Editors’ Note: This article was originally published in December 2009.
Q: I am a black female and have been a corporate partner with a highly regarded international firm for the past two years or so. My credentials are excellent: I attended an Ivy League undergraduate institution and law school. My reviews have been consistently excellent and I have great relationships with our clients.
Even though things are slower due to economic conditions, I still manage to produce respectable annual billings. However, there have been rumblings here at the firm that suggest that our group will experience some cutbacks so I am a little nervous and I have started considering new opportunities.
Notwithstanding my credentials and expertise, I am having some difficulty getting any traction from potential employers. I’ve only looked at a few firms but they seem to be extremely reluctant to consider me as a partner. Given all of the hype and desire for diversity at the partnership level, particularly diverse female partners, I thought that I would be receiving a more favorable reaction but so far the response has been a little underwhelming. Has the economic market completely stifled diversity initiatives? Is a diverse partnership no longer a priority?
A: Listen: The color of diversity is green, sustainable green. Particularly in today’s challenging economic environment, law firms of all shapes and sizes are acutely sensitive to a partner’s ability to pull her weight and generate revenue for the firm’s coffers. Whether you’re black, white, purple or pink, the primary concern for every potential partner is having the green: a solid book of portable business. So while it’s great that you’ve attended highly competitive schools, have great client relationships and are super terrific in so many ways, the diversity factor is more like icing on the cake. But, you need to have the cake.
As you consider your career development, focus on qualitative activities that can help transform your expertise and positive client relationships into actualized revenue-generating matters. These activities can range from formal events to informal, more subtle situations.
For example, perhaps you can showcase your expertise by hosting a CLE for existing and/or potential clients. Don’t forget about webinars to expand your geographic reach. Technology is your friend; use it.
You also should think innovatively to consider how you might be able to deliver cost-effective legal services on routine matters. These types of legal services are particularly effective with certain compliance issues, can be subscription based and delivered in volume.
And, last but certainly not least, make an effort to develop informal relationships. Clients prefer to do business with attorneys whom they know and like. Trust me: Your next client (or client contact) may be sitting next to you on your commuter train, at a kid’s birthday party, in a culinary class or at your gym. Here’s the thing: You have to reach out and make yourself available. Depending on the circumstances some folks may be less comfortable approaching you so in most cases it’s on you to take the initiative.
So while firms and their clients have a stated desire to have diverse partners and inclusive partnerships, they are not going to sacrifice profitability to achieve this goal. Remember, green is the new black.
Katherine Frink-Hamlett, a graduate of New York University School of Law, is president of Frink-Hamlett Legal Solutions Inc.