Making it Rain While Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Let’s put it out there, ladies: Work-life balance in the professional realm is as precarious as maintaining the perfect pair of pantyhose. It takes a lot of care and a bit of luck, because life is full of situations that can spell ruin. Finding it isn’t so much a tale of the Superwomen as it is about wise choices and the necessity for fantastic support. It’s about learning to leverage, not just in billing rates, but in personal situations, and it’s about lessons learned and wisdom harvested.

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“No one asks men about work life balance,” Carol Weld King remarked when I told her the topic of this article. “Perhaps it’s generational,” she allowed. “Twenty years ago nobody talked about it. Today, it’s crystal clear that 20- and 30–somethings, men and women, are more focused on how they fit their professional lives into their private lives. I’m not sure the firms are doing anything different, but the topic arises because [in general]we do see an absence of balance.” Something else that may not have changed as much as we would all like is the implicit bias we harbor, the stubborn notion that childcare is primarily the mother’s province. Add to that the demands of being a partner and a rainmaker. That’s a tall order. And yet, there are those who find success in both those realms. This article focuses on four women rainmakers who work together, but who took very different paths in rainmaking and in motherhood, and in balancing the two.

By any of the traditionally accepted measures, the women partners of Morris Manning & Martin’s Washngton, DC office qualify as rainmakers. All of them have long lists of accolades that include listings in Chambers, Super Lawyers, Legal 500, Best Lawyers in America, the Washington Business Journal and The Washingtonian’s Top Lawyers. Some have singular honors, like Carol Weld King’s Americas Lodging Investment Summit’s (ALIS) Development of the Year 2014 and Single Asset Transaction of the Year, and Betsy Karmin’s recognition in D.C.’s Legal Elite by SmartCEO magazine, or Julie Mendoza’s award for Leading Women in Business Law, Leading International Trade Lawyers and The Best of the Best USA. Litigator Bonnie Rothell has defended appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. These women, individually and collectively, are on everyone’s list, and for good reason. The fact that they have all come to practice together is no coincidence.

Wendelin (Wendy) White (WW), chair of Morris Manning & Martin’s real estate practice group and co-managing partner of the firm’s DC office, and partner Betsy Karmin (BK) came to Morris Manning to practice together in 2013. They were soon joined by Carol Weld King (CWK), and the three formed the basis of the firm’s DC real estate team. Bonnie Hochman Rothel (BHR) also joined the firm in 2013 to build the litigation practice. Each of these women has also dealt with the issues of having and raising a family, as so many of us have. Among the group, their children range in age from a 10-year-old to recent college grads.

Tell me about the genesis of your rainmaking. How did it develop?

WW: “I grew up in a big firm. I was taught that my job was to do the work put in front of me. I wasn’t taught to be a rainmaker. But, I’m a relationship person. Even back then, I really cared about my clients. I always kept in touch with them. I would call them just to see how things were going, and [eventually]it really helped to make connections. I still didn’t realize how important those relationships would be until later. I was already a partner when I finally learned. I went out on maternity leave and while I was gone, we experienced a major downturn in the real estate market. The firm took me back but there wasn’t a lot of work for me. Eventually, one of my clients needed an inside counsel and I made that transition. I was inside counsel for three to four months. I got to know the client organization more deeply. The exposure was also much broader in terms of the things I dealt with. Most importantly, I learned what it’s like to be inside counsel, what the concerns were. It was very insightful to be on the other side.”

BK: “I never learned client development as an associate. I was always told: do good work and it will come. To some extent that’s true. Great work, a sense of commitment and good judgment will build trust from your client. As they began to rely on you, they began to call you—even as an associate.” The change for Betsy came as a partner, when the focus began to transition to making sure the work came in.

BHR: Business development was never a topic or thought when she first started practice. She focused entirely on developing her skills. Her assumption was “be a workaholic, work hard. Don’t try to develop clients before you know your business.” Then, “the light bulb came on; it’s about making connections. I wished I knew then how important that was.” Some of the connections she made as an associate are now senior in-house counsel. Now she tells her junior people: learn skills first, but make connections all along the way. Not all of them will become clients, but some may.

