Sitting at the Table Means Digging In, Too

by admin 1. August 2013 15:37


This month’s site-wide theme is “Women, Business and Money.” My instinctive response to this topic is to write about my experience as a law firm partner—a female law firm partner swimming in a sea of male law firm partners. When my partner and I started our own firm three years ago, I did what I had done as a partner in a much larger Chicago law firm for over ten years: I closed my eyes to the finances. I focused instead on adding value to the firm. I was always cognizant of my role in the overall bottom line, making sure to work enough hours, submit my timesheets on a daily basis, get bills out to clients timely, and follow up on collections. However, I totally disregarded available information on the other firm lawyers’ contributions, expenses incurred, and the firm’s general financial health. I am guessing that many of my female colleagues are no different and, looking back, I realize that not being educated with respect to firm financial matters was a mistake. In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandburg talks about woman’s need to sit at the table. Well, I now believe that the failure to participate in the business and money end of a firm in which you are a partner is equivalent to not sitting at the table.


There are various reasons for taking the time to examine your firm’s financial statements. First, you will be able to intelligently participate in discussions with firm management regarding business issues facing the firm, even if you are not part of management. Suddenly, the firm’s upper echelon sees you as a team player and, most likely, also as potential future management. Second, you may actually be able to offer helpful suggestions to firm management. Just because you do not have a $1 million book of business does not necessarily mean that you are unable to issue spot and problem solve (you are a lawyer, after all). Finally, being well-versed in the firm’s financial situation will give you a better sense of control. 


As an income partner at my former firm, I would receive monthly firm financials and check only to ensure that I had met my own billing requirements, then toss the remaining pages. I know that part of my reason for ignoring the other information—most of it revealing client billings and collections—was my own shame in not having clients to contribute to the firm’s roster. When my partner and I started our firm, I did not ask for continuous financial information based on time constraints. I was spending so much time networking in order to build a client base on top of actually practicing law, that there was very little time left for anything but my family and the gym. Recently, now that I have built up a substantial clientele, I decided that I wanted to see the financials, and now that I have, I feel a completely different sense of ownership and control over our business. As a corporate lawyer, I am able to cull out the important information with ease, so the time is not as cumbersome as I had imagined. I now engage in educated discussions and decision-making with my partner on a daily basis, and I have lifted some of the management burden from him as well. I highly recommend the practice!

Leslee Cohen is a principal at Hershman Cohen LLC, a boutique corporate and securities law firm in Chicago that stands out from the crowd, combining big-firm experience with small-firm rates and relationships.  Leslee lives in Deerfield with her husband—the true love of her life—and her two amazing boys, ages 13 and 10.  She was a co-founder of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law and continues to serve on its board of directors, and she is very active in the Small Business Advocacy Council. Her interests outside of work and family include fashion and politics, and her passion is helping younger women rise to the top of their professions.


Leslee Cohen | Life on the Lattice

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