Building Career Foundations: Networking Your Way to Partnership, by Jennifer Mikulina

Jennifer Mikulina, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery

Sixty years ago, McDermott became the second major US law firm to elect a woman partner, and our Firm remains committed to enabling opportunities for all. Through our Gender Diversity & Inclusion Committee (“GDIC”), we develop policies and initiatives to reinforce the Firm’s long-standing commitment to accepting and understanding gender differences, and to recruiting, retaining and promoting our talented women attorneys.

For over a decade, our GDIC has coordinated a one-on-one Women’s Business Development Program Coaching Initiative program for our women income (non-equity) partners.  Many of the women who have been promoted to equity partner at McDermott in recent years participated in the program, and the GDIC considers it one of our key tools to retain and promote our talented women attorneys.

In 2016, we launched a new coaching program, called Building Career Foundations, following the success of our Women’s Business Development Program Coaching Initiative by providing professional coaching and mentoring to female senior associates at our Firm.  One key goal of our new Building Career Foundations program is to help a select group of senior associates (who must apply for and be accepted into the program) to lay a solid groundwork in developing their legal practices, to identify appropriate targets and deepen those relationships, and to develop effective tools for building their professional networks. Participants also discuss how to convert social relationships into opportunities to build their network and, ultimately, how to create a business plan to prepare participants for promotion to income partner.

The Building Career Foundations Programme. Photo courtesy of McDermott Will & Emery.

As part of the application process, associates are required to articulate their goals for the coaching relationship and to explain how their participation in the program will supplement their current participation in mentoring programs and other training programs.

Our GDIC believes it is important for female lawyers starting out in their careers to form both external networks and internal relationships, and our Building Career Foundations program reflects this.  Associates participating in the program attend a monthly videoconference led by an outside coach and participate in separate monthly calls in smaller groups led by some of our female partners. A group of GDIC members and our Professional Development team worked with an outside coach to develop the curriculum for the monthly videoconferences with the outside coach. In the partner-led component, each partner leader facilitates a discussion on a particular topic and provides guidance, tips, and encouragement to our senior associate participants.

Topics for discussion cover a variety of potential business development challenges. At the program’s kick-off meeting, the outside facilitator and GDIC members introduce the content for the program, including topics such as effective messaging, creating contact lists and using them effectively, building and maintaining authentic relationships, navigating networking events, and prioritizing business development efforts.  Each coach-led session focuses on a few topics from the introductory meeting – the coach reviews the relevant material and leads a discussion on the group members’ experiences relating to that topic, answering questions and providing guidance.  Each participant also commits to engage in a specific business development activity prior to the next meeting.  At the subsequent partner-led discussions, the partners share their own experiences related to the most recent topic and offer guidance to the associates.

We also give participants the opportunity to build their internal network and strengthen relationships with attorneys in other offices and practice groups. Our associate participants this year commented that as a result of the program, they have closer relationships with women in their coaching groups, and they email and encourage each other.  After the program, participants also shared the following:

  • “This was such a supportive and uplifting program. The agendas and topics of discussion were well-honed, and I think the program sends a great message to senior associates about the firm’s commitment to their careers.”
  • “Before the program I was somewhat intimidated about the idea of business development, but the program took some of the mystery away and helped me understand that there are simple things I can work into my daily routine.”
  • “I feel as though I have a better idea of what will work for business development and what activities I should not pursue with the limited time I have.”
  • “This program helped me to build relationships with women across the firm both in my practice group and in practice groups for which cross-selling could be beneficial.”

The program also benefitted the partners who lead the discussion groups, allowing them to expand their internal network and share their stories.

We are dedicated to supporting our women associates as they build a strong foundation for the next stages of their careers, and look forward to continuing the program this year.

As head of the Firm’s global Trademark Prosecution Practice, Jennifer M. Mikulina focuses her practice on trademark and copyright counseling, prosecution, licensing and enforcement. She counsels domestic and international companies in a wide variety of industries to register, maintain, protect and license trademarks, service marks, domain names and other key brands. Jennifer assists clients with the development and implementation of international brand management and enforcement programs. She is also the chair of McDermott’s Gender Diversity Committee and is a member, and past chair, of the Firm’s Chicago Pro Bono and Community Service Committee.

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