We had the honor of being interviewed by the 2018/2019 President of the Miami-Dade Chapter of FAWL and the below interview was originally published on LinkedIn.
By: Lara Bueso Bach
Attorney at Weil, Gotshal & Mangers (Miami)
2018/2019 President of the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers
Reading through the 2018 NAWL Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms, I was struck by the fact that while some progress has been made over the last few years to close the gender gap in the legal industry, much remains to be done. As President of Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, I sat down with Yuliya LaRoe, Esq., CPC, and Marla Grant, Esq., CEC, both strategic advisors for law firms, certified coaches, and co-founders of 20/20 Leadership Group, to discuss what they think law firms can do better to close the gender gap and what they are doing to help.
Q: In your opinion, what accounts for such slow progress in the retention and promotion of women in law and what can law firms do better?
A: [Yuliya LaRoe]
That’s a great question. I’ll start with the opening line from the 2017 McKinsey & Company’s Women in Law Firms Report that said: “Law firms have many of the right policies and programs in place to improve gender diversity, but more can be done to translate stated commitments into measurable outcomes.” To me, this summarizes the issue really well. Nowadays, most if not all, law firms are in fact doing a lot of the right things to help advance their women lawyers. But it’s still not enough to generate significant shifts. While women enter the legal industry in rates equal to men (around 50%), just 30% advance to non-equity partnership and less than 20% end up achieving equity status. And these numbers haven’t changed that much over the last decade.
And after spending several years working with law firm leaders and training and coaching their lawyers, what we think can really move the needle is the firms doing the following:
1. Embrace gender diversity as a business issue, not just a women’s issue. Only by recognizing it as a critical business issue that bears on the firm’s legacy and future success will the firms be able to dedicate the necessary resources to solving the issue.
2. Create clear accountability for attorneys’ participation in the firm’s gender diversity initiatives programming, including attorneys at senior levels. These programs can include mentorship and sponsorship programs, training on implicit bias, communication and conflict resolution workshops. But more importantly, clear expectations that all lawyers must take their part should be frequently communicated from the highest levels of leadership.
3. Focus on effective business development programming. During the 2017 Summit of the ABA Presidential Initiative on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law, one of the key solutions to retaining women lawyers identified by the participants was the need for women lawyers to “be given early and consistent business-development training and coaching.” It makes sense. When one of the key measures of a lawyer’s long-term success at the firm is her ability to bring in clients, particularly at partner level, no gender diversity initiative can succeed in the absence of effective business development training, mentoring and ongoing coaching. One-off workshops are good, but they rarely help generate actual results so support with ongoing implementation is key.
4. Commit to helping women lawyers develop as leaders. Leadership development is still an overlooked area in law and it’s often thought of as “soft skills.” But it is becoming more and more important. As the business landscape changed, firms are forced to operate more and more like traditional businesses. And that means that each partner must now not only be great at lawyering, but also able to lead themselves and their teams effectively, motivate and engage their associates and staff, provide effective and timely feedback, and much more. And we now can demonstrate how these “soft skills” have real financial impact on the firm’s bottom line.
Q: Marla and Yuliya: you both are former practicing lawyers who became certified coaches and advisors to lawyers and law firms. How did you make that transition?
A: [Marla Grant]
It’s not something I planned when I first became a lawyer, but it became a clear calling for me. I am a native Miamian who spent the first ten years of my career as a civil litigator and then in corporate executive management. After graduating from Boston University School of Law, I began my legal career representing a wide range of clients, including some of the most well-known cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival Cruise Lines. After several years, I decided to leave my successful legal career because I wanted to leverage my strong leadership and “people skills” to transition into corporate leadership. I became a division Vice President of a global technology company that served the legal profession. Focusing on client retention and business development, I got into the business of relationship building so I became very good at cultivating strong professional relationships and developed strategic systems out of that which we now use to help our clients. After being a corporate executive for several years and gaining business experience that I never got in law school or private practice, I became trained and certified as a professional coach to help attorneys and law firms develop critical skills to become exceptional business developers and leaders.
And I am originally from Russia, and in the late 90s, I moved from my hometown of Vladivostok to glitzy Los Angeles. Five years later, after graduating from University of Southern California Law School, I began my career as a lawyer at a major firm in L.A. I focused my practice on international law and remained at my firm for nearly 10 years as counsel for some of the most known Fortune 500 Companies, like Cisco Systems, Halliburton, UnitedHealth Group, Herbalife, and many others. During my time as a lawyer, I was lucky to work as part of a very dynamic and innovative practice group that was growing really fast and allowed me to gain significant skills in business development, management and leadership. And after almost a decade as a lawyer, I left my international practice to pursue my passion for helping lawyers realize their highest potential and translate it into business and professional success, which is something I always knew I would do eventually.
