Rabeha Kamaluddin is a partner in Dorsey & Whitney’s Regulatory Affairs group. She focuses her practice on energy regulation, compliance and enforcement matters and represents clients before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Rabeha was an associate at other law firms before she joined Dorsey in June 2013, a place where the firm culture supports her professionally and allows her to thrive. Rabeha became a partner at Dorsey after only two years as an associate, during which time she also gave birth to her first child.
Anna Rappaport (AR): How did you get your first client?
Rabeha Kamaluddin (RK): When I decided to leave my last firm, I reached out to all of my clients to say goodbye and told them that I was moving to Dorsey. About eight months after I moved, one of those clients called me and said she wanted to work with me again. Her reason to join me at Dorsey was that she had always enjoyed working with me. She remembered that I was always willing to walk through things with her and never made issues more complicated than necessary. I find that working in a technical field, it is really important to be able to communicate clearly with in-house lawyers. Not all in-house counsel have the same expertise that we do. A lot of the time lawyers are coming out of law firms or corporate environments and being thrown into jack-of-all-trades or general practice in-house settings. I think every client relationship comes down to whether the client can relate to you, not on a personal level necessarily, but when it comes to communication or management style. If you are not on the same page with the client, they will find someone who is.
AR: What advice do you have for associates or others who aspire to become partners and rainmakers?
RK: I think the most important thing is to assess whether your firm is the right fit for you on all levels. First, you need to decide whether your legal practice is a good fit for you and one where you can be successful. Second, you need to make sure you are in an environment where you can succeed. This means finding a partner who is the right fit for you in terms of professional and practice development, communication style, etc. You absolutely have to have a good mentor and sponsor who is advocating for you and moving your career along in the organization (i.e., not just expecting you to do his/her work with no real plan for your future). Finally, any chance of rainmaking depends on whether you have the support you need to build a practice once you become a partner. A lot of people make partner at firms but then hear crickets. They get no support. There can be the expectation that once you make partner you are on your own. If you have all of the above, and the firm, practice group and your partner(s) are the right fit for you, your path to partnership and success is much more clear.
Dorsey has been a really good fit for me. But that didn’t happen by accident. I’ve been to several firms, and it turned out that Dorsey was the best fit in all the ways I outlined above. I made partner after being here for only two years. Dorsey has shown me that the recipe for success for their lawyers and the firm is to work together to build business, and my practice group has been very committed to doing just that.
AR: Is there anything you would like to say about being a woman of color in big firms?
RK: In my practice group, I am the only female and the only partner of color. I’ve been in much more diverse firms, but here I never feel marginalized. My partners bring me into matters and use my expertise wherever they can. They appreciate my comments, my feedback, and welcome my involvement and presence. Places I’ve been before have been more diverse, but it has felt like us versus them, men versus women, attorneys of color versus everyone else. My experience at Dorsey is that I’ve been embraced and supported. Other firms may have greater numbers of diverse partners; but many end up falling through the cracks without support from their practice groups. The numbers only say so much. It’s the culture that really matters. That is what makes you want to stay and build your business.
AR: Tell us about your business development activities.
RK: I’m a fellow in the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, which is a program started by the former general counsel of General Mills about six years ago. Many AmLaw 100-200 firms send one lawyer from their firm to participate in the program for the year and every member company sends two people from in house. In 2016, I was Dorsey’s fellow. So, that has been a big focus for me recently, and I’m using that program to build my relationships and my network. I also travel a lot to visit Dorsey’s existing client base and am focused on building relationships with them, and getting my name out. My focus is on building relationships—meaningful ones—with people who are doing things in my legal practice area. I believe that building genuine relationships is the single most important form of business development and the best source of referrals.
AR: Is there anything else you want to add?
RK: I think it’s hard for people to understand early on in their careers, but the idea of grit is very important. Angela Duckworth, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania, popularized this idea of grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. The idea being that, more than any other factor (including IQ and educational background), grit is the single-most important quality that any successful person will have. Lawyers often find themselves in firms, practice groups, or with partners that aren’t a good fit and they take that experience as defeat in their legal careers. But really, that is just the time that you need grit. To succeed, you will need the ability to withstand every disaster, every failure, every negative thing that anyone has ever said or done to you in the professional world. I am where I am today because of my ability to withstand such things. It hasn’t been a walk in the park. But grit is what allowed me to keep going until I found a place that was the right fit for me.
About the Author
Anna Rappaport is the founder and principal of Excelleration Coaching, an executive coaching firm for lawyers based in Washington, DC. She is a member of the ABA Women Rainmakers Board. Contact Anna on Twitter @CoachAnnaDC.