parents and flexible work programs.
The most significant part of the announcement for me was the explanation by Orrick CEO, Mitch Zuklie, about the compelling reasons behind the new policies. Those reasons center on a combination of what is right for the women and what is in the best business interests of the law firm. Here is how Mr. Zuklie stated it: ““Women are thriving in U.S. law schools at the same rates as men. But they are not thriving—in the right numbers—in law firms. … At Orrick, one way we’re seeking to attract women, and inspire them to stay and lead, is by expanding our parental leave policy.”
Hear, hear. Read the entire article for more background on how law firm parental policies compare to other industries in America and how the US compares to other countries on these issues. You may be very surprised at what you read.
And, for your additional reading pleasure and a bit of entertainment after a hard day at the office, enjoy this piece, which posits that men getting pregnant is the sure-fire route to women having it all!
“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you don’t know whether you can do it, say yes — then learn how to do it later.”
Sir Richard Branson