Linda draws on her background as a lawyer, manager, corporate vice president of human resources and training as an executive coach in her consulting and coaching practice. She works with lawyers to take their practice to the next level and with law firms to develop stronger associates and better management practices. As a lawyer and former manager of lawyers, she understands the challenges and expectations of practicing law.

Linda also works with executives and managers to help them become better leaders. She has extensive board experience having chaired a number of boards including Capilano College (now University). She is an emeritus member of the Canadian Association of General Counsel.

Recommended Lawyer Coaches & Law Firm Consultants

December 15th, 2016

I have now retired from coaching lawyers and consulting to law firms. I recommend the following consultants and coaches. I have worked with each of them.

Andrea Verwey
Allison Wolfe  
Karen MacKay
Linda Parsons 

Essential Reading List for Women Lawyers

September 29th, 2015

I spoke at the WLF Hot Tips from Hot Mentors on Sept. 28,2015 and highlighted these books as covering topics on Asking for what you want; Gender Communication; Leadership Styles for women and men; Money and self-worth issues and living by your Values.

The Essential Resource List for Women Lawyers

 Leadership and the Sexes: “Using Gender Science to Create Success in Business”.

Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis. Summarizes the recent science on the differences between the male and female brain as well as the differences in leadership styles and gender communication.

Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office. “101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers”. Lois Frankel. Easy read. Each Mistake is on the left page – Coaching Tip on the right. Lots on gender communication.

Women Don’t Ask and Ask For It. “The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies For Change”. Two books. Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.  How we can be better advocates for ourselves.

 Women On Top. “The Woman’s Guide to Leadership and Power in Law Firms”.

Ida O Abbott    The most comprehensive book on women and law firms written by the leading writer on law practice management.

Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg. Easy to read and summarizes many of the themes around how women can unconsciously hold themselves back.

 The Creative Lawyer.   A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction. Michael Melcher.   Do the Values test.

The Happy Lawyer. Making A Good Life in the Law. Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder.

Every lawyer should read this at whatever stage they are in practice.

Learning To Lead: What Really Works for Women in Law.   Vincent and Cranston.

ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. Written specifically for women lawyers by two senior lawyers who have surveyed many of the other leadership books for women.

Ending the Gauntlet (Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law) Lauren Stiller Rikleen

Secrets of Six Figure Women. Barbara Stanny. Helps women understand their relationship with money and what stops some women from not charging what they are worth.

The Woman Lawyer’s Rainmaking Game. How to Build a Successful Legal Practice.” Sylvia Coulter. Expensive but worth it. How to bring new clients to your firm.



Leadeship Training for Lawyers

October 1st, 2013

This column appears at
I am speaking at the CBA Women Lawyers Leadership Conference in Montreal
October 4- 5, 2013. I am the national Co-Chair of the WLF.

Leadership Training for Lawyers

Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book “Lean In” urges women to develop greater confidence by moving past internal barriers and leveraging their strengths to move into positions of greater responsibility. This is easier said than done. How do you increase your self-confidence and capitalize on your strengths to do this? How do you overcome inner barriers or external biases if you are not even aware what they are? The answer is through leadership training.

Leadership training is one of the most under-valued and misunderstood opportunities for lawyers – especially women lawyers – to advance their careers. While lawyers regularly take courses in the law, practice management and business development, rarely do lawyers take courses in leadership development; often believing that only those in management positions need these skills.

Management programs focus primarily on business processes while leadership programs focus primarily on people and forging strong relationships. Good leadership programs start with the most important of all relationships – the one we have with ourselves. It is an opportunity to develop the confidence and personal skills to be a leader in your own life and career so that your personal definition of success can become a reality.

Leadership has historically been defined in male military hierarchical terms, using adjectives such as authoritative, competitive, combative, decisive – the traditional command and control leadership style associated with leading armies or hierarchical corporations. However, the advent of a highly educated workforce, less respect for hierarchies and authority, universal access to information through the inter-net and the arrival of women into the workforce has made this old-style of leadership antiquated and ineffective.

