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It's Never Too Early to Think About Generating Business

BY NICOLE NEHAMA AUERBACH

Nicole Nehama Auerbach, Insights from the Corner Office

While in hindsight it’s self-evident, it took me a long time to recognize there is one universally demonstrated trait that successful women in law firms share—the ability to generate business. There is no question that many other qualities contribute to the ability to climb the proverbial ladder (and stay there), but having a discernible book of business stands out among the others as the fastest and most direct route to securing your future. So why did it take me so long to figure this out? Probably because when I was growing up as an associate in a large firm, the message of the day was the exact opposite.  It was: “Don’t worry about generating business.” My friends at other firms tell me it was the same for them. The advice was: Learn your substantive craft and treat the partners as your clients. We were expressly told that it was not our job to generate new business for the firm. This message, mind you, wasn’t simply mentioned once; it was repeated over and over throughout the associate years. But, the minute our status changed from associate to partner, so did the mantra. 

Worry about generating business” became the phrase of the day.

Do I think this was a concerted effort to dupe wide-eyed, naïve women associates into foregoing the very things that would secure their success? Not particularly, but in retrospect, I think the fallout of having been advised in such a manner left many women ill-equipped to suddenly change course eight years into their careers. (I single out women, not because I think different messages were given to women associates than men, but simply because men often were the beneficiaries of direct mentoring and inclusion in business-generating activities, while the same did not—and still does not—hold as true for women.) The biggest by-product of ignoring efforts toward business generation for so long may simply be that many people lost touch with contacts that, had they been nurtured over the years, would provide a wonderful network for business-generating activities now.  Keeping in touch with law school colleagues, for example, is easy enough to do soon after law school, but eight years later, it’s difficult to pick up the phone to call a now-in-house classmate and say, “So, how have you been for most of the past decade?”

Given the economic times and the vast changes that have taken place in the legal industry over the past five years, I believe that firms recognize and have begun to address the shortsightedness of wholly ignoring business development training and discussion at the earliest age. I know first-hand that firm women’s initiatives, organizations like the Coalition of Women in Law (full disclosure, I’m one of the founders and sit on the board), the Chicago Bar Association’s Alliance for Women, and the Illinois Women’s Bar Association, as well as forums like The Legal Balance, are all tackling the issue of business generation for women straight on. I only hope that younger women heed the advice that it’s never too early to start thinking about generating business. It’s the fastest path to controlling your own destiny. 

Nicole Nehama Auerbach's office isn't in the corner, but it's still nice. Nicole is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm solving its clients' issues using alternative-fee arrangements. She also co-founded the Coalition of Women's Initiatives in Law.

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