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August 2010 | ABA Women Rainmakers
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ABA Women Rainmakers History: The Beginnings

By Martha Fay Africa


The ABA Women Rainmakers is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Here's a look back at some of the early leaders and individuals who helped realize the creation of something bigger than themselves to help women lawyers succeed and thrive in the profession.

 

The 20-year ABA Women Rainmakers’ journey began in Honolulu during the ABA Annual Meeting in 1989. "A group of us, pondering connections between women, progress and rainmaking, sat under an exotic tree in Hawaii last summer at the Annual Meeting in Hawaii and decided to bring this program to you" was how our program book began. The program was jointly held with the Section of General Practice because a group of women from that section were planning a litigation-oriented program, which could have impacted our program's attendance as the two were scheduled at the same time. Why not simply join forces, lengthen the total programming time and achieve synergy, we thought? This thinking was not exactly standard operating procedure in the then male-dominated ABA but, we decided, why not do something different?

 

So The Last Frontiers: Women Lawyers as Rainmakers and Litigators was held on Saturday, August 4th, 1990, at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago and a new entity was born: ABA Women Rainmakers! Well over 300 women, and more than a few  proud men, attended, applauded and remained for the 33 break-out roundtables that followed and the reception that followed that. The women stars of the ABA firmament came out to staff those roundtables, including our soon-to-be first female ABA Presidents, Roberta Cooper Ramo and Martha Barnett. Who knew that 20 years later we would still be going strong under the capable leadership of current Women Rainmakers Chair Jamie Spannhake? But let's look back at some of the early leaders, each one of whom helped realize the creation of something bigger than themselves in their group and individual efforts around the country to help women lawyers succeed and thrive in the legal profession.

 

To begin, Lowell Rothschild of Tucson, Arizona, a very supportive Law Practice Management Section Chair as ABA Women Rainmakers was starting, remembers: "Women Rainmakers was innovative and visionary! During my year as Chair of the Section and before, I recognized that for women to take their entitled place in the profession they needed to help and speak out for each other. Rainmakers taught me that lesson. The Golden Hammer Award (a Section award recognizing the work of those who helped women and minorities in the Section, the ABA and the profession) is at home in my office and reminds me daily of the interesting times and the mission of Women Rainmakers."

 

Linda J. Ravdin of Washington, D. C., was under the tree with us that first day and on the first Program Planning Committee. She remembers having received one of the best pieces of marketing advice she ever heard at that first program in 1990. Fellow divorce lawyer Kathryn Marshall of Illinois told the audience: "Never take more clients than you can handle with loving care." Linda has never forgotten that "powerful and profound piece of advice" and continues to apply it in her practice. And this from Angela Bradstreet, now a Labor Commissioner with the California Department of Labor, who co-chaired ABA Women Rainmakers with this author in 1991-92: "I love the energy and passion of Women Rainmakers!" Theda C. (Teddy) Snyder, now a certified structured settlement consultant in California and author of several terrific books on rainmaking—including the ABA’s Women Rainmakers' Best Marketing Tips, which has its third edition coming out soon—was also a member of our first Program Planning Committee.

 

First Impressions

Many women were at pivotal points in their personal and professional lives when they first discovered the organization. For example, Gilda Turitz, a litigation partner in San Francisco, recalls, "In 1991, I attended the Annual Meeting in Atlanta. I was just back to work from my maternity leave after having my third son, so I had an infant at home and my twins were four years old. I was feeling the pressure of being a relatively junior partner at my firm, and how much more important it had become starting in the late '80's to bring in business. I saw references in the Annual Meeting materials to a panel by the Women Rainmakers and was very curious—I honestly did not think I knew any rainmakers who were women. At that point, Angela Bradstreet and Marty Africa were co-chairing and making plans at the Rainmaker Business Meeting for the following year's Annual Meeting Program, which would be in San Francisco, where I practice. I volunteered to help." Gilda's involvement with the organization grew. Several years later she and Dixie Lee Laswell, a "fabulous woman" who was then an environmental partner in Chicago, co-chaired the group for an amazing four years! Gilda says that ABA Women Rainmakers came along at a "critical point in my career. I attribute the support and skills building and camaraderie and networking through the group as very significant contributions to my success in building my practice and client base. The proof was in the pudding (when I changed firms); all my clients that I had developed and nurtured followed me. I have also made many lifelong friends with so many people through Women Rainmakers and always enjoy reconnecting." 

 

And who could forget wonderful, larger-than-life Ellisa Ostbaum Habbart. Hailing from one of the nation's smallest states, Delaware, and continuing to practice there, Ellisa, with her deep voice, huge mane of blond hair and stature to match, kicked the organization into high gear. All of a sudden, high-powered women lawyers like Judy Fryer and Corinne Ball of New York flooded in. The organization was founded on the notion of inclusivity so we also welcomed two forensic women accountants, the ever-beautifully dressed Barrie Drum ("Stay in touch with your contacts! Someone may be able to help you or may need your services when you least expect it," she says) and Kyle Midkiff ("Keep your friends close and your enemies closer—you never know where that referral will come from," she advises), both stalwarts from 1995 to the present. They responded to a cold call from Ellisa seeking sponsors for our meetings and stayed in the game with us all these years. Barrie says the organization "greatly improved my network across the country and opened up lines of communication with many firms," whereas Kyle feels that "Judy Fryer and Bettiayn Tursi really showcased what marketing was all about."