Today’s leadership skills emphasize emotional and social intelligence, collaboration, innovation, teamwork, consultation, flat organizations and relationship building. This type of leadership is often described as transformative as opposed to transactional leadership. Women often gravitate towards this more transformative style because it is more socially acceptable for women to lead through influencing and including others rather than through the more traditionally masculine command and control style of leadership.

While leadership training may include topics such as strategic thinking, communicating a vision for the future and motivating and inspiring others, it starts by looking within and discovering one’s inner strengths, motivations, core values and tolerance for risk. Leadership courses specifically developed for women alert women to the many unseen barriers that women must learn to navigate in what is still a male world. These barriers and the solutions to overcome them are brilliantly set out in “Through the Labyrinth”: The Truth about How Women Become Leaders” by Eagly and Carli.

How can leadership training help women stay in the practice of law and move into partnership and other leadership positions? Here are a few examples.

Women need to understand the differences and strengths between a woman’s leadership style and a man’s. They can then leverage those skills for the benefit of themselves, their clients, firms, families and society at large. Understanding and valuing these strengths, leads to greater self-confidence to stay in the practice of law and accept greater responsibility and leadership roles.
Women must be aware of conscious and unconscious gender biases that may get in the way of advancement so they can develop strategies to make sure their voices and contributions are being judged as equal to a man’s.
Women need to learn how to negotiate more effectively on their own behalf. Women must learn to ask for what they want and not expect that their hard work will be recognized simply on it’s own merit. This is especially important when negotiating compensation, work arrangements, appointments to powerful committees and gaining access to valuable work experience. Women must be willing to push for advancement while at the same time negotiate the often gender biased assumptions that such women are pushy and ambitious and thus not likeable or promotable.
Women must not always put other’s needs ahead of their own and aim to please others at the cost of their own energy and value. This does not mean becoming selfish or self-centered, but to strike an appropriate balance between one’s own needs and supporting others. Women must learn to say “no” and set workable boundaries around the many over-lapping parts of their lives.
Women must understand how differently men and women have been socialized to speak. This lack of awareness can lead to greater conscious or unconscious bias when clients or colleagues are evaluating a woman’s effectiveness through a male lens. Understanding gender differences in communication styles, allows a woman to be a more effective lawyer.
Women must develop resiliency so they have the time, energy and desire to manage both a successful career and meet the demands of raising a family or caring for elderly parents. Leadership programs focus on developing the practices necessary to lead a healthy and balanced life.

Leadership training is a transformational experience for the learner. Leadership is not just about leading others. It is also about leading and transforming ourselves. It is only when we are transformed that we can transform our workplaces.

As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“Lean In: Why Sheryl Sandberg’s book matters

April 30th, 2013

This is my column for that appeared on April 15, 2013. I am forming Lean In Circles focusing on leadership skills for women lawyers. If you are interested email me at

“Lean In”: Why Sheryl Sandberg’s book matters.

It was a toss up this week whether to write about the media controversy around Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s cancellation of telecommuting and the subsequent criticism that she has betrayed women in the workforce, or to jump into the hot debate around Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In” on how women can overcome internal barriers that can keep women out of leadership positions.

However, after downloading the Sandberg book the day it was released and reading it in two days, the topic for this column became an easy choice. The many, many book reviews, columns and blogs debating the merits of this book are as interesting as the book itself. It is always encouraging when the challenges facing women gets this much attention on so many media outlets.

If you are not one of the two million viewers who have watched Sandberg’s inspiring TED talk on “Why we have too few women leaders” then start there.

The phenomenal reaction to the TED talk led Sandberg to expand her ideas into a book that within two days of release became a Number One Amazon best seller.
Clearly, there is a hunger amongst women to learn how they can move into leadership roles in law firms, government, corporations, legislatures and other organizations.

