Large firm equity partners are the rainmakers who consistently bring in revenue by attracting new clients and maintaining and growing business with existing clients. Business development has become more important in recent years, as firms compete for market share in a legal industry where clients are cutting legal budgets and looking for increased cost efficiency. While doing good legal work is expected, rainmaking is typically a characteristic lawyers need to display before being invited into a large firm’s ownership ranks.
“You have to define what is comfortable for you; it [business development] does take systematic and continued connection,” says Jane Smith, equity partner in and head of the U.S. real estate department for Houston-based Norton Rose Fulbright. “You can’t form a relationship if it’s sporadic.”
One place where Smith says she has formed lasting connections is as a member of CREW, Commercial Real Estate Women. She currently serves as chairwoman of the CREW Foundation. Through CREW, Smith says she has gotten to know people in the real estate industry nationwide and in Canada.
“I’ve gotten friends out of this,” she says. “There’s nothing better than doing business with friends.”
She notes the purpose of the CREW Foundation is to advance women who work in real estate.
“Everyone is involved in helping everyone else. People talk about the good old boys’ network. There’s a network of women, too,” she says.
At Norton Rose Fulbright, 42 or 22.8 percent of the firm’s 184 equity partners in Texas are women. Formerly Fulbright & Jaworski, Norton Rose is one of the 25 largest firms in Texas, as listed on Texas Lawyer‘s “The Texas 100″ poster, published in April 2013. Twenty-one of the 25 firms provided gender and ethnic information about their partners in Texas Lawyer‘s 2013 Women & Minorities survey.
Women make up 270 or 15.9 percent of the 1,701 equity partners at the firms that participated in the survey. [See chart, " Women Lawyers at Large Firms in Texas"]
At four firms, including Norton Rose, the percentage of women equity partners in Texas exceeds 20 percent. At the remaining firms, women are a smaller percentage of the equity partnership in Texas.
The other three firms and their percentage of women Texas equity partners are: Baker Botts, where 32 or 20.6 percent of 155 Texas equity partners are women; Cox Smith Matthews, with 11 or 21.2 percent of 52 Texas equity partners; and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, with 11 or 36.7 percent of 30 Texas equity partners.
Below, an equity female partner or shareholder at each of the four firms talks about business development techniques that have worked for her.
Jane Smith: Norton Rose Fulbright
Smith says she usually communicates with business contacts at least three times a year with telephone calls, emails, birthday cards or copies of articles. She also says she likes to schedule phone lunches, during which she and a client, potential client or friend will eat lunch together — in their own offices — while talking on the telephone.
“It’s a way to communicate and stay in touch,” she says.
The advantage of working with organizations is that you can first develop a trust and a friendship, she says. Getting involved with groups and people you like is best, she says.
“I think some people make a lot of money but are not having fun,” she says. “I think the best is to make a lot of money and have a lot of fun.”
Pam Huff: Cox Smith Matthews
Shareholder Pam Huff is head of the intellectual property group for San Antonio-based Cox Smith Matthews. Huff credits her involvement with the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association, where she served as president in 1998, with much of her success in growing her business, as well as making lifelong friends. She joined the bar group in the early 1990s.
“At the time, I was the only woman in town doing IP law at a firm,” she says. “There were a couple of in-house folks, but I was the only woman at a firm. A lot of women attorneys in town wanted to send work to other women.”
Huff says that bar association events are good avenues for business development.
“I have gotten a couple of my biggest clients, $1 million kind of clients, through the bar association,” she says.
In many instances, Huff says that business and friendship overlap. For example, she is Facebook friends with some clients. When she learned through Facebook that a client’s daughter was winning sports awards, she used that information as a reason to call the client and talk about how great the client’s daughter was doing.
“As an aside, that is something I would do anyway, even if they were not a client,” she says. “I have a lot of blurred lines. Relationships have to be real. I really am happy that her daughter is doing well.”
When Huff reads about a company not on the firm’s client list that she thinks she can help, she’ll first send out a firmwide email asking if any of her colleagues have connections to the company. Using this method recently, she learned that one of her fellow shareholders had a daughter who played soccer with the daughter of the company’s in-house lawyer.