BK: “Rainmaking is all about relationships. I believe if you pay it forward, it comes back.

You have to put yourself out in the community. You don’t just walk into a networking event and then it turns into business; not in lawyering. You have to build trust. They are calling you when they don’t understand. Not just because you handed them a card. You build trust in many way, including the way you deal with people on the other side of the table. They see your level of work, the advice you provide and how you treat the other side. You can be zealous for your client and still treat the adversary well.”

WW: “Rainmaking is built on relationships. It’s give and take. Most people don’t know this, but I have a master’s of fine arts in poetry. It’s a very different kind of preparation. I studied the writer as observer. In that process, you analyze before you engage. I’ve found taking the time to watch and observe before I comment is very helpful in dealing with clients.”

CWK: “I learn by doing. It wasn’t something you learn in a course. Some firms are more comprehensive than others in developing this skill, but I didn’t find it different for men versus women. So by doing, I learned to identify client concerns and needs.”

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Tell me about the home side of the work/life equation. What was that like?

WW: “I have two children—twins. The girls are grown now, but back then, we were able to do it because my husband played an integral role. I remember thinking, how do people with triplets do it? For a while we had to juggle, but he was able to retire from a career at NASA when the twins were in elementary school. He was still on corporate boards and very involved, but we were able to have one parent at home at all times. We were really lucky. I still got to all the PTA meetings and games and things, even while developing the practice.”

CWK: “When we made the decision to have children, we made it a priority in our lives.” As a couple, they found the dual careers really challenging. Carol’s husband decided to stay at home before their son was born, enabling Carol to return to her law practice. “Like working parents everywhere, I try to not let my professional life be everything I do. It’s a very individual determination and for some, there is a different focus on the professional—personal equation. Everyone has to find what works for them.”

BK: She was a partner, but not yet a rainmaker, at a large firm when the first of her two children was born. “When I came back from maternity leave the partner I was working for, who was a big rainmaker himself, went in-house. He offered me an amazing opportunity to transition all his clients to me. But he said something that really struck me at the time. He said, ‘This may be my last chance to get out.’ It made me think.” Betsy declined his offer, and within a short time went in-house herself. “I didn’t want to be an absentee mother.” In-house was demanding, but not as demanding as being an outside lawyer. She did that for six years, and by then she’d had a second child and decided to take time off to be at home. That lasted for two years. “I needed to go back to work for my own sanity.”

BHR: “I have three kids—18, 16 and 10—so I am deep in the throes of things. It is a delicate balance. I was a partner when the kids were born. That brings a certain level of autonomy but also a greater level of responsibility, for bringing in work, for keeping the practice going. Today, maternity leave is possible, but back then, as a partner, I worked up until the time the baby was born, and right after.”

How did you manage that?

BHR: “My husband is fabulous but he is career military. We have no relatives in DC and we never know when we’ll have to work late or travel, so we’ve had to rely on live-in au pairs.” Bonnie recalled the time when her first child was born and her husband was called away: “I couldn’t leave the au pair alone with the baby for the first three months (by agency agreement) but I had to get back to work. There was no technology to work from home. So I brought baby and the au pair into the office for three months. We had a separate small office for them—the baby and the au pair. She would bring him to me to nurse. Afterward, I would give the baby back and go back to my office.”

“I take time to go to school activities even if I have to come back to work later, if necessary. The new generation has more interest in work/life balance. Now we have the blessing and curse of modern technology. It enables you to work wherever and whenever necessary. That allows flexibility, but it also expands hours too.” Bonnie tells her team, as long as work gets done, she doesn’t care if you work daytime or late evening—it’s a trade-off. All businesses are addressing this, but law firms are still behind the clients. “Clients expect lawyers to be here whenever they call.”

WW: “You have to prioritize and juggle your time with the practice. Being a partner gave me some flexibility. If you are planning a meeting with a client, you can always say, ‘I have another meeting,’ and schedule around your patenting commitment. I didn’t have to explain what the other meeting was.”