Q: And I know that your company was voted as 2018 Best Lawyer/Law Firm Business Development Coach by the Daily Business Review. Did that surprise you?
A: [Yuliya LaRoe]
Yes, funny enough we were surprised! We didn’t know that we were being considered until a contact of ours told us. But on the other hand, we’ve been deepening our expertise as coaches and advisors to lawyers and law firms since 2011. And we both are very passionate about the work that we do. So I guess that’s what happens when you dedicate yourself to your craft. You get recognized. Yes, we are thrilled and humbled by the award.
Q: I understand that you lead a program for women law firm partners. Can you share a little bit about it and how the idea for it was born?
A: [Marla Grant]
Sure. In an effort to support the need to arm female partners with the right skills and support to reach the highest levels of leadership, our Women Rainmakers program is an exclusive small group business development and leadership program designed specifically for female law firm partners at Am Law 100 and Am Law 200 firms. It combines virtual and in-person platforms, expert coaching, and hands-on learning experiences and focuses on equipping women partners with concrete strategies, tools, and skills as well as the accountability they need to become effective rainmakers and leaders.
We will kick off the program with a live event. And it includes our award-winning, robust 12-month business development and leadership curriculum and private coaching for maximum effectiveness. Our participants will also get access to our proprietary online business development training curriculum as part of the program and be able to attend live virtual master classes on a variety of topics critical to the success of women lawyers. Another great feature of the program is that our women partners will network with and learn from guest in-house counsel and their fellow program participants – other driven women law firm partners from high caliber firms. Strategic networking is one of the keys to success in business development and leadership and it starts right here, as part of the program.
And while the program is robust, it was important for us to design it in a way that would be time efficient. We know how busy women lawyers are, having been there ourselves, and we designed the program with that in mind.
This is our best program yet. We are very excited about it! As for how the idea was born, I think it was the combination of being involved in the legal industry over the last 16 years and noticing that while some progress in closing the gender gap in law has been made, we are still far from solving the issue. Every year, survey after survey on the status of women in law comes out with very similar results. And while we are advancing, it’s happening so slow that frankly it’s barely noticeable. So our mission is to help advance the issue from two fronts. On the one hand, we do it through our work with law firm leadership. We help firms set clear goals, implement effective programming and policies, and the accountability that helps generate results. And simultaneously, through our work with women lawyers, we help them acquire the knowledge, skills, and strategies that will move their legal careers forward. We believe that only when we all work together with everyone taking responsibility for their part can we truly achieve gender parity in law.
Q: In addition to the Women Rainmakers program, how else do you help lawyers and law firms?
A: [Marla Grant]
Our deep knowledge of the legal industry allows us to serve our law firm and lawyer clients in several ways. As experienced trainers and facilitators, we lead interactive training sessions on a variety of topics that range based on the level of seniority of the lawyers attending. We specialize in two main areas: business development and leadership development. The business development issues range from networking, strategic relationship building, cross-selling, following up with prospects, designing an effective business development plan, etc. In the leadership and practice management arena, we focus on helping lawyers acquire leadership best practices, including gaining buy-in and leading the new breed of lawyers, building resilience to combat stress, executive presence, effective communication, providing effective feedback, and much more.
Additionally, we offer professional coaching. Coaching has been shown to be highly effective in helping lawyers achieve results where traditional training alone has failed. We offer one-on-one coaching and group coaching packages, and also hybrid programs, which combine one-on-one coaching, group masterminds, and our online training platform. Additionally, we offer on-demand coaching packages, making coaching accessible to the entire firm, practice group, or a designated segment of attorneys (e.g., newly elected partners, senior associates in their partnership elevation year, etc). We also offer train-the-trainer sessions to equip the firm’s professional development staff with expert coaching strategies. All of our coaching packages are bespoke and can be customized to suit the firm’s or the lawyer’s specific needs.
Q: Thank you both for sharing your thoughts with me today. If people want to get in touch with you, how can they do it?
A: [Yuliya LaRoe]
Thank you so much, Lara! We really enjoyed speaking with you today. The best way to get in touch with us is by email. You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org and Marla at email@example.com. Or by visiting our website at www.2020lead.com. We are always happy to have a conversation and invite everyone to reach out to us.
A: [Marla Grant]
Thank you, Lara, for all of the important work that you do to promote the advancement of women in law!