Sandberg’s book focuses on the many internal barriers that women unconsciously hold that can prevent them from going for the brass ring. Herein lies the controversy.
Some critics see this as more “blame the victim” ideology without addressing the many workplace barriers that keep women out of leadership positions. However, both issues need to be addressed. Women need to develop greater confidence and ambition in order to advance and workplaces need to change. It is not an “either / or ” proposition.

Sandberg addresses this dichotomy by ending her book with suggestions on her new website about how women can continue to talk and support each other to bring about change. She argues that we can’t expect workplaces to change until there are enough women in leadership positions to champion that change.

So what can women lawyers and their firms learn from Sandberg? First, women need to educate themselves that despite what they fervently wish to believe, progression in most organizations including law firms requires more than well developed legal skills and hitting your billable targets. Men, due to cultural conditioning and workplaces primarily organized by men, have an advantage in innately understanding how to advance their careers into positions of power.

There are a host of skills and attitudes that come naturally to many men that women are often not even aware they are missing. Many women have not learned how to negotiate well on their own behalf; how to find and use mentors and champions appropriately; how to define success and power in their own terms; how to build the necessary support networks needed to manage both career and family obligations (Sandberg has two small children); or how to make sure their voices are heard at the table. Her most significant contribution that leads to the title of her book is her observation that women withdraw and hold back early in their careers from advancement opportunities in anticipation that years later they will have heavier family obligations.

Many of these ideas such as women holding the “Imposter Syndrome” (that one day they will be found not to be as smart as everyone believes) are not new and can be found in other books on women and leadership. What is compelling about Sandberg’s book is her willingness as a senior corporate leader to be frank about how she held many of these same limiting beliefs. It is much more powerful when we hear directly from a successful corporate leader than from an academic researcher.

Law firms also need to recognize that the firm’s leadership can greatly assist in the creation of more gender balanced workplaces. Partners can remove barriers such as understanding and talking about the unconscious biases around women’s readiness for partnership; assisting women to bridge between maternity leave and returning to full-time practice; experimenting with flexible work arrangements for both men and women that do not reduce profitability and many other workplace initiatives that will assist women to stay in the law and help firms become more profitable.

Sandberg has made an important contribution to the debate on why we see so few women in positions of authority. She notes that internal obstacles are rarely discussed. As she says, “ Throughout my life, I was told over and over about inequalities in the workplace and how hard it would be to have a career and a family. I rarely heard anything, however, about the ways I might hold myself back. These internal obstacles deserve a lot more attention, in part because they are under our own control.”

No one gives up power or authority willingly. Women need to learn how to acquire authority in order to make the workplace changes that will benefit both men and women. Entering the debate by reading Sandberg’s book and the many discussions it is generating is a good place to start.

Best Law Firms for Women Lawyers

February 8th, 2013

My latest column that appeared Feb. 5, 2013

Best Law Firms For Women Lawyers

Every year Working Mother Magazine publishes a survey of the NAFE / Flex-time Lawyers fifty Best Law Firms For Women Lawyers in the United States.

This year there is a noticeable shift away from maternity leave policies and flexible work arrangements towards preparing women for leadership roles especially around business development. This is an interesting trend and may signal a new phase that women lawyers and their firms are entering.

The founder of Flextime Lawyers, Deborah Epstein Henry notes that women lawyers have been waiting to achieve critical mass in the profession on the assumption that the sheer weight of numbers will drive change. However, with women lawyers forming thirty-six percent of the profession in Canada (and a third is often considered critical mass in sociological terms) there has not been sufficient change to encourage more women to stay in private practice.

The real challenge is not simply increasing (and retaining) women in the profession and expecting change to evolve. More importantly, there is the need to have more women in leadership positions in law firms as partners, members of management and compensation committees and as practice group leaders. Change will only happen, not when there are higher percentages of women in the profession but when women have achieved critical mass in leadership positions.

