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In hiring lawyers, women place more importance than men do on interpersonal skills. They are more likely than men to consider a lawyer’s friendliness and trustworthiness. They tend to place greater importance on specialized experience. And they are more concerned than men about legal fees. Those are among the findings of a Martindale-Hubbell survey of 1,001 adults, conducted last fall and made public this month, asking how and why they would select a lawyer. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents were women, and Carol Cooper, publisher and vice president of the New Providence-based legal directory publisher, says the distinctions in male and female responses bear watching, especially since women’s rising levels of education, income, assets and influence are leading to a greater need for legal services. For men and women, trust was the most important factor in selecting a lawyer, but 79 percent of women rated it their No. 1 criteria, compared with 69 percent of men. Sixty-one percent of the women, and 52 percent of the men, said they inherently trust their lawyer. “I think women, broadly speaking, put a high weight on how they feel about a person, whether it’s a man or a woman,” says Robert Denney of Robert Denney Associates, a Wayne, Pa., law firm management consulting firm. But Denney was surprised by the strength of the women’s desire for a lawyer to be likable, because in some cases, such as a divorce, clients prefer to hire “the meanest dog in the pound” rather than someone pleasant. The No. 2 factor cited by women was the recommendation of friends, family and the community. Sixty-five percent of the women said it was important, compared with 54 percent of men. For their part, men said such recommendations were tied with the attorney’s area of specialization as the No. 2 factor in the selection process. Those two factors were each cited by 54 percent of the men. For women, the attorney’s area of specialization was the third most important factor, cited by 62 percent. Women were more concerned with how much a lawyer charges; 45 percent rated cost as an important factor in their choice of counsel, compared with 37 percent of men. And when survey respondents were asked whether they consider friendliness when deciding whom to hire, 35 percent of women said yes, compared with 25 percent of men. Women also were found to be more likely than men to require a lawyer for estate planning — at 55 percent versus 45 percent. Men were more likely than women to need a lawyer for representation in lawsuits — 31 percent versus 22 percent, or handling a criminal matter, 30 percent versus 13 percent. Of respondents who had hired a lawyer, 32 percent of the women said they were extremely satisfied with their choice, compared with 24 percent of the men. Respondents were not asked whether they prefer male or female lawyers. But lawyers viewing the results can draw their own interpretations. Rosemarie Arnold, who heads a Fort Lee, N.J., personal injury firm where all but two of the 10 attorneys are women, is understandably bullish about the advantages of hiring a woman lawyer. Arnold says women clients tend to need more handholding than men and call more often for updates on their case. “We need to feel their pain, because that’s what makes us get more money for their cases. Almost all of our clients are having a trauma in their lives,” Arnold says. “It takes more time. But if you’re a personal injury attorney and you like what you do, that’s part of the job.” Not all women prefer a woman attorney, as Lynn Miller knows. She says some women clients have treated her like a paralegal because of her gender. “I have experienced sometimes that a woman does want a woman attorney,” says Miller, a partner at New Brunswick, N.J.’s Miller, Miller & Tucker who practices with her husband, Arthur. “On the other hand, I have experienced that a woman wants a man attorney. I don’t have a problem with that because my husband bills at a higher rate,” she quips. Miller says when she addressed a meeting of a women entrepreneurs’ group last week, a big complaint among the businesswomen was about lawyers who didn’t return phone calls, keep clients informed about key developments or provide copies of important documents. At the same time, the businesswomen said they wanted a lawyer who would understand the twofold pressures that working women face. “They juggle a family and a business. Some of them may feel a woman lawyer will understand better because their own life is like that. A lot of the comments I received were that women [lawyers] get it,” says Miller. What, then, can male lawyers learn from their female counterparts? Miller says she has observed that male lawyers prefer to work alone, an orientation that could harm the lawyer-client relationship. “Women are socialized to be more collaborative,” says Miller. “Sometimes I think that empowers them, having a team approach in which the client is part of the team.” So how can law firms position themselves to capture business from women clients? Consultant Denney says that critical to establishing trust in the lawyer-client relationship is giving the client a frank assessment of the possible outcomes of a suit. “From my viewpoint, trust is a much more important thing to engender than being likable,” says Denney. He says the survey results reinforce the importance of lawyers taking the time to talk to their clients at the outset to find out what they hope to accomplish with their case. “Their expectations may be unrealistic. Too many lawyers today don’t take the time to find out what the client’s expectations are,” Denney says. The survey was conducted by pollster Yankelovich Partners on behalf of Lawyers.com, a consumer Web site version of the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory.

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