Webinar report: ‘How women can be rainmakers and control their destiny’

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Deborah Farone
Farone Advisors, New York

On Wednesday 16 May 2023, more than 415 registrants representing 81 countries participated in the webinar ‘How women can be rainmakers and control their destiny’. The amazing panel included Shawn Atkinson from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in London; Adriana Castro from BLP in Costa Rica; Lise Lotte Hjerrild of Horten in Copenhagen; Joana Rego of Raedas Consulting in London; and Ellen Holloman of Cadwalader in New York. Deborah Farone, the author of Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing and a consultant based in New York, moderated the programme.

The program was a joint effort of three IBA committees: the Law Firm Management Committee, the Women Lawyers’ Committee (WLC) and the Young Lawyers’ Committee (YLC).

While women have made great strides over the past years in terms of entering the legal profession and becoming law firm partners, the numbers are not balanced when it comes to having a book of business or becoming a law firm leader. Women are still far behind. While we need systemic changes, business development skills are essential in getting women to the next level and offering them choices in how they will design their careers.

Becoming rainmakers

Together, the panel shared their ideas on how they became rainmakers. Ellen Holloman pointed out that the first skillset she developed to garner clients was focused on the profession. Her primary goal was to become an excellent lawyer. ‘I think for women of color in particular, there is no room for us to fake it. Some people already doubt us before we even open our mouths, so you really have to work on your skills and know what you are talking about.’ Holloman went on to say that she spent a lot of time writing and reading widely, not simply in the area of litigation, but rather in all kinds of subjects. ‘I'm a litigator, but I took a great interest in what other kinds of areas lawyers practice in, particularly things like corporate governance', she says.

According to Lise Lotte Hjerrild, who serves as Chair of the WLC, the most important thing is to be the best version of yourself towards all people. ‘It's as much as how you treat associates, as well as how you treat clients.’ Hjerrild said that marketing is essential to everyone's job in a law firm, particularly lawyers. ‘It's not just solving matters in the best possible way, and it's not just being a good leader for your team. It's about being out there.’


The panellists agreed that while having a mentor may not be a necessity, it certainly helps lawyers learn new skills and to have someone to provide guidance on a regular basis. Hjerrild shared that the WLC has created the popular tool, the Women Lawyers’ Committee: Mentorship Toolkit. Its aim is to provide advice to help empower and engage women and to help level the playing field through mentorship.

Joana Rego recommended having a sense of clarity. ‘It's crucial,’ says Joana, ‘to be clear in a mentorship arrangement and know precisely what we expect from the relationship.’ ‘We must remain somewhat in control and responsible for where the relationship takes us. A mentor or coach will not give us all the answers or tell us what to do, but they're going to steer us towards what is, in the end, our best possible outcome.’ Rego pointed out that when it comes to mentorship, it is not a one-size-fits-all paradigm. ‘In many cases, what's right for some people is not going to be right for others’, says Rego.

Shawn Atkinson discussed the informal relationship between mentors and mentees. ‘We care about these programs deeply at my firm, and yet, in many ways, mentorship is not something you can formalize. It's something that happens. A serious mentor and mentee relationship is something that happens organically. It develops over time, and it requires a deep level of commitment from both sides.’ Atkinson went on to describe two opportunities he had to serve as a mentor – for women in both instances – and both of which were beneficial for everyone involved.

Building a network

Adriana Castro, who serves as Co-Chair of the YLC, points out that one of the most significant challenges facing women who are young lawyers is finding the time to build a network. Starting early in their careers, younger lawyers are often beholden to more senior associates and partners, and much of their time is not their own.

She cited the YLC’s survey that showed more than a third of those surveyed view balancing commitments as a hindrance to their career progression – something that is is even more pronounced in young solicitors and female respondents. According to the study, while a large proportion of young lawyers of both genders experience barriers to career progression, female lawyers appear to be disproportionately affected by many different factors, including direct discrimination. Forty per cent of female respondents, compared to 34 per cent of male respondents, cited balancing commitments; 39 per cent of women, compared to 32 per cent of men, cited a lack of available mentorship and career guidance; and 31 per cent of women, compared to 21 per cent of men, cited a lack of on-the-job assistance as factors which present a challenge to their career progression.

Castro suggested that women lawyers should try to be creative about how they find the time to market. She pointed out that the cocktail hour is generally inconvenient for those responsible for childcare issues, but there are solutions. Castro says, ‘I started doing brunches with clients, and they enjoy it. With women clients, we've also done manicures together. You are using that hour to get two things done. Find the time that works for you, and don't be afraid to try something different.’

More advice

Here are a few more pieces of advice that grew out of the conversation.

At the start of your career, intentionally put in the time to invest in yourself and build your legal and networking skills.

Find an environment that is supportive of who you are and will help advance your career. If you're not in that environment, leave and find another one. There are plenty who will want you.

Get involved in bar associations like the IBA. Serve on committees and concentrate on building your network within the organisation. It's never too early to start making connections.

Begin to develop a network early on and maintain contact with those you went to school with and those you know through business. LinkedIn is one great way to do this.

Make sure you have a robust internal network in the firm and outside of the firm. There should be people whom you can call on to problem-solve. In addition, much of your business may come through referrals from relationships you make at your firm.

Truly understand your client's business and their industry or sector. Your advice will be more applicable, and your clients will appreciate it.

Remain in touch with alums and former clients. People often circulate to different roles, and your network will continue to grow.

If you feel awkward attending an event alone, bring a colleague or friend along with you. Look for the person in the room who also looks like they may want company. Remember, everyone has a certain level of anxiety in social situations when they face a new situation. We're all in this together.

If you are in a leadership role, make sure you are helping men and women, particularly people just starting their careers. Find the time to develop a practice. Offer individual coaching, mentorship and team-building activities regularly, and make those things an integral part of the firm's culture.

Get involved in the IBA’s ‘50:50 by 2030’ Gender Project, which is a ground-breaking global project, launched in collaboration with the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation in 2021. This unique nine-year global project, ending in 2030, aims to uncover and address the root causes of the lack of gender parity at the most senior levels of the legal profession across law firms, in-house legal teams, the public sector and the judiciary.