Alison R. Christian

Ladder Down: Arizona Women Lawyers Changing The Game

Women lawyers are entering the practice in greater numbers than ever before, but are struggling to land positions as equity partners, shareholders, and top rainmakers at firms across the nation.  The reason for the disparity is pretty clear: women lawyers are not receiving effective training on how to build a book of business.  The lack of training stems from a lack of mentoring; there are so few women lawyers at the top, it is hard for young lawyers to find role models.  The solution seems equally clear: provide women with the tools they need to get ahead.  Teach them how to seek out and maintain mentoring relationships, teach them how to develop clients and intentionally market themselves, teach them the strategies that top rainmakers utilize in their practices.  The question then becomes – where can women lawyers go to get this kind of training?  

The answer wasn’t clear to Arizona attorneys Beth Fitch and Alison Christian.  There are programs that exist through organizations such as the American Bar Association – like the Women in Law Leadership Academy – and there are groups devoted specifically to women lawyers – like the Arizona Women Lawyers’ Association – but there are no programs available at a local level that provide women with directed business development training.  And it’s time for a change.

In August of 2012, the “Ladder Down” idea was born over lunch.  Beth Fitch had been working on an article for DRI relating to this very issue and it hit her that something needed to be done.  She approached Alison Christian to brainstorm ways in which they could change the landscape for Arizona women lawyers.  The two came up with the concept of a year-long program with monthly sessions dedicated to the three big areas of concern: leadership, business development, and rainmaking.  Alison presented the idea to her colleagues on the Arizona Association of Defense Counsel board of directors and they supported it 100%. 

Between August and November, Beth and Alison created a schedule for the program and selected the faculty.  They wanted an array of perspectives from fields outside of law and ultimately found the perfect fit.  Lynn Moran is a business advisor and executive coach with a history of success who spent 26 years with Mars, Inc. and is the former President of Ethel M Chocolates.  Marianne Trost is a nationally recognized career management coach for women lawyers and was ranked #1 in the country by the American Lawyer Annual Associates Survey.  Janice Brown is the founder of the Brown Law Group who lectures frequently on her self-made marketing strategy that has launched her own book of business and gained national recognition in the process.  These three leaders will share their secrets to success with a select group of 24 women lawyers from the AADC.

The “Ladder Down” program started on January 10th in Phoenix, Arizona and runs year-round on the last Saturday of the month.  In addition to the four-month business development “boot camp” lead by Marianne Trost, the women will meet with panels of corporate decision-makers, female judges, and industry leaders to gain invaluable insights from clients and the bench about how women lawyers can be more effective.  The monthly group sessions are rounded out by quarterly accountability sessions with smaller groups of eight attorneys.  The small groups give the women a chance to follow-up with one another on their individual progress and ensure that the goals they set are being achieved.

The “Ladder Down” program could not have happened, however, without the support of the AADC and the nine sponsor-firms:  Christian Dichter & Sluga; Jones, Skelton, Hochuli; Koeller Nebeker Carlson Haluck; Lewis & Roca; Lorber Greenfield & Polito; Rai & Barone; Righi Law Group; Snell & Wilmer; and Thomas Thomas & Markson.  As Alison remarked, “The response to the program has been amazing.  These organizations truly stepped up and were eager to help us in any way they could.  They made it all possible.” 

The reaction from women lawyers in the community was equally overwhelming.  After Beth introduced the program at an AADC Luncheon in November, the applications came rolling in.  Beth was pleased to find that “we had more applications than we ever imagined.”  As Beth put it, “Our inaugural class of 24 was chosen from an incredibly talented group of women.  But we picked a group that balances each other out really nicely.” 

Beth and Alison hope to continue the “Ladder Down” program for years to come.  As Beth said, “We want to leave a legacy for women lawyers that will help change the course of this profession.”

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