In past years, this survey has not been helpful to Canadian lawyers as the best US firms inevitably won if they offered more than the meager 10 weeks of maternity leave provided by American law for those in the public sector or who work for companies of more than seventy-five employees. The 2012 survey, released this past December, shows an average of 15 weeks of maternity leave being offered by these more generous fifty firms. However, the average number of weeks taken is still just 11 weeks. The United States continues to hold the worst record in the western world for providing adequate parental leave. Canadian law guaranteeing that a job must be held for a year of maternity leave is something American women can only dream about.

The fifty best law firms are primarily large firms located in major cities such as Washington, DC and Chicago. The statistics are encouragingly higher in every category over 2011 and up significantly since the survey started in 2007. However, women in these best firms comprise only 18% of equity partners (the national average is 15%) and 20% of managing partners (up from 16% in 2007).

Women continue to lag alarmingly in business development. Only five firms (11%) had three women amongst their top ten rainmakers; 31% had two women; 31% had just one woman and a worrying 31% had no women lawyers amongst the top ten rainmakers.

All fifty firms sponsor networking events specifically for their women lawyers and clients. Increasingly, they are offering mentoring, coaching and training specifically aimed at assisting their female associates compete for clients in what is still primarily a male corporate world.

One of the main focuses of the survey remains, not surprisingly, on flexible work arrangements. All of the fifty firms offer some form of flexible arrangement including reduced hour arrangements for equity partners (97%). However, the numbers are still low for lawyers on reduced hours gaining admittance to equity partnership in the first place.

The most interesting part of the survey is the emphasis the top fifty firms have on developing future partners and leaders. Almost all of the firms (96%) provide management and leadership training for all their lawyers as well as mentoring circles for their women lawyers. These groups – variously called “affinity groups” or “employee resource groups” (used extensively in large corporations with large numbers of employees) can also formed for LGBT lawyers or lawyers from different cultural backgrounds, to give other examples.

A Mentoring Circle for women associates allows women to provide support and guidance to each other on everything from ramping up a practice after returning from maternity leave to business development to maintaining resiliency when a lawyer isn’t getting any sleep with small children. While some women lawyers will informally get together to talk through these issues, a Mentoring Circle is more effective when the law firm sponsors it.

Sponsorship can be a strong signal that the firm wants their women lawyers to succeed. The cost is minimal, usually supplying lunch or dinner in the boardroom or paying for outside speakers occasionally on topics that the group has identified. Often partners attend when asked. These groups are more effective when they draw up an agenda of topics to be discussed and have someone facilitate the meeting. It is important as well to have time to socialize as forming stronger friendships at work is one of the best ways that women feel connected to their law firm.

Another idea borrowed from the corporate world is appointing Diversity Champions for the firm or for each practice group in larger firms. One firm on the survey list publishes a directory of all lawyers who have worked with a flexible work arrangement or on reduced hours so that those considering asking for greater flexibility can learn from those who have experience making this work.

The Best Law Firms For Women list includes a number of firms who have received a Gold Standard Certification Award from a new organization called the Women In Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF). This organization was founded in 2007 and is dedicated to helping women lawyers in the largest law firms and corporate legal departments become leaders in the workplace.

It is encouraging to see law firms move beyond maternity policies and flexible work arrangements (as important as these are) to developing ways to develop women as leaders. If we are to see more women stay in private practice and see real change in law firms that will benefit both men and women, we need to have more women in positions of power who can champion change. These fifty best law firms for American women show that change is not only possible but profitable as well.

Women Lawyers: Embracing power

December 10th, 2012

(This column appeared at on Dec. 6, 2012)

When we examine the glass ceiling that keeps so many women lawyers out of partnership and managing partner roles, we usually look at all the external factors that can impede a woman’s career – lack of mentoring, challenges with business development, family responsibilities, unconscious bias – to name just a few.

