Women in law: What makes a great lawyer?

For any lawyer aspiring to make partner the ability to win new business has always been critical. In today’s fiercely competitive environment most firms expect associates to demonstrate the potential to attract business through their attitude and skills set irrespective of their long-term career ambition.

Finding the time and support to develop these skills can be challenging in firms where partners traditionally bring in the work and associates do the bulk of the work. The emphasis on billable hours leaves little time for additional projects or non-chargeable work.

Female lawyers face the additional challenge, according to a new survey of 2,100 lawyers at large American firms, that male lawyers are better at getting credit for bringing in big wins.

While it makes sense to ask your partners if you can contribute to specific pitches, opportunities abound to develop the skills and knowledge essential to winning new business through your daily caseload. Here are some tips I have shared with my clients to achieve this:

Listen to your clients and nurture a relationship with them

Client relationships are the engine of any successful practice. The most commercially successful partners deliver quality advice to a client in a way that shows they understand their business and listen carefully to their needs.

Relationships are built over time. How often do you hear partners say they are doing business with someone they were with at law school, university or trained with? Start to build yours now, think about who your future clients might be; they could be amongst your current clients, your peers as well as your network outside of work.

Cultivate the relationships you build with those you are directly interacting with on a deal, they will be the buyers of your services in the future. It’s always easier to keep a relationship gently ticking along rather than having to re-establish them.

Find ways of staying in touch that seem natural to you. It might be periodically meeting up face to face or simply staying in touch by email or LinkedIn.

The cardinal rule remains, impress your existing clients. These are the people that will give you more business and repeat business is less time consuming to secure than new business. You will do this in part through what you effectively deliver but also through developing a rapport and a relationship with the client.

People who manage relationships well display high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ). They stand apart from their peers in their ability to learn from others, be adaptable, work well with others and empathetic to the needs of others.

Build client trust by listening in order to understand issues rather than listening to respond. This will make your client feel comfortable and willing to share real concerns. This is something which I have noticed the female lawyers I coach are often great at but don’t always recognise as being a key strength when it comes to business development.

A final point on client relationships; make sure you have access and understand how to use your firm’s marketing tools and work effectively with the business development team.

Develop commercial awareness

The reason your clients exist, in the main, is to make money. The more you are able to understand your client’s business and the conditions in which it operates the greater value you can add by reducing legal risk.

Remain up to date with external factors that can effect a client’s decision making: not just the broad economic and political climate but changes to government policy and trends within their sector by reading newspapers and relevant sector and industry media, attending industry updates and network at industry events.

Build your reputation through thought leadership

Clients buy expertise and one way to attract new business is to demonstrate the firm’s and your thought leadership and knowledge to potential clients. There are several ways to achieve this, through writing a blog or contributing to client news updates, attending and or speaking at association functions, organizing a small networking event to name a few.

I’ll explore ways to network successfully in my next article. In the meantime think about the relationships that successful lawyers have in your firm, compare these to your network and think about what you need to do to bridge that gap and then maintain your profile in your network as it grows.

Emma Spitz is a Director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy. She has over twelve years experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development.

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