By Katherine Larkin-Wong • January 23, 2012•Other Career Issues
Editor's Note: Ms. JD is proud to announce our newest strategic partnership with another online community for professional women, the Levo League! (www.levoleague.com) Through our partnership, Ms. JD and Levo League will share content, plan joint events, and even offer online bootcamps. Look for more exciting announcements about the partnership in the coming weeks!
Ms. JD views this partnership as an important step forward along the theme of women helping women. In that vein, we sought out a great example of how women can help women for our first joint post. We found it, in the DQs ("The Dancin' Queens"). To see the post on Levo League go here.
Welcome to the Ms. JD corner on Levo League! We’re thrilled to be starting a new partnership to help provide legal content to all L(L) readers and to expand the network of women connecting to one another through L(L) and Ms. JD. When Amanda Pouchot and I agreed to a Ms. JD/Levo League partnership, we talked about the importance of women helping women. I told Amanda that women in business are actually the ones who are most able to affect the path of women in the law: “You are the client. You can choose to whom you send your work. If you send business to a woman, she gets credit for it and that helps her advance at her firm.” Amanda’s response: “You have to write that. It’s going to be our first Ms. JD Corner post!”
So we did what anyone should do when seeking expertise. We turned to our network. If you read L(L) or Ms. JD, you are familiar with the incredible Kelly Hoey. She has been the indefatigable supporter of both organizations. Kelly said she had the PERFECT interview for us. She introduced us to the Dancin’ Queens, better known to one another as the “DQs.” Their story shows us a model for a way forward, a way that women can help women battle the dismal statistics about our place in the top echelons of business and the law.
The legal profession has particularly grim statistics. Women have been held to 16% of equity partners for years despite graduating from law school at nearly the same rate as men. Even once they get to the top, women partners do not feel secure. Vivian Chen of the Careerist recently ran a three part series about new women partners and their frustrations with finding a path to success at their law firms. Chen’s posts were based on an AmLaw survey that showed that women were significantly less satisfied with their business development opportunities than men. Chen explained that women partners feel there are “unwritten rules” that men in their firms seem to know but they do not. One woman partner noted that it’s easier for men to develop business because there are more men in a position to give business at top companies. All of this reporting had left me more certain than ever that the Ms. JD – L(L) partnership was important but it also left me questioning the potential solutions. What are the different paths to success? Can women help women succeed? Yes, according to the DQs.
The DQs are nine women, the original eight of whom met one another at a Navigant Consulting Women’s Leadership Conference. They are Mary Gill, Barbara Kolsun, Andrea Tecce, Linda Kornfeld, Andrea Kramer, Hilary Clarke, Gail Zirkelbach, Marie Woodbury, and Marianne Carroll. I spoke with Mary Gill who told me about how the DQs began. Mary started by talking about the genesis of becoming a real lawyer, "In your legal journey you start out trying to perfect your legal skills, which for a litigator are research and writing, then you transcend into counseling your clients, and eventually you have to attract the business. Different people do it different ways. Many of us run around a bit scattered, go to events, and speak at conferences. Some are more thoughtful and effective than others."
The DQs was born at the Navigant conference. Mary explained, “About five years ago, I was at the conference talking to Linda Kornfeld. Linda observed that she wished there were more corporate counsel at the conference to improve business development opportunities. In talking further, we turned to exploring other networking opportunities. It was at that time that we realized our practices are very complimentary. I represent directors and officers in litigation, particularly banking and securities litigation. Linda's practice centers on insurance coverage issues, which is often an issue in the cases that I work on. My firm generally cannot litigate coverage issues so we often make referrals to other attorneys who do. As we talked, we became increasingly excited about our own opportunity for business development!”
But that’s not where the idea ended. Mary went on to explain, "As I thought about it more, I realized that one of the challenges in developing business was breaking into the tight knit circle of men in Atlanta who refer business back and forth to one another. These men control the relationships with many of the companies that were would-be clients and other attorneys have a hard time breaking into the market, in part because these men were able to refer work to one another. It created a reciprocal relationship that had locked down much of the work in Atlanta. As I thought more about my conversation with Linda, I realized that we could use this as our model, but create that kind of referral network on a broader scale."
Linda and Mary continued to talk throughout the weekend. “We realized that too often lawyers overlook opportunities to generate business through our peers. We wanted to change that. Our goal was simple: put together a group of high level women partners in law firms, who had different but complimentary practices and who work in different areas of the country. In some instances, the practice areas would be complimentary to create synergies but either way we could refer work to one another based on geographic locations. We reflected upon how many times one of our partners would send a firm-wide email, looking for counsel in another city. With our network, we could respond to these searches by offering the name from our group who was in that city. That weekend, Linda and I identified the women we met who we thought would fit with that vision.”
The DQs meet twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall at Andie Kramer’s farm in Michigan, which they call Kamp Kramer. There's a cone of silence in these meetings. Each of the DQs I spoke to told me that this agreement is central to their success because it allows them to talk about issues that they normally wouldn't broach with anyone outside of their firms. Creating that safe space has helped the women grow closer to one another and address issues ranging from the professional (like whether to change firms) to the personal (like whether to remarry).
Each of the DQs told me that the relationship has been very productive. Mary and Linda collaborated in several webinars on litigation and insurance coverage issues involved in failed banks. The webinars helped both women build the credentials to be recognized as thought leaders. Since that area of litigation has grown exponentially, the joint-project has helped generate business for both women. Hilary told me she hired a young partner from Alston & Bird based on Mary’s recommendation. Andrea Tecce told me that as the only non-attorney in the group, “In addition to being incredible mentors to me, these women help to keep Navigant top-of-mind. They will refer business my way or seek help to find the right expert.” Andie is a prolific writer on gender and communication. At one of the recent retreat weekends, all of the DQs edited and critiqued her latest article (p.22-29). Once it was done, several DQs forwarded it to their diversity partners. This practice is not unique. As Mary explained, “we often forward professional writings to one another and then each of us forwards it to our contact list. It ensures that our names are getting in front of people who would be interested in our work.”
I asked Mary about how we should interpret the surveys that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. She said, “First, young women need to remember that there are no guarantees in any profession. We're lucky. We're extremely well compensated as lawyers. We've got interesting work. The uncertainty? Well that's true in any profession. The process of generating business is a long one. First you have to be a good lawyer. Then you have to have the right connections. But you have to remember that just having lunch with someone doesn't accomplish much. You need to go into every meeting with something to give and something you want in return. Create a relationship of give and take and you’ll soon be developing stronger business relationships.” A relationship of give and take is certainly something the DQs have created for themselves!
What I loved most about the DQs is that their model of networking capitalizes on a noted strength of women. Networking research shows that women are better at building smaller, deeper networks. Men generally build larger but more superficial networks. Women also take a “more roundabout” method of networking by trying to help a connection before asking for help. The DQs have built a small, deep network based on give and take with one another.
While not the sole solution to advancing women in business and the law, the Ms. JD and L(L) partnership is one place for all of us to start building our DQ-like networks! At L(L) and Ms. JD, we hope that sharing information with one another and learning about one another's work and industries will help all of us begin to build those connections and networks earlier. The Ms. JD corner on L(L) is only the start of our partnership. Look for other exciting events and opportunities in the coming year! To see what we’re up to at Ms. JD, like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, and check out our blog at www.ms-jd.org.