Chief amongst these external factors is how society defines power in very male terms. A powerful person is often seen as demanding, aggressive, decisive, self-confident, solitary and not collaborative. If a women exhibits many of these characteristics she risks being judged unfavourably and not someone whom many people, male or female, want to see in a leadership position. It was the classic dilemma faced by Hilary Clinton – how to appear strong enough to make the tough decisions about when to go to war while at the same time being feminine enough that voters could see her caring side.

Women are traditionally expected to be helpful, supportive, collaborative, humble and consensus seeking. If a woman demonstrates what are often seen as typically male characteristics, she can be labeled “difficult” or “not a team player” or much less kind words that show she is not behaving in ways that are expected of a woman. It is the classic gender bias where men “take charge” and women “take care”.

While these external stereotypes form real barriers there is an even bigger barrier that many women hold internally that can impact their careers and prevent them from seeking leadership roles. This internal gender bias is the discomfort that many women have with power.

These internal biases were examined at a remarkable three-day conference held at the University of Texas in 2011 at the Centre For Women In Law. This gathering of law firm managing partners, judges, general counsel, law school deans and senior lawyers produced seven strategies for women lawyers on how to acquire and keep power. Their findings can be found in a white paper titled: “Power In Law: Lessons From the 2011 Women’s Power Summit On Law and Leadership”.

One of the authors in the report notes “Career derailments and setbacks in organizations are infrequently the result of lack of intelligence or hard work.” “Rather, they are due to “an inability to master power dynamics.” It is not that women don’t learn the rules of the power game at play in law firms and corporations and known so well by men, it’s that women define power in radically different ways.

The conference identified that the first and most important strategy in gaining power is that women must become comfortable with pursuing power. To do that, they must first understand why power can make them uncomfortable.

When men are asked how they define power they frequently talk about “taking control”.

Women, on the other hand, often define power as “having influence”. This different use of language is not just a reflection of women displaying a softer and more acceptable way of yielding power. It also may stem from a belief that power is oppressive. As women have historically been controlled, often through brutal force by more dominant and stronger men, many women view power as ugly or frightening. They do not want to take on the role of an oppressor. For many women having power means controlling other people and they understandably resist this idea.

Women need to view power through a different lense. Power can be used as the report says as “something that allows you to solve problems and create innovation and solutions.” How can women achieve good results for themselves and others if they don’t gain and wield power?

While the conference report goes on to suggest six other strategies for gaining power such as conquering fear of failure by taking risks and building strategic relationships that help gain access to power, none of these other strategies resonated as deeply with me as the first strategy – becoming comfortable with pursuing power.

When I started out in my legal career, there were no female partners or judges to act as role models. I struggled with practicing law like the successful male lawyers around me. I tried to adopt their more aggressive and masculine characteristics. But it wasn’t me. I considered leaving law for another profession more suited to my personality and work-style, as I couldn’t see myself developing as a successful lawyer.

Luckily, I had one of those “aha” moments in a personal development course where I realized I was holding myself back with this imaginary perception that I could not act like a woman and be a successful lawyer. My entire career took off almost immediately after this shift in attitude as my confidence grew and I became comfortable with who I was.

Gloria Feldt, one of the speakers at the Texas conference says in her book “No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power” :

No one will willingly steps aside and cedes their power to you; it’s not going happen. You have to step forward and take it yourself.

While women can learn how to cultivate and retain power, we must first accept that power doesn’t mean controlling other people but instead power gives us the ability to be ourselves and do good work. Women need to be comfortable being powerful as the necessary first step in breaking through glass ceilings. When we do so, it will also create a shift in how society views power and those that wield it. Even more importantly, it will create new ways that power can be gained and held by both men and women.

Women Lawyers: At The Edge of Change

September 30th, 2012

Women Lawyers: At the Edge of Change (published at SLAW.CA July 2012)


The on-going debate on whether women lawyers can hold demanding jobs, especially at senior levels while also raising children, has exploded with this month’s article in The Atlantic magazine, “Why Women Can’t Still Have It All”.’t-have-it-all/9020.