 

Gaining Momentum

Judy Fryer, who went on to chair ABA Women Rainmakers from 1996 to 1999, asked her firm's director of business development to host a reception for us during the 1993 Annual Meeting in New York. "Judy and I found a way to sell the idea to the chairman of the firm and he agreed it was a great idea (maybe that was because he had three daughters). The invitations went out, the press was invited (and attended) and the actual invitation to the reception was featured on the front page of the New York Law Journal's special section on the ABA meeting. The reception was a huge success and I became involved in women in law issues thanks to Marty, Judy, Gilda and Dixie. Today I am National Chair of the Women in Law Empowerment Forum. What can I say... Women Rainmakers was the catalyst to my own business development success."

 

ABA Women Rainmakers began to become like a family, and still is for many today. Ellisa remembers how "Marty held my son at his bris. Dixie is Alex's godmother. I have saved the beautiful outfit Donna (Fraiche) sent to Alex and the handmade sweater Corinne knit for Alex. The memories are rich; every time one comes to mind I think of three others." 

 

Still, Corinne Ball remembers, "we were about getting it done and we were dedicated to building something professionally that we could be, and in fact, were proud of. These women gave me courage. I like to think we not only encouraged each other, but gained strength and courage from the support of like-minded, talented women. I had zero doubt that if I called out for help, they would be there and vice versa, without hesitation."

 

Stephen B. Lewis, now Managing Director at Previsio Partners LLC in Chicago, happened to meet a group of ABA Women Rainmakers leaders in early 1995 at a cocktail party at a meeting of the ABA Business Law Section in San Antonio, Texas. Four of them were on the program and due to present the next day. Ellisa invited Steve to join them for dinner. "Little did I know what that evening would ultimately lead to," Steve recalls, with there being three men and 20 women present.

 

"Everyone in that room understood that the practice of law is a business and that pleasing the customer benefits the customer/client and lawyer/law firm. What Howard Braitman, a PwC partner recruited to Women Rainmakers by Ellisa, called ‘defensive rainmaking.’ All of the women had fought major battles in a male-dominated world within their respective organizations to achieve the success and status they enjoyed,” Steve continues, “but they managed to do so by coupling tenacity with grace and a continuing concern for the people around them. They were focused on driving change to the delivery of legal services, a topic that my organization was actively working on from the client perspective at that time. On the panel the next day, their comments continued to be client focused. I was so impressed by what I had seen and heard that I asked if I could participate at their next program at the Annual Meeting in Chicago and bring the ‘client perspective’ to their discussion of how to market legal services to clients. They were kind enough to say yes and, from the beginning, I was allowed to become part of the group and honored to be asked to join the Board of the Women Rainmakers as their first male board member." 

 

Steve pays further tribute and says that "the lessons the Women Rainmakers taught me were game changing. They taught me to listen in a way I had never learned before. Maybe it was just a male/female thing, but the way the women of the Rainmakers listened to a conversation and what they got out of the same conversation I listened to was amazing. It was exactly what I wanted an outside lawyer to hear when I, in my prior life as in-house counsel, was interviewing outside counsel for work, but I never knew how to do it myself. Without my involvement with Women Rainmakers and the skills that I learned from working alongside them, I would not have been able to successfully move from in-house lawyer to businessperson and I am eternally grateful." 

 

Past Chairs’ Thoughts

Judy Fryer chaired ABA Women Rainmakers from 1996 to 1999. For her, the "experience was critical to developing as a leader, a lawyer and a rainmaker. It gave me a chance to give back by mentoring other women with respect to the one thing about which I proselytize—marketing oneself. Women Rainmakers focused on educating women about the need to market themselves, by offering programming to teach them how to market themselves and then by providing networking opportunities at which women could practice their skills. Through the programming, the people I met on the Executive Committee and from serving as Chair, I developed significant business and, even more importantly, I developed lifelong friends. Please share this tip with your readers: ‘It is much easier to ‘sell [oneself]’ when [that person] is truly convinced that she can add value and help someone with their legal needs.’"

 

Donna Fraiche, ABA Women Rainmakers' undisputed Queen of Southern Hospitality and a health care lawyer, hails from New Orleans. She chaired our group for several years, starting in 2000. Small in stature but larger than life, Donna remembers the contribution of men and "how important to have men associate with the ‘cause’ who are not intimidated by our efforts. We often had as many men attend our programs as women. Many felt they had better begin to understand what was about to descend on them in great numbers—female lawyers looking to burst out of the role of carrying their briefcases; it was all before laptops. Rainmakers was not the Association of Women Attorneys, it was not the Commission on Women. It was about getting and keeping business and creating a power base as a result. We did not gripe, complain, discuss flex-time or part-time. We simply worked, competed and exceeded the producers who came before us. We explored huge issues: the concepts of fair compensation, strategic plans, leadership. We had a real deal going. Even the kindly Dr. John Fraiche opened his cellar to us!" 

