Opening My Eyes to the Business of Law

Business of Law
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As I look back at the last several years of my legal career, I can clearly see the impact the Ladder Down Program has had on my success and accomplishments. Ladder Down provided me with access to key information on how to build a successful legal career and also gave me the tools to navigate the business and personal aspects of the practice of law.

I remember receiving the email from co-founder Alison Christian inviting me to attend an information session on Ladder Down. At first, I was hesitant to attend because I noticed a majority of the women invited practiced in the area of insurance defense and were affiliated with the Arizona Association of Defense Counsel. I was not a member of AADC, and I practiced municipal law.

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However, Alison’s description of a women’s leadership program with the objective of empowering women by giving them directed training and providing them with practical, tangible tools for getting ahead in the legal profession sounded like an amazing idea to me. I had only been at my firm for two years, and I incorrectly thought I had several years of practice ahead of me before I had to think about leadership roles, business development, and mentorship. Since Ali was my law school classmate, I decided to attend.

On the day of the meeting, I was still on the fence about attending and participating in the program. I was concerned I wouldn’t have anything in common with the group of women. We had different practice areas, different lifestyles, and different backgrounds. I could not see how participating in Ladder Down would be beneficial to me. I walked into the room and quickly found my spot in the corner.

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Alison and co-founder Beth Fitch described Ladder Down and their vision for us as women lawyers. Each one shared their personal experience and the challenges they’ve faced practicing law. After the presentation, I was able to have one-on-one conversations with some of the other women in the room. I was surprised to hear that their fears, concerns, misconceptions, challenges, and goals as a women lawyer were similar to mine. I left the meeting inspired and decided to apply.

When I began Ladder Down, I had very little knowledge about marketing, networking and the business of law. My firm hired me to work with a partner who already had an active, established book of business. I never thought about the need to develop my own client base, market myself or emerge as a leader. Ladder Down opened my eyes. I was exposed to the value of having your own clients and was presented with the steps to lay the groundwork for developing that clientele.

Ladder Down’s small group sessions, panel discussions, and workshops taught me how to deal with various interpersonal relationships and provided me with the basic tools and solutions to deal with many of the challenges I would encounter as a woman lawyer, including, balancing work-life challenges, dealing with origination credit, asking for business, managing client expectations and internal marketing. I left Ladder Down with valuable insight on the perception of women lawyers and the importance of self-promotion.

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I came to realize that self-promotion is not arrogance. It is advocating for yourself when no one else will. I discovered the power in knowing your value and asking for the things you need to be a successful attorney. I learned that in addition to a mentor, a young attorney needs numerous supporters to assist her along her career path and to help open doors to rooms she deserves to be in. I now have a tribe of mentors and supporters.

Because of my participation in Ladder Down, I no longer shy away from new leadership roles. When speaking opportunities come my way, I accept them with less hesitation, and when I am invited to attend a networking event, I work the room instead of standing in a corner. I’ve served on State Bar committees, sat on the boards of non-profits, made partner at my firm and landed several clients on my own. Ladder Down has helped propel me to the next level in my legal career, and I am grateful to Alison and Beth for acting on their vision. Nicholle Harris

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