This well-written, lengthy article by a law professor who teaches at Princeton and who gave up her dream job working with Hilary Clinton at the State Department in Washington, DC to return to Boston to be more present with her teenage sons, has sparked debates from the New York Times to the Globe and Mail.  The Atlantic reports the article has broken readership records to their website.


The author argues that even when a woman has a supportive spouse, excellent childcare, healthy children, a strong commitment to clients and her job – in short, all the right support mechanisms – it is often still not possible to have both a full-time career and be a decent parent.  While much of the author’s pressure came from working in a different city than her family – an impossible situation for anyone whether they are male or female – she still makes many valid arguments in favour of workplace change.


Her conclusion is that woman can adapt as much as possible to the demands of their career and their family but ultimately until law firms change, women – and increasingly men – will chose to leave for other more flexible options.


My own observation is that women lawyers often leave without giving their firm an opportunity to even consider more flexible changes.  They leave because they have seen other women ask for minor changes and been turned down.  They also believe that even if the firm does grant them some form of more flexible arrangement (for example working from home one day a week) that others in the office will resent their arrangement or feel that the woman is now not as committed to her clients or career as those putting in the maximum face-time.  The women don’t want to practice in an environment where they feel their commitment or professionalism will be questioned or negatively criticized.


All workplaces – especially law firms – are going to look very different ten years from now.  The pressures are not coming just from exhausted parents but equally from changing economic conditions and a generation more comfortable with technology. The generation that grew up connecting over Facebook has little patience for face-time with colleagues when clients rarely appear in person but connect electronically with their lawyer.


Housing prices in cities like Vancouver and Toronto are forcing young lawyers to look for ways to work remotely so they can find good housing and cut down on long commutes.


Younger lawyers are questioning why the workplace is still based on assumptions which worked in the 1860s and 1960s but do not work in the 21st century.  However, up until now, law firms have felt very little economic pain as a result of women leaving.  Even though there is a cost to investing in a young professional who then takes her talent elsewhere, larger firms are used to a constant in-take of associates who are let go when their billing rates become too expensive or the need for new partners becomes increasingly restricted.  An up-or-out model accepts associate turnover as the cost of doing business.


Smaller firms feel a greater impact when they lose a younger lawyer as they do not have the same turnover model as the larger firms and the investment costs are shared amongst a smaller group of partners.


Workplaces will change not when women leave the profession in ever increasing numbers, but when law firms start to feel sufficient financial pressure to make the changes that many women are seeking.


When I look back over the past 30 years since I entered the profession, I am often astounded at the changes in the profession.  The prominence of women on the bench, at the partnership table and in boardrooms is light years better than it was in the 1980s.  However, we are entering a new phase of work where the changes coming to every profession and business will make past changes seem like tinkering around the edges.


Change will be driven more by economic forces brought not just from women leaving law firms but from clients, younger male lawyers, increasing global competition, rising costs in both housing and commercial space, technology– and a host of other societal and business factors that we cannot even imagine.  After all, had someone told me thirty years ago that I could access all my client files as well as most of the world’s information in a devise that fit into the palm of my hand, I would have said “In your Star Trek dreams”.


Change is coming.  Not fast enough for many departing women lawyers but sooner than many law firms appreciate.  These changes will benefit everyone – lawyers, their families, staff and clients.  Our challenge is to embrace change before the financial impact is too high.   Listening to our departing female colleagues and experimenting with at least some of the workplace changes they are suggesting – is a good place to start.













National CBA Magazine: “Time to Lead”

October 10th, 2011

CBA National Magazine: Time to Lead – Sept 2011

Article about my presentation to the national conference of the Women Lawyers Forum held in Toronto in January 2011. My workshop was on “Developing a professional strategic plan”.

