Are there trending differences between women and men equity partners when it comes to trends in business development?

A white paper written by Carol Frohlinger, J.D., and posted to Thompson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute’s website, provides statistical evidence that while male equity partners’ business development success is tied strongly to their associations with their law firms, women equity partners must be self-reliant and focus on building strong personal relationships.

Frohlinger, president of Negotiating Women, Inc., a consulting firm that advises organizations on advancing women into leadership positions, said, “It is clear from these findings that female partners rely on their own efforts to generate origination rather than depending on their firms for help. That experience will serve them well in today’s economy.”

Frohlinger’s paper, titled “Business Development in the ‘New Normal,’” examined factors that correlated with business generation by law firm equity partners and analyzed how those findings can be applied given that since the Great Recession, companies have purchased legal services with greater sensitivity to containing costs.

“What is clear to me is that law firms must change the way they approach business development – doing the same things in the same ways doesn’t work anymore,” Frohlinger said.

The research focused on two questions:

• What activities, roles, resources and attitudes are successful to originate business in the “New Normal?”

• Are there differences between these for male equity partners and female equity partners?

The data revealed a dramatic gender divide and provides insight to explain why the business origination numbers credited to women partners in law firms are decidedly lower than those of male partners.

“The first version of this paper focused on the overall finding that female partners don’t receive the level of support for business development from their firms that their male partners do. But that conclusion was just more bad news for women,” Frohlinger explained. “So I decided to look at the findings through a more optimistic lens and concentrate on what male and female partners can learn from one another regarding business development.”

The study revealed that women equity partners asked clients for new matters and for introductions to potential clients at a much higher rate than male equity partners. It also showed that women partners used their interpersonal and persuasion skills to demonstrate understanding of their clients’ needs as a way to win work.

“This paper is indispensable reading for all law firm management teams as well as anyone who develops business for a law firm or hopes to one day develop business for a law firm,” Jenny Waters, the executive director of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), commented. ‎”It reflects a clear distinction between what has worked for female business developers and what has worked for male business developers with lessons to be learned from each other, but more so with lessons to be learned by law firm management. The study describes skills that can be added to every business developers’ repertoire and it highlights the structural impediments that must be removed to allow every attorney to develop business to his or her highest potential. If law firms want to succeed in the new normal, they should support the firm-based business development activities of all of their business developers and train all of its lawyers on ways to enhance their self-generated business development skills.”

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