Issue 31, Winter 2011

I begin this issue with some exciting news about my book, Women on Top, and feature two topics discussed in the book.  The first is why women need not just mentors but champions.  A champion is a special kind of mentor who has the desire and the power to make good things happen for you.  The article focuses on what women can do to find the champions they need.  It is equally relevant for men who want to attract champions.

The second piece concerns the need for women’s initiatives to become more strategic.  It highlights one firm’s new Women’s Business Collaborative, which takes women’s initiatives in the right direction.

I also describe a new study from the Bar Association of San Francisco that is an in-depth look at minority partners, and note the new Oregon State Bar mandatory mentoring program for new lawyers.

Contents of this Issue

Book News

Beyond Mentors: The Need for Champions

A More Strategic Women’s Initiative

Bar Association of San Francisco Study of Partners of Color

The Newest State Bar Mentoring Program for New Lawyers

In the News

Upcoming Events

Book News

I am proud and delighted that West Publishing named my book, Women on Top: The Woman’s Guide to Leadership and Power in Law Firms, one of their best selling new books of 2010.  Thank you to my readers for your support!

It also pleases me to report that Thomson Reuters has reduced the price of the book, so I hope you will buy your copy now and keep the book on the best sellers list.

Lastly, Jamie Spannhake, co-chair of the ABA’s Women Rainmakers, has written a review of the book that makes me blush and at the same time, feel grateful that the message I sent by writing this book is hitting its target. 

Beyond Mentors: The Need for Champions

In Women on Top, I explain that ambitious women need a special kind of mentor who serves as a champion or sponsor.  This kind of mentor is a strong advocate who has power and influence to make that advocacy produce positive career results for you.  Champions endorse your qualifications and take risks on your behalf, arguing that you should move up to a higher compensation tier or urging their partners that you are ready for equity partnership or a significant leadership position.  They alert you to opportunities and appoint you to key posts.  Sometimes they call in favors, put pressure on colleagues, or put their reputation and credibility on the line for you. 

The importance of mentors for career advancement is well established, but the particular value of champions is starting to receive more attention.  In the previous issue of Management Solutions, I mentioned one recent study that found women and men had equal numbers of mentors, but far fewer women had sponsors and as a result, women received fewer career benefits than men.  The study concluded that without a strong champion, women often miss out on promotions, leadership positions, and higher compensation.  Champions may not guarantee success, but they make it easier and improve your odds of receiving a coveted leadership appointment, a fatter paycheck or a new client.

So how does someone find a champion?  By being the kind of lawyer who is seen as worthy of a champion’s efforts.  People become your champions over time as they come to know the quality of your work, your work ethic, and your capacity for leadership.  To support someone for partnership or for a key role in the firm or with a client, champions must believe that you are fully committed to them, the firm and its clients; that you add some particular and special value; that you are able and willing to step up; and that you will not let them down.  If they take risks on your behalf, they want to feel confident the outcome will be a good one for them as well as for you.

Here are 5 key points that make it more likely that people will choose to become your champions:

  1. Be strategic. Know what you want and take charge of your career.  Be as clear as possible in your own mind about your ambitions.  What do you want your career to look like?  What kind of practice do you want?  What kind of leader do you want to be?  What will it take for you to achieve your aspirations? The clearer your goals are (and the sooner you can see them clearly), the easier it becomes to make career choices that will take you in the right direction. 

    It will also be easier to identify and get to know the people who are best positioned to help you.  Those people are often influential senior partners, leading rainmakers, or hold positions of significant authority.  They are people others defer to or they at least have the ears of decision makers.  In particular, find out which individuals have championed women in the past.  Analyze how they have done it and how successful they have been.  Also consider the women they have championed and determine what it was about those women that attracted their support.  This information will help you better understand the firm’s culture and decision-making process, determine who might be a suitable champion for you, and decide how to make that person want to become your champion.

    Keep in mind that most champions are men.  In law firms today, men overwhelmingly hold the power, both as rainmakers and leaders.  Male partners are more numerous and better positioned to be champions.  So do not limit your search for champions to influential women.
  2. Think like a champion. Why should someone be your champion? Think about it through their eyes: There are many talented, hard-working lawyers.  What distinguishes you?  What do you do uniquely well that provides value to them?  Why should they invest in you and take risks for you?  What’s in it for them? 

    Most successful lawyers who are in positions to champion you share certain traits and are attracted to others who display them.  Among other things, they enjoy what they do and find meaning in it, feel fully engaged in their work, enjoy their clients and colleagues, and are internally driven to perform at the highest levels.  If you share these traits too, then your passion and positive energy will make you feel and look confident.  You will be more likely to be perceived by potential champions as someone worthy of their investment. 
  3. Connect.  Building networks that connect you with others in the firm is critical.  People who work with you are the primary source of your social capital, i.e., the relationships you can call upon to get things done.  They are also a rich source of mentors and champions.  As people get to you know you, your talents and strengths, they see how good you are and why they should support your career. 