Women Lawyers as Rainmakers

September 28th, 2011

This column originally appeared at in May 2011.

The only job security any lawyer has whether as a partner or as a sole practitioner is the ability to generate clients. Leadership and power in a law firm of any size attaches to the lawyer who brings in the most business and keeps herself and other more junior lawyers supplied with work. Yet typically, the major rainmakers in law firms are primarily men.

The National Association of Women Lawyers in the US in their 2009 annual National Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms (www. found that half of the larger law firms in the US had no women amongst their top ten rainmakers. The statistics for smaller firms were not much more encouraging.

The challenge of finding new clients and developing a practice is especially difficult for women lawyers. There are many reasons for this. The business world – despite the many gains made by women – is still largely a man’s world. This is especially true at the senior management and executive ranks where the decisions are made about which law firm or lawyer to hire. If the male senior business leader has networked with a male lawyer at a hockey game, on the golf course or over drinks – it may be that lawyer who springs to mind.

This presents a second challenge for women: how to ask a male client to a hockey game or for a drink without the awkwardness of feeling like it could be a date. The same holds true in the reverse. It can be equally awkward for a male lawyer to ask a female client to an evening event. One solution is to ask others along and attend the event as a group. This resolves the “date” dilemma. A novel solution I experienced once when I was the in-house lawyer client invited to a hockey game by a consultant was the inclusion of both our sons to attend the game with us.

Another challenge for women lawyers is the time crunch. Many women lawyers need to be out of the office at a regular time in order to get home and start their second job as a parent. It is difficult to give up evening time devoted to preparing dinner, homework, driving kids to soccer and dance practice and all the other activities of a busy family. Most women with children work as efficiently as possible while at the office. This includes working through lunch because they cannot usually stay late or work in the evenings to make up for any lost time during the day. This makes even client lunches a challenge for a woman balancing the many demands on both her professional and personal life.

A trap that some women partners fall into is working diligently for another rainmaking partner who needs support for his clients but then failing to develop clients of her own. This can start when the bright, hard working younger woman joins a law firm and sees herself more in a support role than a leadership role. I see many young women lacking the confidence of their male peers to go after clients and become a leader in the firm early in their careers.

So if these are the hurdles – what are some solutions for women lawyers?

• Take female clients to women friendly events – whether it is the theatre or something you can do with your kids.

• Network with male clients in groups or with another colleague to remove the date awkwardness.

• Work with a business development coach to learn how to be more effective at client development.

• Learn the business of your client so you can talk to them about how you can help.

• If you have no free evening time for networking, then find other ways to reach potential new clients – pick up the phone, send articles, put on a client event during the day.

• Promote yourself within your current circles – at school events or on the soccer field. One successful women lawyer I know advertised in our school phone directory with a picture of her and her daughter so that parents would connect the names and realize that there was a lawyer they knew in our community.

• Join the ABA Women Rainmakers (open to non-ABA members) or purchase their book Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips. The third edition just came out and it includes 150 marketing tips for women.

• Their top tip is to ask for work. It sounds simple but women are often much more reluctant than men to ask people in their own network for work. My favourite tip amongst the 150 is never buy clothes that lack a pocket for your business cards! Too many women fail to pass out their cards because the cards are buried in their purse and take too long to locate.

Becoming a rainmaker is an essential skill that women must learn in order to become partners and leaders in law firms. It is this lack of business development and consequent lack of power in a law firm that more than anything else holds women back from becoming partners. As they say in the rainmaking books – “Law firms follow the Golden Rule. He (or she) who holds the gold makes the rules!”

Thinking Like An Owner

September 28th, 2011

This column originally appeared at in July 2011.

Thinking Like An Owner

The magic words that every associate wants to hear from a partner is that the associate is now “thinking like an owner”. These words mean that the junior lawyer realizes the difference between being an employee and becoming a partner in a professional services firm. It means that the associate has grasped the difference between a partnership structure and a corporation.

