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Key takeaways: New York Equity Project Bootcamp

Last month, as part of The Equity Project, Burford hosted more than 30 women litigators and arbitrators for a business development bootcamp focused on addressing the special challenges women may face in building their books of business. The event consisted of hands-on interactive business development coaching by expert coach Silvia Coulter, presentations and a panel session featuring Equity Project Champions Stephanie Carman of Hogan Lovells, Mylan Denerstein of Gibson Dunn, Maria Ginzburg of Selendy & Gay and Tara Lee of Quinn Emanuel.

The event demonstrated an overwhelming need for training in originating new clients—especially crucial for women lawyers. When the question was asked, “How many of you have ever received new business training?”, not a single hand was raised. The lack of such training in law firms’ professional development programs is surprising given that the ability to generate business is a key metric for success for up-and-coming partners at large law firms. To help fill this knowledge gap, Burford will be repeating its business development bootcamp in London and other cities in the US.

Among the key takeaways discussed by the coach Coulter, Champions and attendees:

Business development should be proactive

Building a book of business and originating new clients is integral to law firm career advancement, but the process for developing client relationships has historically been easier for men. Not only are men more likely to inherit client relationships from senior male partners within the firm, but origination credit frequently remains with the (often male) partner who first developed the client relationship—sometimes for decades, and sometimes even when they no longer regularly interact with the client.

Therefore, women need to approach business development deliberately and proactively. The payoff for implementing a business development strategy takes patience, consistency and diligence to garner results. However, simple tools are available to help manage the process, from keeping a contact activity tracker to monitoring the frequency of touchpoints with existing and prospective clients, to developing a pipeline report of opportunities.

Proactively building out a network can be daunting. Coulter advises that women lawyers start with a list of at least 50 people who represent potential sources of or conduits to business and reaching out to them at least four times a year. Over time, this outreach will pay off.

Business development should be authentic

Business development is often associated with activities like playing golf or going out for drinks. Women needn’t simply sign on to these stereotypically male pastimes. They may prefer networking at breakfast or lunch meetings. The key is to seek out activities that are comfortable and authentic.

One area of opportunity is for women to position themselves as problem solvers and thought leaders. On an individual basis, women can solidify their role as trusted counsel by staying on top of regulatory trends and proactively demonstrating how developments may pose a problem to clients in the future. More broadly, women can showcase business acumen to potential clients by speaking regularly at conferences and contributing to written papers and books on subjects about which they are well-versed.

The Equity Project as a tool for business development

When paired with the strategies above, legal finance can help augment business development efforts. On a practical level, legal finance can help bridge the financial gap between lawyers and potential clients: By shifting risk and cost onto a third party, legal finance allows lawyers to pitch attractive fee arrangements to potential clients and take on meritorious matters on a risk-sharing basis. Additionally, proactively introducing legal finance can help underscore a lawyer’s role as a trusted advisor, as it demonstrates being attuned to the client’s business needs.

While it is true that legal finance generally can function as a business development tool, The Equity Project was specifically designed to help women lawyers grow their practices. The Equity Project is a $50 million pool of capital earmarked for financing women-led matters, including where a woman lawyer is first chair; serves as lead counsel; chairs the steering committee; earns the origination credit; is the client relationship manager; or a women-owned law firm is representing the client.

With capital from The Equity Project, Burford seeks to help women lawyers build a book of business—and provides an economic incentive for law firms to proactively promote women as the lead on cases.

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