October Program Recap: “Women, Minorities, Business & the Law"

The LMA Midwest luncheon panel presentation on October 8, 2014, featured presenter and moderator Jonathan Becks, marketing and business development manager, Horwood Marcus & Berk Chtd., and panelists Cynthia Photos Abbott, chief litigation counsel, Motorola Mobility LLC; Jeanette Hait Blanco, senior product/regulatory counsel, PayPal, Inc.; Hon. Patricia Brown Holmes (Ret.), partner, Schiff Hardin LLP; and Mario A. Sullivan, principal, Johnson and Sullivan Ltd. The panel’s goal was to help the audience get a better understanding of how women lawyers, LGBT lawyers, and lawyers of color can leverage their affinity group memberships to advance their careers and develop a pipeline of business and referrals. Topics the panel discussed included the following:

I. Affinity Groups and Diversity Initiatives

The panelists agreed that it is important to find an organization or group where you feel comfortable and where you feel you might be able to make a difference and take on a leadership role at some point. Once you find an organization with which you’re comfortable, it becomes easier to network and develop personal and professional relationships. Be helpful to those you meet. Try to identify people you can trust. Join committees.  Make friends. Do things because you genuinely care, not just to get the business. Your efforts will pay off in the long run.

It is also important to consider joining groups that are not necessarily targeted to your affinity group, as well as groups that are not legal in nature. Try to take yourself out of your comfort zone. Networking with members of other affinity groups and getting to know a wide range of diverse people can be personally and professionally gratifying. Joining an organization whose membership is not predominantly made up of lawyers can be far more advantageous to business development than sticking only with bar groups. The adage “go where your clients are,” is true.

These efforts will help you develop references, get your name out there, and build your professional reputation. You will rise to leadership as you expand your network of friends and colleagues and invest in the organization by offering your time and skills.

II. Return on Relationships (ROR)

Instead of focusing on ROI or return on investment, think about ROR, return on relationships. If you develop strong relationships, referrals and business will naturally follow. Get to know people through continual communication. Lawyers need to understand that it is not only acceptable but also beneficial to attend affinity group functions even if the function is not necessarily work related. Also, don’t be short-sighted when thinking about cultivating strategic relationships; think about the composition and demographics of your current clients and future clients. Don’t overlook an opportunity to establish a relationship with someone who might not “fit” the demographics of your current clients but could be part of your business pipeline. Making new friends and connections with diverse individuals will most likely lead to new business down the road. Find people with similar interests, and always remember the Girl Scouts song: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.”

Lawyers need to learn how to better promote themselves, which can be difficult and uncomfortable for some. It’s also important to find people who will recommend you, as this helps establish your credibility. For instance, if someone gives you a compliment, ask the person to restate the praise in  an email or letter to a supervisor, managing partner, or your firm’s marketing department.  Make sure everyone you know is aware of the services you offer so that they can act as referral sources on your behalf.

III. How to Ask For the Business

Before asking for business, be sure you thoroughly understand the needs of the potential client and their business. The best marketing is “informational.” For example, if you know of a case that pertains to their business, send them an analysis of it. Keep them up to date on relevant developments in the law. It will impress them. You can offer to take them to lunch or dinner or to an event, but keeping them informed and showing them that you are attuned to their needs and their business is what will be most appreciated.

Building relationships takes time. Be patient. Give advice, and don’t bill them. Organize a substantive presentation for someone’s company or department. Show this potential client that you genuinely care about them and their success. Authentic altruism usually pays off.

If you want to convert a friendship into a business relationship, start by making the conversation about them. Talk about what they do and their business. Ask how you can help them. Make the business relationship seem like their idea. Try to help people before they need or ask for your help, not necessarily for legal purposes, but because you are being a true friend. If you gain somebody’s trust and respect as a friend, that person is far more likely to trust you with their business. Allowing a person to witness your character, dedication, and loyalty on a personal level gives them keen insight into how you will perform professional services on their behalf.

In conclusion, legal marketers need to support their firm’s legal diversity personnel and encourage their lawyers to join affinity groups and network as much as possible. Developing relationships through these groups will undoubtedly help to grow the firm’s business. Diversity is imperative in today’s marketplace, and integrating it into a firm’s culture is good business.

Sheri Wolfe has been with Traub Lieberman Straus & Shrewsberry since July, 2008. She is the marketing coordinator for TLSS and focuses on the firm’s business development efforts, social media, website development, corporate event planning and communications. Prior to joining TLSS, she spent 12 years in the advertising industry.
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