May 09, 2007
Female lawyers in U.S. opt for women-only client outings.
5/4/07 Daily Rec. (Rochester, NY) (Pg. Unavail. Online)
2007 WLNR 8657591
Daily Record (Rochester, NY)
Copyright 2007 Dolan Media Newswires
May 4, 2007
Female lawyers in U.S. opt for women-only client outings.
Nora Lockwood Tooher
One evening last fall, 19 women lawyers from a large Chicago law firm got together with 60 women clients to browse designer shoes at the Cole Haan store on Michigan Avenue. They sipped cocktails, snacked on appetizers and swapped business cards. Many also used a special discount to buy shoes at the upscale store, which closed early to the public for the private party. "It was more successful than I think we ever would have guessed," said Leslee Cohen, a principal at Much Shelist and co-chairwoman of the firm's women's initiative. "The women were shopping and networking with each other. We made contacts for this law firm, and our guests made contacts with each other, which they found very helpful." The event was one of a growing number of women-only client outings hosted by law firms throughout the country.
Many events have a decidedly feminine flair, as women attorneys opt for glamour over golf to schmooze with their female clients. "Women want to network in a way that's comfortable to them, and women generally like elegant, special things," explained Ilene Robinson Sunshine, a partner at Sullivan & Worcester who formed the firm's women's initiative. The women-only client events can be focused on a wide range of activities. Over the past five years Sullivan & Worcester in Boston has sponsored women-only networking events that included a reading by novelist Alice Hoffman, a performance by Shakespeare & Co. and a flamenco night at the Four Seasons Hotel. Halleland Lewis in Minneapolis has hosted a wine-tasting event for women lawyers and clients for the past eight years. Last September, celebrity chef Mario Batali cooked meatballs and chatted with some of the Bryan Cave law firm's female lawyers and 30 female clients in Manhattan. The firm's St. Louis office hosts annual spa retreats for female clients, and its London office recently hosted a reception for 100 women attorneys and professionals working in aviation insurance. "You really do need to know your clients," said Betsy Bousquette, a partner in the Bryan Cave's Manhattan office and head of professional resources. "You need to have times to have fun together." Leadership their way Women-only legal marketing events have been around for years, but they have become increasingly popular in the wake of Sara Lee Corp.'s 2004 Call to Action, which advocated diversity in the legal profession. In response, law firms are not only hiring more women and minority lawyers, but increasing efforts to retain them, with mentoring, leadership and marketing programs geared specifically to women and minority attorneys. Jane Pigott, head of R3 Group, a diversity consulting firm in Chicago, said the women-only events also reflect an effort by women partners to help junior women attorneys acquire marketing skills so they can move up the law firm ranks. "As more women move into power positions, they are not only choosing to do it 'their way,' but they are encouraging and facilitating that opportunity for more junior women," she said. Ellen Ostrow, head of Lawyers Life Coach, a Silver Spring, Md. coaching firm for women lawyers, agreed: "In a law firm, to be promoted to a position of leadership, you have to be a rainmaker, so the idea is to create opportunities for women to improve their business development opportunities because they tend to be excluded from the traditional old-boy networks." Squelching criticism Concerned that its shoe-shopping evening might be perceived as frivolous, Much Shelist included a business speaker in the program. As it turned out, however, the event was so successful from a marketing perspective that organizers shouldn't have worried, Cohen said. "We had the level of attendance and positive response because of the shopping element," she said. "It's a great ice-breaker." Sunshine, of Sullivan & Worcester, said that initially some male lawyers at her firm criticized the women-only events as exclusionary. "There was some mumbling about why we were doing this, but we pointed out what has now become fairly well-accepted -- women holding positions in business where they are in a position to retain outside counsel are a group that you would market to specially," she said. The success of the firm's women-only outings, which attract about 100 women lawyers and clients each year, silenced the criticism, she noted, and many male attorneys now request invitations for their female clients. "People are thrilled to have their clients and contacts invited to the events," Sunshine said. "It's been a win-win situation for all the attorneys in the office." Charting a path Women client events also serve a broader purpose by creating a support group for women business professionals in the community, said Teresa Kimker, a shareholder at Halleland Lewis. "Typically, a lot of the clients tend to be lawyers themselves, and part of it is that may be a good pool of people who might bring business to the firm," she said "There's also that broader message that all women professionals tend to share some issues in common." Paula Pace, a partner in Bryan Cave's St. Louis office, said the firm's annual spa retreats have strengthened relationships between the women who attend. "You can't help but get to know each other better," she said. "Each year there is a deeper understanding and a deeper friendship between the lawyers and the clients." In many law firms, women-only networking events are only one component of ambitious women's initiative programs designed to help women in the firm. Akin Grump in Washington, D.C. has held women-only networking retreats for women partners and clients for 20 years. This year, it added a two-day retreat for all 200 of the firm's women lawyers. Women attorneys from the firm's 10 U.S. offices, as well as offices in Moscow and London, attended. The conference included sessions on communication and leadership skills, as well as discussions about balancing professional and personal demands. "This was different in that it wasn't so much focused on marketing and client development as on the retention and promotion of female lawyers," said Cheryl Falvey, head of the firm's litigation group in Washington. "What I thought was so special [about the retreat] was that we included every female lawyer in the firm, including the younger ones who are looking for role models, who don't really get the access to partners -- male or female -- that they want, to try and chart a path within the law firm.
Posted by hafeezt at May 9, 2007 11:07 AM