Most of you know by now that developing clients is the road to success in law firms. Crudely, it has been said that “you eat what you kill.” In other words, if you bring in the work, you will be paid handsomely. Nothing else comes close to assuring a successful career as a lawyer.
That is why there is so much emphasis today on client development and networking. Concentrating on acquiring the soft skills that are necessary to make you attractive to potential clients is time well spent. However, soft skills are not taught in law school, and very few law firms are taking the time to instruct young lawyers in these skills. It is for that very reason that I have developed a Soft Skills for Lawyers program, which is highlighted on the home page of the Best Friends at the Bar website.
With all of the competition for clients in the marketplace today, you would think that soft skill development would be a “no brainer” for law firm mentors. It is entirely possible that the days of the Old Boys Network are numbered as the Baby Boomer lawyers give up their club memberships and retire from practice, and no amount of dedication to successful client development is too much as firms look to less experienced lawyers to carry out the business of the firms.
But, as you will see below, not all perceptions about client development are the same. In a recent column, The Careerist’s Vivia Chen highlighted a study that found male clients to be more inclined to steer business to male lawyers than to female lawyers. That proposition got the attention of two seasoned women lawyers, and Chen followed up with an interview of the two women lawyers, which “aired” in this podcast.
Take the time to listen to Chen’s interview of Sharon Nelles of Sullivan and Cromwell and Robbie Kaplan, formerly of Paul Weiss and currently a principal in her own firm, discuss the “ins and outs” of landing clients. The strategies you will hear could be invaluable to your career success.
You will hear a challenge to the premise that success in getting clients is a gender issue. Rather than gender as the underlying cause of successful client development, Nelles and Kaplan identify relationships and reputation as the most important factors in developing and gaining clients. They also recognize the problems inherent in getting the right opportunities and exposure to clients — which makes it easier to accomplish those goals — and how women lawyers come out on the short end of many of those opportunities and much of that exposure to clients.
But that is not where the discussion ends. Nelles and Kaplan are not satisfied with the inequity in terms of opportunities and exposure, and their back and forth on the subject provides food for thought that can be a career changer. Definitely worth your time.
Check out the podcast.