Legal Marketing Insights: The Natural Marketing Power Of Women Lawyers And The Rise Of Stiletto Networks

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 09:25

Recently, I sat in on a program regarding coaching skills for women lawyers. While numbers still lag behind in terms of women’s equality with men in occupying client leadership positions, the relevant news is that women today maintain more positions of significance and power than ever before.

Following the program, I ran an admittedly unscientific but honest study. I asked a good number (20) of female partners from several leading law firms whether we have now reached a tipping point in our approach to marketing.

Has the time come for us to intentionally develop and utilize business development methods that align naturally and organically with our values and communication styles to better appeal to the rising number of women leaders and clients? Would using a more authentic style of marketing make us more valuable to clients – male and female alike? And, on the in-house counsel side, should women be opening discussions with their outside female lawyers to help expand ways that they might be useful to one another?

Viva La Difference?

So, is there a difference between men and women and their marketing styles? In outside law firms and very broadly – yes. Women tend to take the process more seriously, and sit down and consider what the client needs and how they can help them. Men, on the other hand, don’t overthink the game plan and just want to get in the door to see the client and get the work. Details can be worked out later.

Is either approach better? Firms don’t encourage a robust menu of marketing styles and approaches among partners. Why? They generally don’t overthink this part of the client experience. Instead, they focus on the bottom-line results, and methodology is left in the dust. The unintended consequence of this behavior, however, leads many women to assume that the typical male style on display and in play is the only one backed by their firms.

While I would posit that you need a menu of choices, you as corporate counsel buyers are the ultimate judge. You experience, first-hand, the results of the thinking that goes on behind the scenes when a unilateral marketing style is applied. As an example, you may often see teams of mostly/all male partners roll into a pitch meeting, and if there is a woman invited to the meeting, she often isn’t given (nor has she demanded) time on the agenda. Your opinions and preferences will definitely influence the guest list at the next meeting!

How can women lawyers – both at outside law firms and as outside counsel – develop marketing skills that align with their natural skills? We first must agree that we are open to developing skills that may differ from the “default” ones in play within our firms or companies. And, secondly, we need to take a page from the playbooks of women leading businesses today who have discovered that new ways of connecting – with vehicles like “stiletto networks” – give women a great deal of shared trust and power, which moves everyone ahead.

Stiletto Networks: Not A Shoe-Shopping Excursion

What is a stiletto network, and why should they matter to inside or outside women lawyers? As author Pam Ryckman says in her terrific book, Stiletto Network, these are “power circles of influence created by women in all industries and at all levels.” These are groups of women who come to together to “mine their collective intelligence to realize their dreams or champion a cause, and to join forces to ensure each woman gets what she needs, be it information, an introduction, a partnership, or a landmark deal.” I recently learned that women partners in the AmLaw 100 are embracing these networks. It’s a great development. These networks are also just one way that women lawyers can intentionally direct their marketing efforts to pay off authentically and handsomely.

Next Steps

I would encourage in-house women to open up a discussion with their counterparts at outside firms. You can partner up to help one another. For outside lawyers, think about your natural instincts in marketing, and start taking some chances with targets with whom you wish to do business. I also resoundingly encourage you to find like-minded souls within your firms who might help form a stiletto network with clients and targets. Be ready to give – rather than receive – initially. Clients and potentials will want to know that you are looking for a shared and valuable experience for all parties. One of the easiest places to start your search is to read through The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel – cover to cover every month – to find common ground with one another!

Not long ago, a senior woman in a law firm told me that she disliked working with other women because they are so difficult and untrustworthy. I realized immediately why her career had become so limited. We should all use our natural affiliations and power structures to our advantage. One day, gender issues won’t define us. Until then, let’s revel in the advantages and connections we can make naturally and successfully.

This column is designed to provide corporate counsel not only with insights into what they should look for as targets of marketing efforts, but also how they should market their own talents within their corporations. Carolyn A. Sandano, the author of this is month’s column, has led marketing efforts for several AmLaw 20 firms in the last several years. She encourages readers to contact her for additional resources regarding these critical issues at csandano@thesandanogroup.com.