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!