The Business of Law: “Rainmaking” 201: Part Three—Rainmaking and Women Lawyers
By Mary Louise Hopson
Young women lawyers today have an entirely different experience than their predecessors of even 40 years ago. Surrounded by women lawyers, with no scarcity of successful role models, they may be surprised to know that, back then, women found it difficult to find employment as lawyers.
In 1969, there were only 150 women lawyers in Dallas, and, across the country, only 6.9 % of law students were women. But by 1979, women made up 31.4% of the law students across the country. Things were also changing here in Dallas. In 1984, pioneering women lawyers, who had been meeting informally for years, formed The Dallas Women Lawyers Association. In the ensuing years, these women spearheaded the formation of networking groups and helped to effect change so that women could advance their legal careers. Women now represent 47 percent of current enrollment in Texas law schools, mirroring national statistics, and comprise 30 percent of the lawyers and 17.6 percent of the partners at Texas’s largest law firms.
A lawyer since 1970, Harriet Miers remembers those early days. Ms. Miers began her career at a predecessor firm of Locke Lord LLP after a two-year judicial clerkship. Selected as last year’s recipient of the Morris Harrell Professionalism Award from the DBA and Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism, she has achieved many “firsts” in her practice: First woman lawyer at her firm, first woman to become president of the DBA in 1985, first woman to become president of her firm in 1996 (and then co-managing partner after a merger in 1999), and first woman to become president of the State Bar of Texas in 1992. After a stint with President George W. Bush’s administration, she returned to Locke Lord in 2007, where she practices in the litigation and public policy sections.
Ms. Miers feels that success in business development requires gaining a reputation for being trustworthy and effective, getting to know clients well and understanding and caring about their needs and their business—all qualities equally valued in both men and women lawyers. She added that law firms should emphasize, as part of their culture, well-organized efforts to support and enhance the success of women and minority lawyers.
“Locke Lord has specific initiatives to encourage that both women and minorities are recruited, hired, promoted and retained,” she said. “Expanding business development activities and success is a critical part of both of these initiatives.”
Having business already and doing an excellent job of representing existing clients are proven staples of acquiring more business, Ms. Miers said. But remembering women with the right expertise for new client proposals and existing client teams can provide an extra push for business development efforts.
“Women lawyers should be encouraged to actively seek introductions to potential clients they would like to represent,” she added. “Enthusiastic introductions provide exposure that frequently can result in new business. Women lawyers, like all lawyers, can benefit from resources devoted to assisting them in identifying possible new clients, preparing effective materials to present their capabilities, enabling their participation in networking or professional groups pertinent to their areas of expertise and skills development and ensuring necessary backup to do an excellent job when they are hired.”
Ms. Miers added that encouraging women lawyers to develop and execute a plan that includes these aspects will instill beneficial discipline for business development efforts. She also feels that inter-firm referrals are another way for lawyers to increase their business, so remembering women lawyers for cross referrals is very important.
Ms. Miers is very proud of the women in her firm, who help make up the one third of the DBA membership who are women. “Their energy and effectiveness make me feel confident in the future of women lawyers,” she said.
Readers of our three-part series on rainmaking will note there are different opinions about what makes a good rainmaker. While much depends on individual style and one’s particular area of practice, some similarities in the way these lawyers approach business development arise.
At the top of the list are being a good lawyer, giving excellent client service and communicating effectively. Next: A care and genuine concern for the clients and their needs, and a willingness to put aside personal convenience at times to deliver top-quality legal services. And, last but not least, helping other attorneys move up the ladder of success, enhancing the overall success of one’s firm or company.
Marketing veteran Mary Louise Hopson is a longtime member of the Publications Committee and writes this occasional column about the business side of law practice. She met and worked with many pioneering women lawyers. She has known Harriet Miers since the mid-1980s, when they worked together on a committee to plan the ABA Section of Litigation Annual Meeting in Dallas.