A few weeks ago I was fortunate to speak at the firm retreat of the Tennessee law firm Lewis Thomason. The firm leader who asked me to speak is my friend Lisa Cole, the firm’s managing partner. I met Lisa many years ago when I was working with her husband Jonathan Cole.

Lisa asked me to speak on Client Development 2015: Old Tools and New Tools and on Preparing a Business Plan for Success. I enjoyed both presentations.

A few months ago, I was asked for my prediction for 2015 which was included in: 25-Plus Predictions for the Legal Industry in 2015. As you will see, I predicted:

My prediction for 2015 is that women lawyers will assume more leadership positions in large law firms and many will start their own law firms.

What I suggested when I was asked is supported by what is happening. See: Two Women Win Spots Atop Big Law Firms.

I have coached hundreds of women lawyers. At the risk of over generalizing, I have long believed that women have some unique attributes that make them very well suited to lead law firms and practice groups and offices.

Many years ago I read a hilarious and fascinating blog post by UConn professor Gina Barreca  in Psychology Today Run By Women, The World Would Be Better and More Fun.I found it thought provoking, but the satire may not be for everyone.

Ok, what is it about the women I have coached that causes me to see they have great leadership attributes? Here are some distinguishing attributes. The women with whom I work are:

  • Less focused on individual lawyer silos and more focused on teamwork and collaboration
  • Less focused on how we always have done it and more focused on innovation
  • Less focused on rigid rules and more focused on flexibility
  • Less focused on dictating and more focused on listening
  • Less focused on profits per partner and more focused on values

I looked at my list and said to myself: “Wow, I would love to be a partner in that kind of firm.” Unfortunately, as reported in a 2008 article: Women Law Firm Leaders Still Sparse only 8% of firms are led by women. There are a variety of reasons cited in the article, not the least of which is only a small percentage of men, and smaller percentage of women, have any desire to lead a firm.

Concerned that my instincts might be inaccurate, I looked for scientific research, and was surprised to discover I was pretty much on target. Of the many studies and papers, here are two with interesting insights:

In the study, male leaders were exceptional in each of the areas, but women leaders set a new standard. They are or have:

  • More persuasive in part because of how well they listen, read situations and see all sides
  • A stronger need to get things done
  • More willing to take risks
  • More open
  • More empathetic which enables them to be more persuasive
  • Stronger interpersonal skills
  • More inclusive consensus builders
  • More collaborative

What do you think a woman led law firm would be like? I invite your thoughts on this interesting subject.

  • Great article! I agree with your observations and am not surprised that the research supports your conclusions. It is frustrating that the strong leadership qualities that many women lawyers exhibit are too often not recognized by their male counterparts. For example – just a few weeks ago, it was reported that a woman attained the position of named partner in an AmLaw 100 firm for the first time in history. It seemed like such an outstanding accomplishment (and it is!), but with law school classes comprised of more than 50% women, why aren’t more women in positions of leadership? Attrition is certainly an issue, but for a woman to achieve what Kathleen Sullivan did is the exception, not the rule. Worth pondering. Thanks again for your contribution to the discussion.

  • usman

    Firm led by woman it would be a nice experience & as they have some advantages . the disadvantages are also there i think they might not concentrate on money as much a man do
    & second woman might not taken a bigger decision like male person can do it is just because she will be more polite and humble which might succeed the law firm But at some point she should have to compromise with her that ability

  • Nice article. As a result of the book I’ve recently published I’ve been talking to a number of women lawyers who are interested in changing law firms to enable more women to stay in the profession and to lead from the top. I’m wondering what the clients of law firms think? How would they react to more women leading and also to changing the way law firms operate differently?
    Lynn Harris
    Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading In Today’s Organizations

  • Interesting article and gave a lot of ideas, thank you for this. I am a woman (mother) leading a law office and I do feel the difference. Personally, I feel that I am a totally different person since I have children. From that time I am able (and forced) to make bigger decisions and concentrate on money.
    I am also wondering what the clients think?
    Andrea Soos