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The Women’s Business Collaborative at Boston-based Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge has evolved from a group focused on hosting creative networking events for the firm’s female clients into a revenue-generating department. Susan Keller, a Providence, R.I., partner and chairwoman of the collaborative, launched a more traditional networking group in 1996 at Edwards & Angell, a predecessor firm that merged with Palmer & Dodge in 2005. Around 2000, the firm created a curriculum to teach marketing and related skills to female partners and associates and renamed the group the women’s initiative. When Keller stepped back to work on other projects in 2002, retention, recruitment and a flex time policy took center stage. Keller returned as co-chairwoman in 2008 and by 2009 decided the group needed its own department. In order for women’s initiatives to have legitimacy, Keller said, it’s important to show that they will “result in more work and more revenue to the firm.” This year is the baseline year, and Keller reports solid results through Sept. 30. As of that date, 133 new clients that have a female billing partner and a female originating attorney have been added to the firm’s roster, Keller said. She projects a 10 to 15 percent increase in business generated by women attorneys this year compared with 2009. Keller spoke with The National Law Journal about why she pressed firm management to change the group’s focus, how the tracking process works and the results so far. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Q: Why did the focus of the firm’s women’s initiative need to change? A: Because I think the legal profession has changed and it really is a business. I think that being more blatant and [calling it] the Women’s Business Collaborative help the women [involved] understand it. Men are more focused on business generation from day one. By putting business in our name, it helps women to focus on actually making “the ask” [for the prospective client's business] and focusing on business generation. In the end, all we’re charged with doing is generating new business for the firm and helping clients generate more business for themselves by being an advocate for their business. Q: How is it different from other women’s law firm groups? A: To the best of my knowledge, there’s not another law firm [in the Am Law 200] that has a women’s initiative as a separate department that really tracks [business generation] results. I don’t think efforts to improve recruitment, retention and professional development of female attorneys are enough these days. You need additional skills to be successful, and business generation is an additional skill. Q: How does the tracking process work? A: Every dollar and hour that’s spent is tracked. We can then generate [a report on] the revenue generated by those people. If a client pitch team has [a woman] go out on [a] client pitch [meeting], that woman had better get part of the credit when the client comes in. [For example,] I know we spent that much money and these prospective clients were met at that event. We can show the monies we’ve spent and the revenues we’ve generated for the firm as a result of a focused effort. Q: How can you tell if the women’s collaborative activities or a female lawyer’s other business generation actions led to the client work? A: It’s not a precise science, but all law firms try to crunch the numbers [this way] to figure how to pay the people. If I know a woman spent certain hours in marketing efforts because she tracks her hours and she’s involved in the client work, we can track the hours spent on nonbillable marketing activity related to that client. Q: Why is it so important to specifically track which clients and matters are linked to the women’s collaborative’s activities? A: If you don’t track that, you can’t show you have real results. If you don’t put information into the system, you cant get information out. Law firms are focused on numbers and client designation. Other firms don’t do that [for their women's initiatives, and] we don’t do that for our diversity initiative [which focuses on recruiting, retention and professional development of lawyers from a wide range of backgrounds, including minorities.] [The collaborative is] very number focused because it’s the only tangible way to prove results. Q: What do you think of the collaborative’s projected 2010 results? A: I know for a fact that the per-person revenue for the female partners has increased. I know specific client engagements have been a result of women leading those and being a part of women pitch team. I have also been able to re-engage several women who were just kind of doing their thing and really didn’t think they had a support system or a place. I went to every office except London or Hong Kong and met with every woman. We have 14 offices. [I wanted them] to know there’s a support network, and something in place has really empowered the women.

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