    Most champions are people with whom you have worked in some capacity and who benefit in some way from your effort. These individuals come to rely on you or see you as having certain talents or experience that works to their advantage.  They might be rainmakers who depend on you to manage their clients, committee chairs who trust your judgment and rely on your advice, or client team leaders who admire and need your expertise.

    They also get to know your personality, behavior and character, and find you likable and trustworthy.  That is why being sociable and developing personal relationships in the office is so important.  It allows you to find common interests and shared values with people who can help you.  The more they come to see you as a protégé in the classical meaning of the term – someone whose career they can influence and take credit for – the more they will be interested in doing what they can to help you succeed.

    Many women do not want to spend time “hanging out,” or engaging in small talk.  They consider that time unproductive and would prefer to be working or at home.  But casual interactions over lunch, coffee or a drink, inside or outside the office, are the source of many critical relationships.  That is how people get to know you more fully as a person.  The time spent in building relationships with colleagues who are now or may someday be in positions to help you should be viewed not as a waste of time but as an investment in your future.
  4. Raise your hand.  Knowing people and having an internal network is not enough.  Potential champions need to see you in action in a leadership role where you perform brilliantly and produce great results.  Demonstrate your value.  Develop a reputation for doing something – something that influential people consider important - extremely well.  Go above and beyond basic expectations; doing what you are told is not enough, even if you do it very well.  Take initiative, volunteer for projects, offer to help even when it’s not your project, and grab opportunities that come your way.  If you are not offered opportunities, create your own.  If you see a need or a problem, take charge and solve it.  You must be visible to those in the power structure, even if it is risky and takes time.  Leadership requires a willingness to take smart risks and devotion of time beyond what you bill.

    One caution, however: Be strategic about the responsibilities you take on.  Do not spread yourself too thin.  Focus instead on a few things you enjoy and can do well that will get you noticed and help move you toward your goals.  
  5. Speak up.  Champions need to know that you want their support and what you want it for.  Do not assume others know that you want to be a partner or a practice group leader, that you deserve a bonus, or that you are the firm’s top expert in a critical area of law.  They may not notice your accomplishments at all or they may make assumptions about you that are entirely incorrect.  If you want more responsibilities and new challenges, let them know and be as specific as you can.  They have many important things on their minds and many other lawyers want their support; if you want their help, you have to tell them what you need and want, and show them why you are the person they should sponsor.  

For many women, these actions may not feel natural or comfortable.  But they are necessary, and the key is to find a way that brings you out of your comfort zone without making you feel or appear inauthentic.  Try observing how others do it and experimenting with different approaches in low-risk situations; pairing up with a friend or colleague to practice; or engaging a mentor or coach to help you come up with an approach that suits you.   

A More Strategic Women's Initiative

What is your firm’s strategy to retain and advance women?  Can you articulate the firm’s specific goals and action steps?  Can you describe and measure results?  Can you explain how this strategy reflects and supports the firm’s other strategic business priorities?

Women’s initiatives have existed for many years and are now almost universal in law firms, but most of them have been ineffective in producing meaningful change.  They have been beneficial in some ways, particularly in promoting family-friendly policies and providing business development training and networking opportunities for women.  But in terms of the most meaningful results – increasing the presence of women in partnership, leadership and rainmaking ranks – few women’s initiatives have produced any significant results. 

This is in large part because women’s initiatives have not acted as catalysts for change.  They have focused on “fixing the women” rather than challenging the biases, systems, and patterns that prevent women – even those who have proven themselves as rainmakers and leaders - from moving up.  They also have failed to focus on strategic business objectives and building alliances with powerful men in the firm and in business.  As a result, in most law firms, women’s initiatives are not regarded with the gravity or urgency necessary to produce real change.

In fact, by focusing on programs and events, women’s initiatives divert women’s attention from attacking the institutional biases that block their careers. Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford Business School has described a situation at the University of Illinois, where the protests by women about unequal pay subsided after the university established a committee to study the facts and make recommendations.  Women’s attention became focused on the committee rather than the status of women on campus.  Pfeffer concludes that the university’s strategy effectively “co-opted the opposition, making the potential protesters part of the university, feeling less estranged and like outsiders.”  (Jeffrey Pfeffer, Power: Why Some People Have It - and Others Don’t, HarperCollins, 2010)  By supporting event-focused women’s initiatives rather than facing up to the cultural changes that are needed, law firms have essentially done the same.

