Women attorneys receive directive Make it rain

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In an economic climate that demands that attorneys be cutthroat not only in the courtroom but in drumming up new business, one group looks to women as the next generation of rainmakers in the legal profession.

Varnum was recently host to a national workshop by the American Bar Association’s Women Rainmakers, held in 29 cities across the country. The workshop, “Building a Buzz and How to Do It,” was geared toward giving female attorneys the tools they need to stay competitive in their field. The event was moderated by Elizabeth Jolliffe, a former attorney turned lawyer coach, and April Sawhill, an associate at Varnum.

“Client development used to be for the heads of the firm or the senior partners,” said Sawhill. “Now it’s everyone’s game.”

A group of women attorneys who ranged from law students and small business owners to senior level attorneys at large firms discussed strategies for building a buzz, pitching to and utilizing media outlets, enhancing public relations and harnessing the marketing capability of social media.

Sawhill and Jolliffe emphasized that being an excellent lawyer isn’t enough if it’s done behind a closed door. Building interest in what you’re doing both internally and externally is going to translate into building your book of clients, they said.

Being involved in professional associations, publicizing your accomplishments, developing media relationships and being where your target market is are what Jolliffe said will take a career to the next level.

“In this economy, people realize they can’t rely on the same old practices,” said Jolliffe.

Firms have to become more creative in both attracting business and adapting to a client base with fewer financial resources than it used to have. Many corporate clients are downsizing the number of lawyers they’re using or deciding not to pursue as much litigation, and most of that is due to expenses. This financial pressure means clients are spending more time reviewing their options.

“You’re now competing not only with the market in Grand Rapids but with attorneys from the east side of the state, Chicago and so on. The advent of technology, while making it easier for people to make connections, has also made it a more demanding environment,” said Sawhill.

Though they currently constitute nearly half the total number of law school graduates, women make up only 30 percent of the legal profession. While women are entering firms at an equivalent, if not greater, rate than their male counterparts, a disproportionately small number find their way into senior management positions.

Opinions vary as to the cause, Sawhill said, but they range from lifestyle pressure and glass ceilings to a dearth of high-ranking female role models in the industry. But no matter what the reason has been in the past, ABA’s Women Rainmakers wants to ensure it won’t be due to lack of resources, she said.

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