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September 03, 2008

Women Rainmakers…What’s Different, What Isn’t? Part 2

This concludes the article I published in the August issue of Of Counsel, the Legal Practice and Management Report.

Pillars of Success

When discussing the success of the WEB program, and others like it, the question is raised: “What’s different for women rainmakers?” The best data comes from the groundbreaking research in this area, “LSSO’s Women Lawyers Study: Sales and Business Development Issues,” which was directed by Catherine Alman MacDonagh of the Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO) and analyzed by Marcie Borgal Shunk of the BTI Consulting Group.

For the first time, based on a survey of 426 women lawyers (published in The Complete Lawyer ), “four guiding principles of success” for female rainmakers are clearly identified:

1. Have the right attitude: “a certain optimism, an element of persistence, and an ability to be resilient.”

2. Take the lead: Women lawyers with leadership positions, both inside and outside the firm, generated more new business.

3. Invest time wisely: “Every hour dedicated weekly to developing existing clients and attracting new business yields female attorneys nearly $30,000 in additional origination revenue, regardless of category (equity partner, non-equity partner, counsel or senior associate).”

4. Know the power of client service: Women lawyers who agreed with the statement “client service has no impact” on new business reported far lower annual originations (less than $600,000) than those who believed that “client service differentiates” (more than $800,000).

Power of Positive Thinking

To me, the most interesting principle is the first one: the attitudes of successful female rainmakers, especially their optimism. It’s easy to see why optimism is important. Would you hire a lawyer who seemed unsure of herself ?

A few years ago, I wrote a book called AdverSelling that summarized key principles used by sales professionals. Chapter 7, titled “Be optimistic and credible,” opened with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

Many lawyers, both female and male, find pessimism easier than optimism, perhaps because their job often requires anticipating all the things that can go wrong. But researchers have consistently found that, in sales, optimism is linked to success.

In the 1980s, for example, Metropolitan Life Insurance commissioned psychologist Martin Seligman to identify the characteristics of successful insurance agents. At that time, half the agents that Met Life hired quit in their first 12 months, and 80 percent left within four years.

The researchers expected to find that the ones who quit sold less insurance right from the start. In fact, they found that, in the first year, sales were quite similar for the agents who later quit and for those who stayed.

What was different was the way in which they interpreted their failures.

The sales agents who were successful in the long term were consistently optimistic. When they lost a sale, they never said it was because “selling life insurance is hard” or “I’m no good at it.” Instead, every unsuccessful sale was an exception: “that guy was too busy” or “they just happened to be eating when I called.” The salespeople who lasted were always convinced that success was just around the corner. And so it was.

Last fall, when I was working with Latham’s WEB group, several female rainmakers raised the idea that this type of self-confidence, even arrogance, seems to come easier to men than to women. For many reasons, I would prefer not to speculate about male/female differences. But I am looking forward to the day when LSSO publishes follow-up research on male/female differences, and whether firms are perceived as doing enough to support female attorneys. (MacDonagh is currently leading the design of LSSO’s next women lawyers’ survey, which is expected to launch this summer.)

In the meantime, are business development tactics likely to become more gender-specific? It’s too early to tell, but one thing seems certain: The influence of female decision-makers is continuing to grow in corporate America, and so too is the influence of female rainmakers at law firms.

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