This fall, OWLS offered several events designed to help women advance their careers, including a salary-negotiation workshop and a rainmaking dinner. The Mary Leonard Law Society (MLLS), the OWLS chapter in Salem, joined the conversation with a panel discussion of tips and strategies that women can use to network and market effectively. On October 24, 2013, MLLS, in partnership with Willamette University College of Law, welcomed a distinguished panel that included women in diverse practice areas and with varied levels of experience: Martha Pagel, shareholder and leader of the environmental, energy, and natural resources practice group at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt; Debra Ringold, dean and JELD-WEN professor of free enterprise at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University; Vanessa A. Nordyke, assistant attorney general in the Trial Division at the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ); and Stephanie Palmblad, associate attorney with Collier Law.
Martha Pagel has enjoyed 30 years in the practice of law, including work in both the public and private sectors. Before attending law school, Martha worked in the construction industry and as a newspaper reporter. She began her legal career in state government and subsequently transitioned to private practice, at which point client development and marketing became critical. Martha joked that one of her colleagues describes her as the “water queen” because she is a former director of the Oregon Water Resources Department, but Martha explained that she has used that unique expertise as the focus for her business development efforts. Above all else, she emphasized the importance of doing excellent work and developing a great reputation.
Creating a business plan was essential to Martha’s successful transition to private practice. To create a successful business plan, Martha recommended considering your potential clients as well as the size and scope of your firm. It may be helpful to review business plans written by other attorneys or consult a mentor or role model. Martha identified a lack of thoughtfulness in business development as a pitfall to avoid. She encouraged attorneys to consider their preferred practice setting and find an approach that works. If you do not want to engage in marketing, you may want to consider work in the public sector or for a nonprofit.
Debra Ringold studies marketing from an academic perspective as a dean and professor at the Atkinson School of Management. She instructed the group on the fundamentals of marketing and resource strategy theory. Debra discussed the three steps of marketing strategy. First, consider what you have to offer to the market; the market values demonstrated competence. Second, identify who in the market cares about what you do, who will be loyal to you, and who will compensate you—that is your audience. Third, identify your competition, not because you need to compete with them, but because they are the alternative to you. Clients want five things: (1) reliability, (2) responsiveness, (3) expertise, (4) empathy, and (5) physical presence.
Debra does not believe in self-promotion or advocate selling yourself. Others, she explained, are not interested in your doing well for you. Successful people go to the marketplace and ask what they can do for others; the money will follow. Debra observed that people respond to authenticity and appreciate those who are comfortable in their own skin. That being said, she acknowledged that it takes a long time to develop confidence. She encouraged the audience members to be introspective as they grow in their professions.
Before attending law school, Vanessa Nordyke, now an assistant attorney general at DOJ, considered a career in the Foreign Service. She began building a political career, working with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and with the first female governor of Puerto Rico. Political campaigns required Vanessa to spend hours knocking on doors and selling the candidate or the campaign. Rejection was part of the job, and she quickly developed a thick skin.
Although client development is not part of her job as an attorney for the state, Vanessa has found networking to be rewarding. She suggested attending networking events with a “wing-man” or “wing-woman” to avoid the awkwardness of navigating a crowded room alone. She encouraged audience members to keep an open mind as they network and meet new people, because one never knows where career paths will lead. Vanessa cautioned against self-doubt and encouraged audience members to build their confidence. She observed that some lessons taught to girls do not work well for attorneys, such as, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Stephanie Palmblad, an associate specializing in estate planning, is a newer member of the bar and a self-described “K through JD,” so she entered the practice of law with less work experience than some of her peers. Stephanie emphasized the importance of becoming a visible member of the community and providing a positive experience to her clients. To build her network, Stephanie has given seminars on estate planning and has joined community groups such as the Salem Young Professionals. Stephanie provided practical tips for networking and cautioned against one-sided conversations about your kids, pets, hobbies, or other interests. Instead, she recommended sharing a little bit and following up with a question.
Stephanie and Vanessa agreed that some people have difficulty taking young women seriously. Vanessa recalled times that she was mistaken for a secretary or a waitress; some people are not inclined to think that a woman may be an attorney. Vanessa believes that it is important for others to see women as professionals and as leaders; she serves on volunteer boards and bar committees. Stephanie has encountered clients and attorneys who, initially, did not take her seriously because she is a young woman. She combats those initial impressions by demonstrating her knowledge of estate planning.
Several themes emerged during the panel discussion. The panelists all agreed that it is essential to develop a reputation for excellence. Debra observed that your brand is your reputation and your reputation is everything. The panelists all expressed some discomfort with receptions and cocktail parties, agreeing that such networking events can be intimidating, but are a necessary evil. Martha and Stephanie both recommended giving educational seminars as an alternative to networking socials. The panelists agreed on the importance of finding networking and marketing opportunities that are comfortable for you and fit your personality.