That situation may be about to change, at least at one firm.  Edwards Angel Palmer & Dodge has started a unique Women’s Business Collaborative (WBC) to demonstrate the business and revenues attributable to women’s efforts.  The firm has had a women’s initiative since 1996.  In 2009, the firm reorganized the women’s initiative to focus on business generation by women partners and associates through collaborative efforts.  Its name puts the emphasis where it belongs, on business, and it does so in a distinctly female-oriented way: by stressing collaboration among all firm lawyers, women and men.  It focuses on business generation because that is the key to power in law firms and gives the initiative greater legitimacy and impact.  And it emphasizes collaboration to engage the men in the firm to work with the women in a collective, client-driven effort.  

The WBC is an entirely new kind of women’s initiative.  It is a separate department in the firm and every women lawyer is a member.  It has mechanisms in place to track the efforts and results that show the success of the firm’s women lawyers.  All women’s time and business development activities, including how they use their marketing budgets and amounts they spend on women-oriented events, can be tracked by gender, and results can be measured and attributed. 

Having systems for this purpose is critical not just because they track women’s business generation activities and outcomes, but also because they can show the financial benefits of a team-oriented approach. For example, women clients and women-owned businesses are a large and growing part of the business world.  The tracking systems the WBC has in place can demonstrate that marketing and client initiatives targeted toward women result in new clients for the firm, and that putting together the right team to serve these clients’ needs results in greater client satisfaction and retention.  

The WBC systems are also being used to ensure that women are treated fairly when the firm staffs new matters and allocates origination credit for them.  Women record the time they spend on business development, so their time records show their involvement in pitches and other business development activities.  Partners who open a new client matter must indicate on the new business form whether a woman attorney will be working on the matter.  By comparing the new business form to the woman’s time and activity records, the WBC can remedy a situation where a woman who helped bring in business is not included on the client team or does not receive adequate origination credit.

The Women’s Business Collaborative has a clear mission and a strategic purpose.  Its innovative approach energizes women, empowers them, and makes them less vulnerable to the demoralizing effects of gender bias.  This new kind of women’s initiative promises to be a real game-changer.

Bar Association of San Francisco Study of Partners of Color

In November 2010, the Bar Association of San Francisco published an in-depth analysis of partnership diversity in San Francisco law firms, “Proven Formulas for Success: Confronting the Underrepresentation of Partners of Color in Law Firms.”  The study looked at racial and ethnic diversity among law firm partners in San Francisco and 63 partners of color participated.  One of the many significant study findings underscores the importance of mentors for career success of lawyers of color.  Almost all these minority partners (92%) had mentors who were Caucasian men and who were instrumental in their achieving partnership.  (Only 2% said they had no mentor, and 6% did not say.)  You can read the study at, and the graphs and charts appended to the study at

The Newest State Bar Mentoring Program for New Lawyers

The Oregon State Bar is the latest to initiate a mandatory one-year mentoring program for new law school graduates. These programs were discussed in a previous issue of Management Solutions. The inspiration for the Oregon program was the same as what led to similar programs in Georgia and Utah, namely, to help new lawyers develop the practical and professional skills they need to be successful and ethical practitioners, and to make sure that new sole practitioners are connected to other lawyers in the legal community.  But Oregon was also spurred on by the recession’s impact on new graduates.  The lack of jobs means that more of them are hanging out a shingle.  With the number of inexperienced sole practitioners on the increase, the need for mentoring has become more urgent. More information here.

In the News

I was interviewed for a recent podcast about the leadership outlook for women in law firms.  You can access the podcast on the blog Legal Current. There is also a direct link to the mp3.

A recent publication of the Women Lawyers Alliance featured a discussion of “Women’s Advancement Requires a Few Good Men,” the lead article I wrote in the Fall 2010 issue of Management Solutions.

Jamie Spannhake quoted me in her article, “Using a Professional Development Coach to Help Build Your Practice,” Law Practice Today, ABA Section on Law Practice Management, December 2010.

Upcoming Events

January 31, 1:00-2:00 ET:  PLI Webcast, “Women on Top: Achieving the Career You Want Through Self-Advocacy.”  For a description and to register, click here

February 3-4, Miami Beach: DRI, Sharing Success: A Seminar for Women Lawyers.   I will be speaking on “Age, Sex and Mentoring.”  To download a brochure and register, click here.

February 16, New York City: I will conduct a seminar for the New York City Bar Women Partners Workshop Series on “Political Savvy: Strategies for Advancement.” For program description and registration information, click here

March 9, San Francisco: National Association of Women in Construction, Construction Women’s Panel in conjunction with Women in Construction Week.  For further information, contact me.

©2011 Ida Abbott Consulting