Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Women lawyers learn how to break the glass ceiling

This week's meeting of the International Bar Association in Dubai is a chance to re-evaluate women's roles in the profession.

Starting today, Dubai is hosting the 2011 congress of the International Bar Association, the largest gathering of the legal community in the world. More than 5,000 lawyers and legal professionals will gather to discuss issues ranging from international commercial arbitration to regional corporate and finance laws. Most lawyers' agendas will be quite full for the week.

For me, the most exciting part has been watching young female lawyers in the UAE become so excited to attend the IBA congress and other events being held in Dubai this week. To see how thrilled these young women are to meet lawyers of leading firms from the world's capital cities is brilliant - and the fact that so many local law firms have decided to register their female staff is a sign that the practice in the UAE is progressing, despite the glass ceiling for female lawyers worldwide.

Proof of that discrimination was provided by the 2011 ALM Legal Intelligence survey on billing rates and legal practices. The survey found that average billing rates for women partners in law firms were consistently lower than those of their male counterparts. There was more than a 20 per cent difference in the average billing rate between men and women lawyers practising in the United States. The conclusion of the survey was that women are never going to achieve equality in the profession until their fees match those of male lawyers.

And there is a way for women lawyers to get out of the low-rate, low-pay trap: learn to become a business developer. "Rain-making" - the ability to generate business - is the hammer to break the glass ceiling for female lawyers.

As a practical matter, rain-making skills play a large part in the ability to advance and succeed, especially in private practice. A greater role in business development would mean that women are more likely to have a voice in the profession and be appointed to key committees within a practice. Marketing certainly isn't taught in law school, to the fury of male and female lawyers alike. Rainmakers are not born after all, they are trained.

So the message to law firms in the UAE is to offer women lawyers support in business development. Until now, female lawyers in local firms, whether large or small, have not been hired to bring in clients.

It was a total surprise to find out that a number of medium-sized law firms had registered their female staff members to attend the rain-making seminar of the congress. To my disappointment a number of larger law firms denied their women lawyers the same opportunity. These firms can deprive their staff of these opportunities because women lawyers have little voice in the legal practice to demand that their employers provide the necessary training or at least reimburse them for self-directed study.

Women tend to be the best rainmakers because they are good at developing and nurturing relationships. That's a skill that most women are innately good at. But a lot of women are intimidated or overwhelmed because they picture business development as cold calls or sales pitches, and not too many are comfortable with that. But that's not really the best way to develop business.

If you are one of those women lawyers who are working too hard and earning too little, then you are one of many lawyers who are stuck in a rut. You work hard but never seem to get ahead. You are smart, you deliver good results to your clients - basically you are a good lawyer. But financially, you are still struggling.

It all has to do with marketing. I find that many female lawyers don't know how to handle business development opportunities or selling situations. Too often, they end up over-promoting themselves and their firms. Or they feel uncomfortable or pushy when trying to attract the interest of a client, prospect or high-powered source of referrals.

And it's not their fault. Nobody has ever taught them how to perform in a business development or selling situation. We don't learn marketing at law school and our local culture is not much help.

Although there may be some personality traits that great rainmakers have been able to develop to help them land clients, the skills themselves are learnt. To learn the necessary skills, mentoring is the most vital resource. If there's a lawyer you know who excels at client development, talk to her. Most lawyers are willing to share their knowledge and experience, but you have to ask.

Then develop your own marketing plan and work it. What steps can you take to market yourself to your existing clients and to broaden your network and exposure? Think strategically and plan your networking events (formal and informal), writing and speaking opportunities and whatever else may be a part of your plan.

Young Emirati women lawyers will meet their mentors this week at these amazing events and I do hope that women lawyers who have international experience will notice these young women and become their mentors.

Dear Emirati women lawyers, I know it isn't easy to balance work and personal life, and adding in marketing may seem like it's too much. But planning your efforts, and considering how you might fold in personal interests with networking opportunities will help you to find time to hit all of the bases. Be sure to share your plan with your mentor, a coach or someone who can help you stay on track. That action alone will significantly raise the chances that you'll keep up with your plan and see results.


Diana Hamade is an Emirati lawyer based in Dubai and the founder of International Advocate Legal Services

Updated: October 30, 2011 04:00 AM