Business Development Leadership Women in Law

Rainmaking for Women Lawyers

Why are business development skills more important then ever for women lawyers?

Because in my opinion as female professionals we have reached an impasse.

In the words of Alice Eagly and Linda Carli in the September 2007 issue of Harvard Buisness Review (HBR) the glass ceiling is a misnomer.   There is not artificial barrier beyond which we cannot ascend but rather a labyrinth of challenges and obstacles that must be overcome throughout our careers.

The statistics tell the story:

According to the National Association for Law Placement, a trade group that provides career counselling to lawyers and law students, only about 17 percent of the partners at major law firms nationwide [US] were women in 2005, a figure that has risen only slightly since 1995, when about 13 percent of partners were women.  New York Times, March 19, 2006

Gender inequality continues to exist in management functions, and the increase in the number of female university graduates will not itself be sufficient to close the gap.  Women Matter, McKinsey & Company, 2007

The latest findings from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR), released today to coincide with International Women’s Day, reveal that 38% of businesses do not have any women in senior management roles, a figure that has remained unchanged since 2004.  The survey, which covers  the opinions of 7,200 privately held businesses in 32 countries, represents 81% of global GDP.   Press Release, Grant Thornton, 2007.

Consider the most highly paid executives of Fortune 500 companies, those with titles such as chairman, president, president, chief executive officer, and chief operating officer.  Of this group, only 6% are women.  Most notably, only 2% of the CEOs are women, and only 15% of the seats on the boards of directors are held by women. From HBR Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership

The rising number of women graduating from law school and entering the legal profession is not enough to shift the balance.  The same applies to women entering the business world with MBA’s and other professional degrees.  More women entering the labyrinth doesn’t result in a corresponding rise in the number of women making it through. 

Business development in this context becomes a means for advancing.  It’s about taking leadership of one’s practice.  It’s about determining what you want and how to get there. 

Keep in mind that your female clients are experiencing the same challenges.  How can you assist them?  What can you do to help them get ahead?

Now it is up to each and every one of us to take this in our own hands. 

The lessening of activism on behalf of all women puts the pressure on each woman to find her own way.  From HBR Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership

In January I presented on this topic for the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Vancouver Chapter and then again in February to the TAGLaw legal network.  Watch for my upcoming article in The Lawyers Weekly.

I also recommend reading Larry Bodine’s list of ten recommendations “that law firms should adopt to reduce turnover among women lawyers, geneate more business and thus boost firm revenue”  with one caveat:

Women lawyers are busier than ever.  Business development activities must be implemented as a vital and strategic component of the lawyer’s own career plan.  Not as yet another hoop jumping exercise. 

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.