 

Plus, two leaders who co-chaired ABA Women Rainmakers during the middle part of this decade, while also assuming the multiple responsibilities of building practices, having and raising children and living life, are Andrea Hartley, the incoming LPM Section Chair and a Miami law office partner, and Christine Baker, now general counsel of Realogy. Their able stewardship saw ABA Women Rainmakers into and through Vedia Jones-Richardson's year as LPM Section Chair. Forever capable of thinking up more ideas than any of us could execute, Vedia proposed that ABA Women Rainmakers undertake a new form of programming in her year for the Section’s Puerto Rico meeting. Vedia wanted a spa weekend during which women could relax while they absorbed rainmaking principles in the comfort of balmy Puerto Rico. True to breakneck form, the first ABA Women Rainmakers Mid-Career Workshop programming committee concocted a dawn-to-dusk educational drill over two and one half days that left the 150 participants (and speakers and planners) gasping for air. Relax? Not our style! Two years later, we re-created the ABA Women Rainmakers Mid-Career Workshop immersion experience in Tucson, Arizona, and will again do so in October 2010 in Washington, D.C.

 

In 2008-09 Women Rainmakers was chaired by a 1995 Lowell Rothschild recruit, Rachelle (Shelley) Canter, Ph.D., the author of Make The Right Career Move: Twenty-eight Critical Insights and Strategies to Land Your Dream Job and a noted career coach. "My life and career changed forever at the Banff meeting in 1997 when I was invited to the Women Rainmakers meeting. The level of energy, enthusiasm and determination was exhilarating and it was clear that this was a group of women that took no prisoners and made things happen. I joined right up, and haven't left since." Shelley's best tip for our readers is: "Remember, it's all about your audience. The strongest case you can make is based on factual themes about your experience and skills that demonstrate value to your audience. By focusing on your factually based and unique qualifications, you not only build your strongest case, you simultaneously reinforce the relationship. Since worries about undermining the relationship often impede women in their rainmaking efforts, this is not only an effective strategy, it's a comfortable one for women."

 

Impetus for Creation

I remember the female associate in 1986 who incited the rage that gave rise to ABA Women Rainmakers' formation. She was having an incredibly successful career at a major San Francisco law firm. She created the benchmarks others tried to meet in terms of excellence, work ethic, citizenship and conduct. I am in legal search. She sat in front of me, telling me she wanted to leave her firm, to leave all that she had spent seven years building and learning, showing clients, partners and herself what she could do. Why, I asked, why would she even consider such an outrageous idea? "Because they will never, ever, make me partner." This was a simple fact, a simple reality of her existence. They would never make her a partner. Why is that, I asked, when you are better than any other associate in the firm in your class? "Because I haven't brought in any business and I never will. There's no one to teach me. They focus on the guys, take them golfing, take them to their private clubs, play tennis with them, drink beer with them, watch sports with them, introduce them to their clients at all these events they take them to!" I saw red. Seldom at a loss for words, I banged on the desk and said, "I'm going to do something about this! This is just not right. You have more talent and drive in your little finger than most of the male associates I've ever talked to!"

 

She immediately thought I might go to her firm and complain that they weren't taking care of her. No, I hastened to assure her. I needed to cool down—"Please don't leave your firm until you talk further with me. This makes no sense. They love you; you love them. The clients love you. How can they even make you partner if you up and leave?" 

 

Happily, the Law Practice Management Section, and our many, many sponsors over the years, provided a home for ABA Women Rainmakers and helped us grow, flourish, and explore personal and professional boundaries and those of the greater ABA and beyond as Women Rainmakers reached out to women's organizations of all kinds to collaborate, to learn, to grow. So we end here as we begin, with heartfelt thanks and tribute to those who gave of themselves, too numerous to mention but you know who you are, so that others might succeed. It would not be possible for me to say it better than Betiayn Tursi, who wrote, "Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You were the ‘wind beneath my wings.’”

 

The Future Awaits Women Rainmakers

Rest assured, Jamie Spannhake's capable leadership of ABA Women Rainmakers will ensure that women lawyers will learn to fish, so that they may eat!

 

Go in peace, and bring as many with you as you can.


About the Author

A founder of ABA Women Rainmakers, Martha (Marty) Fay Africa is a partner with Major, Lindsey & Africa in the firm’s San Francisco office, working on searches at all levels from general counsel to executive director to counsel for varied organizations. She served as the Director of Law Placement at Boalt Hall School of Law and as liaison to the ABA Commission on Women from the ABA Law Practice Management Section.

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