BK: “When I came back to work, my children were six and eight years old. By that time, my husband had started a business and worked from home. We had child care, but he was a great back up.” Her mother lives nearby, too.

Betsy credits good connections for making it possible for her to return to private practice. “I tell junior lawyers: Never burn bridges when you leave—you can call your connections back. Even if they don’t have work for you, people give recommendations, formal and informal.”

How did parenting affect your rainmaking skills?

WW:  “It helped. Every parent learns infinite patience. You learn to hold your tongue; you learn what you can’t say. Being a parent makes you very diplomatic. It’s a skill I have definitely used in business life.

There were also some management lessons in all of that. Now I tell associates, ‘The firm is not your parent. No one loves you as much as you love yourself. You have to take care of yourself.’ It’s more like The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Each person must exert increased personal effort and work with team. Real success comes from personal effort combined with team work.

When I talk to the associates now, I try to get the group to identify common interests. I talk about the ‘three E’s’: Excellence  in work product; Engagement  with partners, clients, and community; and Empathy  for your clients’ concerns and feelings.”

BHR: “It’s team work, at home and at the office.” At home these days, she says, the older children help with the little one. At the office, she tells her people “We’re not competing with each other. I don’t want to see any cut-throat competition.”

BK: She emphasized time management and prioritization and the art of dealing with unexpected contingencies. “Anyone with a child realizes that on any given day life can throw you a curve ball. You still get a lot accomplished, but it may not be what was on your list. My daughters are now in college. One is graduating and one is sophomore. It’s very different from earlier years. What amazes me about this is when I get up, all I need to think about it is ‘I have get to work,’ that’s all! Women have a thousand things to do in the morning before they can go to work. Now it seems incredibly easy.

Technology is a game changer. Email, cell phones, freed up women to be more flexible about where and when they work. Now that technology is universal, the concept that you can be not at your desk and be working is acceptable. The attitude has changed, even among men. It’s made it easier. Firms have put in part-time policies, but the reality is clients now expect you to be available 24 /7.”

How is it to work with a team of women rainmakers?

BHR: “There are so many role models! I’d never had that before within the law firm. There was one female partner at Cadwalder when I was an associate. She was a junior partner and there were no other senior women. It’s fabulous to have others to throw ideas around and work with. There’s so much energy, it’s exciting. Louise [Louise Wells, the firm’s managing partner] is so dynamic. I see more flexibility here.”

BK: “Louise is so highly respected. She has skill and grace and it helps all women succeed because some of the barriers come down. Just by her presence and success some basic assumptions are challenged and changed. The firm is not a sharp-elbows environment, and that is baked into the culture from a long time ago. I have to give credit to Sonny Morris. He is an amazing human being. He is all class and walks the walk.”

CWK: “It’s not that the dynamics are so different. I think we’ve all been successful in large part because we all work hard and we all work with well with the other people. Perhaps it’s the nature of a transactional practice; we are all working toward common goals. It’s true of the men we worked with, too.”

What other aspects of your background helped in your development as a rainmaker?

BHR: “It’s amazing how much relationships at all levels turn into business opportunities. Someone you went to school with or socialized with may be the next in-house counsel or client. I tell younger lawyers, get out of the office, go to a meeting, do some volunteer work. I do community service work and sometimes that has segued into professional opportunity.

I also tell them, enjoy what you do! That’s equally important to success. I put my all into whichever scenario I’m in, at home or with clients. I truly enjoy what I do and people can sense the passion. It generates enthusiasm.”

WW: “I learned to ride horses in my childhood and I learned some life skills from that. When you ride a horse, you have to project power and confidence through your whole body… and if you do, they believe you; they allow you to lead. It’s the same skill you need in giving presentations. You have to project confidence in your appearance, posture and delivery. Riding taught me other things about behavior that have application to business, too. There is a pecking order, there are leaders and there are followers. There are some who bite and some who kick. If you take the time to watch, you can tell which is which.”

About the Author

CullinsAndi Cullins is a principal at The McCormick Group, an executive search firm in Washington, DC. She can be reached at acullins@tmg-dc.com.

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