So, she called the potential client and said, “I was reading XYZ the other day and really think I can help you. I was talking to Bob [colleague] and he mentioned your daughter plays on the same soccer team as his. I would love to take you to lunch.” The in-house lawyer agreed to lunch, and Huff says she gained a new client.
Referring to herself as a “total freaking dinosaur,” Huff says she has a stack of paper monthly calendars in the back of a desk drawer. On the calendars she has noted articles she’s sent to clients and lunches, as well as contacts and calls of any kind.
“I like having access going back nine or 10 years,” she says. She also has an electronic file of all the articles she’s sent to clients via email.
“I am not the best organized,” she says. “I am good with emails and dates, but not as good with names.”
She also leaves her clients voice mail messages describing information about recent cases that might affect the client’s company.
“I just enjoy it,” she says. “It’s part of who I am. I’ve been disciplined about it in that I’ve always done it.”
Yvette Ostolaza: Weil, Gotshal & Manges
Yvette Ostolaza is a partner in Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ Dallas office, co-head of the firm’s commercial litigation group and a member of the New York-based firm’s management committee. Ostolaza acquired her first client when she was a second-year associate with the firm.
While on a conference call trying to get some documents from an accounting firm, she was talking with an in-house lawyer in New York who didn’t realize that Weil, Gotshal had a Dallas office and represented accounting firms.
She started sending him information about the firm, such as brochures and data about recent wins, and she asked to take him to lunch the next time she was in New York City. As a result of that lunch, he sent the accounting firm’s next Texas matter to Weil, Gotshal in Dallas.
“It was a significant matter and a major accounting firm we had not represented,” she says. “To this day that firm is my client.”
There are two activities lawyers have to use for developing business, she says: keeping in touch with current clients and cold-calling.
“That’s the hardest part, meeting people at events and talking with them and following-up and getting to know them,” she says.
Ostolaza says she invites clients and potential clients to theatre events, lunches and sporting events.
“I always tell people, no matter how incredible you are, most suitors don’t come knocking at your door,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to hear ‘no.’ That’s okay. The worse thing if you hear ‘no’ is that it puts you where you were before. It is what it is. Learn from that rejection for the next time.”
Ostolaza says that later this month she will be moving to the Dallas office of Sidley Austin, where she will be global coordinator of its complex commercial litigation practice and in January will become managing partner of Sidley Austin’s Dallas office.
Maria Boyce: Baker Botts
For litigator Maria Boyce, the partner-in-charge of Baker Botts’ Houston office and a member of the firm’s executive committee, business development has always been a natural part of her practice.
“I really think I’m probably always thinking about it,” she says. “I don’t set up artificial reminders. It’s really something that I’m thinking about every day. I attend events within our firm and outside of our firm so that I always see people in person, or reach out by phone or email if I haven’t seen them in a while.”
Although always aware of business development opportunities, Boyce says she doesn’t have a set system.
“I don’t keep lists,” she says. “I really sort of keep people top of mind when I’m reading material, cases, reading about industry developments, and I’ll think back on folks that may be interested in that. But I don’t have a calendar system or anything formal like that.”
She is involved with the Law Firm Initiative of the United Way of Greater Houston, serves on the board of the Alley Theatre and works with various energy organizations.
“I go to many events in town,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to see clients and to meet new people.”
She also likes to attend family events with clients.
“There hasn’t been a rodeo in the past 15 years where our family and clients’ families have not gone,” she says. “We really enjoy that.”
She also has a task she repeats every few months and updates information about recent successes, representations, publications and presentations.
“One very simple thing I do, and am very disciplined about it, is I keep my résumé updated on our firm website.”
Boyce says her circle of clients and potential clients naturally expands the longer she practices law.
“I really enjoy meeting people and learning about their business,” she says. “I also just ask questions because I’m curious about learning more about different companies and different sectors within each industry. I’m always interested in what challenges they face in their business. It may lead to conversations that have nothing to do with legal business or legal challenges.”
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