There’s something I frequently hear from law firm leaders that makes me a little crazy.
Okay, I might have lied a smidge. It makes me a LOT crazy.
When I hear this “conventional wisdom,” it’s usually from a male partner with a substantial book of business, and it goes something like this…
“Either you have it (rainmaking ability), or you don’t.”
“That lawyer won’t be a rainmaker – I don’t see any ‘fire in the belly.’”
Variations on the theme include “Rainmakers are born, not made” and “Introverted lawyers can’t develop business.”
An Aspiring Rainmaker Gets Advice
I recently spoke with “Natalie,” a senior associate at an Intellectual Property boutique who expects to be considered for partner in the next two years. Natalie has known since she was a little girl that she wanted to be a lawyer and is committed to making partner and staying at her firm for the long term.
Unlike many associates who are focused entirely on billing hours and mastering the technical aspects of practicing law, Natalie is fully aware that understanding the business of law and generating her own book of business will be critical to her success.
Natalie has discussed her business development goals with several of the partners at her firm. In many ways, she’s a dream associate – she is committed to the firm, is planning for the future, and she’s committed to growing her leadership and business development skills both for herself and for the benefit of the firm.
Given those admirable qualities, you would probably expect the partners to be encouraging and perhaps even provide her with mentoring and other supportive resources.
Not so much.
Instead, a couple of the partners told her that, because she is a “quiet person,” she is not likely to be able to bring new business to the firm and should, instead, focus on doing good work for existing clients in the hope that those clients might refer her business someday.
In other words, they tried to stop this go-getter in her tracks.
A Biased Approach
Natalie likes and respects her firm’s partners and firmly believes their hearts are in the right place.
So, if their dismissal of her aspirations wasn’t intentional or mean-spirited, where was their advice coming from?
We can’t know for sure, of course, but in my experience advice like this can be a result of:
- A bias in some cultures, such as in the US, is that being an extrovert is far better for doing business than being an introvert. In some Asian or Scandinavian cultures, in contrast, introversion may be a preferred trait. For example, an American expression is “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” where I am told that in at least one Asian culture, the prevailing message is “the nail that stands up gets hammered down.”
- A bias that a nice young woman won’t be assertive or aggressive enough to do business “with the guys” or that she won’t be taken seriously.
- A human tendency to jump to conclusions about others’ potential and to categorize and label them.
- A desire (whether conscious or not) to maintain the status quo so that the partners will have Natalie around to do their work and serve their clients rather than focusing on her own.
Conventional Wisdom That Isn’t So Wise
The viewpoint that only people who are “naturals” or social butterflies can attract clients to a law firm is, at best, misguided and uninformed. Even worse, that attitude can easily poison the well, discouraging you from pursuing your career development and leadership goals.
The Truth About Business Development
Are some people naturally more comfortable with networking and other business development activities, such as public speaking? Of course.
But business development CAN be learned, and it’s NOT a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
In the last 15 years, I have seen over and over again that when lawyers receive proper education, coaching, and internal support, they can learn and implement principles and strategies that enable them to attract and retain their ideal clients. And that is true regardless of their geography, practice area, age and stage, likes and dislikes, or personality type.
YOU Get to Call the Shots in Your Own Career
- We’ve all heard the expression, “If you can believe it, you can achieve it.” Sure, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but just because someone else, no matter how experienced or senior (or male), doesn’t think you should pursue your goals doesn’t mean they are right! You have the potential to do, be, and have what you want.
- Do NOT listen to colleagues who believe that lawyers are naturally bad at business development and that most of them will never be able to do it effectively. Do NOT listen to the folks who think you can’t do it because you’re a woman, or you’re too nice, or you’re an introvert. It’s all baloney. Seriously.
- I never thought I would be quoting Mister Rogers, but here we are. 😉 “Look for the helpers.” When you decide to take action in the direction of your goals, people will come into your life who will guide you, cheer you, mentor you, and walk the path by your side.
Ignore the naysayers.
Looking for more ways to support your women lawyers?
Learn how to sponsor your firm’s lawyers for the Ignite’s 2024 Women’s Business Development Accelerator Cohort.