Cynde Hirschtick Munzer is a senior partner in the Business Organizations and Transactions Group of Arnstein & Lehr. She has more than 20 years of experience representing businesses in a broad range of sophisticated business matters, including asset and stock acquisitions and dispositions, mergers, joint development agreements, license agreements, and real estate matters. She has represented some of Chicago’s leading financial institutions, as well as Fortune 500 companies, privately owned companies, family owned businesses and entrepreneurial businesses.
What is the biggest challenge for female lawyers due to this economy?
The biggest challenge is that not nearly enough female lawyers have been able to become “rainmakers” and control their book of business, compared to men. And, when the economy gets tough, the attorneys who do not have their own books of business are more at risk for lay-offs and compensation cuts since the firms need to focus the financial rewards on the attorneys who have portable books of business they could take to another firm. Another challenge is in this economy is that for those attorneys who are not laid off, there is quite a bit of pressure to demonstrate your value to the firm, and that means maximizing your billable hours. For women lawyers who may have family demands, this makes things even more challenging.
What are three pieces of advice for female lawyers so they can better position themselves for advancement in the legal profession?
My three pieces of advice are as follows and are gender-neutral, and apply to both men and women:
1) Be persistent and tenacious in focusing upon and achieving your goals;
2) Develop solid work relationships and good working synergies with other attorneys within your firm. You could rely upon these other attorneys to provide business matters for you to work on and also provide solid support to you on matters that you bring into the firm.
For example, Howard Swibel, who has been on our management committee for the 23 years that I have been at Arnstein & Lehr, has served as a mentor to me through the years. He has brought me on some interesting matters, such as the recent Midway Airport privatization when our firm served as local counsel for the successful bidder on that project. Howard has also been very helpful to me on some of the matters I have brought in for my own clients.
Another example is one of our newer lateral partners, Michael Gesas, who joined our firm last year. Michael is one of the city’s premiere bankruptcy and workout attorneys. He has been helpful in getting me involved in that area, since I am a transactional attorney and that’s where most of the transactions tend to me these days…in the distressed asset and workout area. Michael was extremely helpful to me last year when I brought in a bankruptcy matter on behalf of a large publicly held company, and he in turn has bought me in to help him negotiate on behalf of his clients who are transitioning into deals out of bankruptcy. It has been a two-way street with both Howard and Michael, and that is exactly how optimally it should work!
Network outside the firm and develop relationships that could lead to business, perhaps not immediately but down the road. Networking has become a way of life for me…it started out as something I embarked upon to reach my business goals but it has helped me tremendously as a person. Some of my best female friends are those whom I have made through networking since we tend to have a lot in common and I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if not for those friendships!
What advice do you have for female lawyers who may be nervous about networking?
Go to the bookstore and read books on networking…there’s some very good ones out there. For example, one of the books I have recommended is called “How to Work a Room”. Also, she should definitely stay current on business events. I read the Wall Street Journal every day and highly recommend her getting a subscription to the publication.
For me, networking has been a survival technique. I am basically a very shy person, but I have learned through the years to put that aside and build relationships with prominent people in the business world that could lead to business down the road.
There is a female associate, who wants to someday be a leader at her law firm. What should she be doing?
She should focus on developing her own book of business that she controls. This may not necessarily mean that she must bring in her own clients from the outside. Instead, she can work hard and build relationships with the firm’s existing clients who may come to rely upon her skills and expertise, particularly if it is in an area of expertise that not many other attorneys in the firm have. If this is a larger client of the firm, establishing this type of relationship can help the female associate advance within the firm.