When I started out in law, I had a vague notion that partnership is an end goal in private practice. But it never crossed my mind to put energy and effort into creating the foundation for partner success at my junior level. That's a mistake.
It is never too early to learn what is involved in becoming a partner. Taking the time to learn about what you need to do will help you learn what to avoid. I made mistakes such as not networking and being only focused on getting the work done. Trust me, if you are relying on your work to advocate for you, it won't happen. I also never made the connection between networking at an early stage and building a book of business on that network foundation for later success and partnership.
Don't do what I did. Learn early about partnership and continue to learn as you progress. Whether you are a partner now or starting out, the five women I asked, have great insights to share on their successful journey to partnership.
BONUS - The Roadmap to Female Partnership in a Law Firm is included at the end. It's an easy way to plan how you are going to proceed.
5 Women Law Partners share their wisdom and insights
Sharon A. Roberts is a Canadian partner at Field LLP, litigator, occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer, arbitrator and certified psychological health and safety advisor in Alberta. Business inquiries, including referrals, can be directed to Field Law LLP
Female Partners in law require leadership vision
Female lawyers who have made a decision to attain partnership (and that's a serious decision and how one makes it ought to be its own question!), in my view, should have both a vision of what it means to be a strong leader, mentor and lawyer and what it means to run a business (because a partnership is, after all, a business model).
Partnerships are a long game model
Partnerships tend to be a long game model for practice, though partners do migrate more these days than a generation ago. If you're sure this is the partnership for you, find out everything you can about what it takes to "get in". Find out what it takes to earn what suits your vision in that partnership.
There's math, business skills, and free labour involved
Evaluate, or invite an accountant to assist you evaluating if math isn't your thing, what you'll need to earn to achieve your goal (partnership) and maintain the level of earnings you need/desire.
Don't ignore the stuff you don't love - but illustrate your shine factor and show your work ethic and commitment where the shine doesn't come naturally. Be you. Do your best. Be sure this is for you. Good luck.
Putting the "you" into your legal journey
I am a big proponent of putting yourself first, making your own luck and controlling your own destiny.
To me, in the practice of law, these things mean creating, maintaining and growing your:
Putting yourself first in the practice of law is not without a self-care component. To be successful women lawyers and entrepreneurs, we must take care of ourselves, mentally and physically, as well. So often we give everything to our jobs and forget to take care of ourselves! It’s certainly a life’s work and one that is so important- as a first step, find ways to start your day that nurture your soul.
Sharon G. Druker is a senior partner in the Business Law Group at Montreal, Canada law firm Robinson Sheppard Shapiro LLP, and heads their Corporate Department. Business inquiries, including referrals, can be directed to her at RSSLex
The answer shifts as a lawyer and her practice evolves.
Natural Methods to Networking for Female Lawyers
Find a way of networking which feels natural to you. If you’re not the cocktail party type, give presentations, or if that’s not your thing, publish thought pieces, in your firm newsletter, on a blog, in your bar association publication and especially on LinkedIn.
The bottom line is that you need to attract business, both new clients and new work from existing clients. You need to be profitable (bring in more revenue to your firm than you cost them, including salary, benefits, overhead, etc.), and be seen as a future source of work not only for yourself but also for your colleagues. You want to be billing on work done by others which you brought to the firm outside your own area of expertise, in addition of course to your own work. You want to position yourself as a team player, and as a person who can contribute to growing the pie for everyone.
Heather R. Sweren, is a partner focusing on family law at the Maryland firm Brodsky, Renehan, Pearlstein & Bouquet, Chartered in Maryland. Business inquiries, including referrals, can be directed to her at BRP Family Law
How Female Attorneys can find Clients
I agree, the key to making partner is demonstrating that you have value. Value to a law firm is first and foremost about making the firm money. A firm does not run without a steady flow of income. To make money, you must figure out how to bring in business, which is one of the hardest tasks for a young lawyer.
How to find clients:
Early in my career, with the goal of finding clients, I frequented the typical networking events – large events with lots of people I did not know, wearing handwritten name tags on their chests. For some, a room filled with hundreds of strangers is exciting. For me, this was terrifying.
I have come to learn that I did not have to suffer through these events to find clients. The best way to find clients is to be intentional with your efforts. What I mean by this is that between a career and family (and maybe a little time for yourself!), we have very little time to commit to networking and marketing, so time spent toward those efforts should have real value to your overall life, and it is important to assess what networking opportunities make sense for you.
Men network on the golf course (I know, I made a generalization, but that is my perception). I do not know how to golf, and I do not want to learn. Instead, I focus my efforts on activities that I enjoy:
Building relationships with people who enjoy the same things as you is far more valuable for building business than meeting strangers in a large banquet hall.
Jacquie Stevens is an Ontario, Canada environmental litigation partner at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP, and Certified Specialist in Environmental Law by the Law Society of Ontario. Her full bio can be found here. Business inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Be where others aren't to build your book of business
In an article I was interviewed for by Precedent Magazine in early 2016, shortly after becoming a partner at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP, I identified 2 things that were key in my mind to making partner at a small firm:
For me, this meant meeting with environmental consultants and being involved with industry organizations – the people that may need my legal services. These are still key aspects of being a partner for me.
The need to maintain my knowledge and expertise in my area of practice supports my personal and our firm brand. And, I still love networking with all of my environmental and industry contacts, although this year we are keeping in touch a little differently.
Another thing I have learned, and it is about partnership, having a satisfying legal career, and well-being, is to be where others are not – to be blunt, to be where men are not. For me, this is through my involvement with the Women's Law Association of Ontario. I believe in WLAO's mandate – to promote, encourage and advance women in the legal profession – and as an added bonus, I have met and learned from so many amazing women and women lawyers about their lives, their growth, and their strengths. Perhaps I went a little further than most with my involvement and support of WLAO… I was the President of WLAO from 2018 -2020 and was honoured to lead WLAO during its 100th anniversary celebrations in 2019.
Her Legal Global is also a place where we can learn and grow together, both personally and professionally. I am so thankful for what Faye and Her Legal Global have already provided to me through content and connections!
Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, startup cofounder, front end web developer, photographer and business consultant. Her goal is to help you use your law degree and have a career you love, on your own terms, throughout your career.