Many young lawyers starting out believe that being smart, skilled and working hard will naturally lead to partnership. While this may lead to promotions within a corporate structure, in a professional services firm such as law, accounting or consulting, every partner is an owner not an employee. This means business development and revenue generation is the necessary key to partnership. However, the opportunity to become a partner has many other variables outside the control of both the associate and the firm.

The economy may impact business, a partner may leave and take clients with her or a major client may suddenly switch firms – all events that may not be within the firm’s control. The associate may now be in a practice area where there is not sufficient work to admit an additional partner or even retain a senior associate.

When the senior associate is let go, they are sometimes bewildered when they see a less experienced associate brought in to replace them. The answer is, of course, that the partners must keep the work affordable to the client and need an associate at a lower hourly rate. The more senior associate’s hard won experience has worked against her when the work dries up and keeping costs down becomes a priority.

Younger associates then ask me why the firm doesn’t simply move them to another practice area where they see there is so much work that the partners and associates are working very long hours. Again, the answer may lie in the higher hourly rate that the more senior associate carries. It costs the firm money to train a more senior associate in the new area of law when the junior work could be done at a lower hourly rate.

In addition to the economics of running a practice, there is also the more subjective assessment of “fit”. Any aspiring partner is assessed not just on skill, business development capability and revenue generation but also on whether they will work well with the others in their practice group and the firm as a whole.

So what can young associates do to improve their chances of becoming a partner when there are so many variables over which they may have little control? Additionally, if partnership is not offered, how can an associate ensure that she will find another job? Associates should focus on four things.

1. Marketability

It is important to maintain your marketability both within the firm and outside in the event that you are not made an offer of partnership. This means acquiring as many skills as you can through professional development courses and work experience.

Professional development should not be limited to technical legal skills. Training in finance, public speaking, negotiation or business skills make you more employable with a law firm or in the corporate world. Similarly, experience gained by sitting on boards or volunteering on CBA sections or committees broadens your technical and leadership skills and enhances your partnership prospects as well as your marketability.

You must get to know partners outside your practice group and gain more diverse experience. Many associates work in a narrow area of law that limits their marketability. The firm may, understandably, be reluctant to let a badly needed associate work with other practice areas in the firm. The associate should lobby as hard as they can to ensure they acquire broader legal skills.

The other obvious advantage in getting to know partners outside your practice area is that it increases the number of partners who can speak positively to your application for partnership. It is better to have many champions over just a few.

2. Feedback

If the firm does a poor job in giving feedback at your annual performance review or as is common, you do not receive a performance review, you need to ask for frank feedback from as many partners as possible.

Law firms, unlike many corporations, often neglect good management practices to develop their associates through performance reviews and career development sessions. Few lawyers are trained in management and even where the firm has performance reviews in place, often the feedback can be minimal to none.

In addition, a partner uncomfortable with giving critical feedback may tell the unwitting associate that everything is fine and she is on partnership track with nothing to worry about. The associate can then learn, mere months later, that there are serious concerns with her work. It may now be too late to address the concerns as a decision has already been made to let her go.

3. Networking

In order to remain marketable, you must stay connected with other lawyers outside your firm through the CBA or other bar associations. You should not stay isolated within your firm. This will make you a better lawyer and enhance your partnership chances as well as give you a list of contacts should you need to look elsewhere for work some day.

4. Business development

There is no better guarantee of job security or becoming a partner than having your own clients. Ultimately, it is your clients who keep you employed not the firm. While some partners are fed work from other partners in the firm where there is a large corporate client, this still does not replace having your own clients whose loyalty is to you and not the firm.

Associates must take charge of their own careers right from the beginning. Leaving your career prospects to your law firm exposes you to too many variables outside your control. Paying attention to the practices mentioned above will not guarantee you a partnership but it will increase your marketability both within and outside your law firm. Thinking like an owner is the key to success in the private practice of law.