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Having a plan, taking advantage of opportunity when it presents itself and knowing when to take a step back from the rat race are all critical to developing one’s law career and practice. Those were the sentiments expressed by a panel at “Jill Be Nimble: Reinventing Your Practice,” a CLE program held during the Midyear Meeting of the American Bar Association. The continuing legal education program was a discussion of what it takes to attract and retain clients, but the panelists used the forum to speak at length about the impact of personal experience on crafting a legal career. At one point, some of the panel members reacted differently to the term “rainmaking,” that old law firm synonym for business-getting. “The issue of rainmaking is really about making rain for yourself,” said Jami Wintz McKeon, chairwoman of the business and corporate litigation group at Philadelphia-based Morgan Lewis. “Be open and look around you … think about what you want to do, put a plan together, and go to someone you know to help. Work is hard, and you should really like what you do.” Muzette Hill, general counsel for strategic initiatives at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich., rejected the word “rainmaking” and said she had her own vision of what it takes to attract new clients. “I hate the word ‘rainmaker,’” she said. “It always made me envision old men with suspenders. … It was an image that was beyond me. I find that personal relationships are the key to winning clients.” WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKED … Some of the panelists told stories illustrating how their career paths often became intertwined with their personal interests — sometimes in unpredictable ways. Ann Thornton Field, chairwoman of the aviation litigation department at Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Connor, told such a story when she traced her path to becoming chairwoman of the department. Field, drawing on her own life experience, took advantage of a chance opportunity when a partner at the firm circulated a memo asking whether anyone at the firm knew anything about aviation. Field had taken some flying lessons although she was only a novice pilot. She answered yes to the memo. That answer was her entry into aviation law. She has acted as defense counsel in litigation over the cases of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, the Navy’s experimental Osprey aircraft, and the 1996 ValuJet and TWA Flight 800 accidents. She also told audience members that when it comes to pursuing business, they should never forget what they learned in jobs they held before entering the legal profession. Two jobs she held before law school, marketing for a railroad company and sales for a truck line company, gave her the right attitude, Field said. “I got used to knocking on doors,” she said. “I just have this attitude of what’s the worst that can happen? They can tell you no. … It makes all the difference in the world if you have a book of business to bring with you.” Others illustrated how a career path that seems random to the outside observer can actually integrate careful planning and focus on a primary goal. Kathleen Herzog Larkin, a solo practitioner in Paoli, Pa., and former partner at Blank Rome, said her career had come full circle: She began her practice in a small firm she founded, and she is now a solo practitioner with her own “virtual law firm.” However, she has always kept in mind that she wanted to be a litigator. Her first firm was founded with two classmates from law school. She then moved on to the Attorney General’s Office in Harrisburg, Pa., before securing an appointment as chief counsel of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Larkin said she knew the PUC post would be a problematic one. But it gave her the cachet to move to Blank Rome. Although Larkin had reached her goal of working at a large law firm, the needs of her teen-age children dictated that she spend more time with them. Larkin operates her virtual law firm out of her home, representing health care clients and institutions of higher education. Getting into health care law practice was in some ways a matter of chance, Larkin said. While she was at Blank Rome as a commercial litigator, a partner asked her to speak with another lawyer at the firm about a health care client. That’s when she realized the firm needed a health care litigator. “That conversation changed the whole direction of my practice,” she said. “I began calling myself the health care attorney at Blank Rome.” Her next discovery was that most of the hospitals whose business the firm handled were part of medical schools. She saw that medical schools desperately needed what she termed litigation-avoidance services, and she soon expanded her client list to include institutions of higher education. Hill, the general counsel to Ford, said that having a plan and reinventing herself had been key to her success, because “90 percent of people who have a plan achieve it. “My philosophy is similar to the one in ‘Field of Dreams’: If you do it, it will work,” she said. Hill said she had reinvented herself six times since 1992 — something that has required “getting in touch with my id — my inner diva.” While a partner at Lord Bissell in Chicago from 1992 to 1998, she said, she thought it was necessary to get an insurance underwriter’s license to further develop her practice, and she got it. ANTICIPATION Hill also said that anticipating clients’ future problems not only builds trust, but also makes a lawyer look good to a corporate client. She once anticipated that a client was likely to be sued by its shareholders. “When they did eventually get sued — then, I looked like a genius,” she said. Talking to clients about their future needs also aids in retention of business. She said she follows the advice of hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who, when asked how he was so successful, said that he skates not to where the puck is but to where it’s going to be. “Find out what their objectives are — where do they want to be?” Larkin said. “Lawyers become successful when their clients become successful. That’s what I tell all my clients.” PERSONAL RAINMAKING Hill said her efforts to win business had the added benefit of advancing her own career. While at Lord Bissell, she started approaching the business community and was doing more speaking and writing. “I really was just trying to get more business, but what I didn’t realize is that I was attracting recruiters,” she said. Ford hired her as counsel for corporate securities and corporate insurance in 1998, and since then, she has gone on to hold three positions there. Most recently, she created her own position as counsel for strategic initiatives. Morgan Lewis’ McKeon said that she had enjoyed a 21-year uninterrupted career at her firm, where she started straight out of law school. Although she didn’t have the dramatic career changes described by other members on the panel, McKeon said, she has found it important to realize when there are ebbs and flows in your life and to respect them. McKeon said she loved teaching at the Temple and Villanova law schools and being involved with the Philadelphia Bar Association, which she was able to do because of the flexibility Morgan Lewis offered her. However, there came a time when she realized that keeping up the teaching schedule was becoming impossible. One of her clients required a great deal of travel, which forced her to reschedule classes. She knew then that she would have to take a break from teaching. McKeon emphasized that marketing yourself and finding clients need not be a nonstop activity. When things get too hectic, she said, it’s important to “take a step back and wait for the next time you can take on more.” But she said that taking time off, even a hiatus, from the practice of law, did not always bring professional death. “Some of us worked all the way through [having families], but that just happened to work for us,” she said. “Many people, like [Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge] Anita Brody, took time off to raise families and have been very successful. “A career is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to do it all at once.” The program was moderated by Martha Fay Africa, founder of the Women Rainmakers group within the law practice management section of the ABA and principal in the attorney placement firm Major, Hagen & Africa.

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