Making Partner before age 35
Wendy Meadows, Family Law Attorney and Partner of Howanski, Meadows & Erdman shares how she made Partner in her firm before age 35, her success secrets, biggest mistake, and advice for turning Facebook into business referrals and the ultimate networking group.
Summer Associate and I didn’t get an offer
I worked for a large firm as a Summer Associate when I was in law school. It was great and I was totally expecting an offer – and I vividly remember the day when I got the call that I would not be getting an offer to come back as an associate. The company just wasn’t hiring. At the time, this was a little shocking and admittedly a bit upsetting, but it gave me time to think and reflect on my big firm experience and my WHY on why I went to law school in the first place. I asked myself, did I really like the job and the firm environment, or was I just going to the big firm by default because that was what my peers were doing? If I was going to start all over (because that was how it felt at the time), what would fulfill me as an attorney? Little did I realize that this was such a blessing in disguise – not because I didn’t like my time at the big firm, but because there was a new horizon where I could enter a field of law that I was actually interested in.
Networking to same-day interview
After a lot of thought, there were two areas of law that I was drawn to – family law and tax law. I researched open positions and networked my heart out. In January 2005, I was here in my building talking to another lawyer telling him my story and brainstorming next steps. He then told me that I must meet Kristine Howanski. He literally picked up his phone, called Kris and said “Hey! there is a young lady in my office, she wants to practice family law, would you like to talk to her?” By chance, Kris answered the phone and said “sure, send her up.”
Neither of us were prepared for an interview
So, he walked me up to Kris’s office, I sat down in her chair and about ten minutes into our conversation, I realized that I was on an interview. I had zero clue that I was going to be interviewed that day and Kris had no idea that her future associate would walk through the door that day. We just found ourselves in this situation and went with it. Two weeks after meeting Kris, I had a job offer.
Entertaining a Job offer
If you are new to entertaining a job offer, ask for help. I sent my job offer to my Dad who suggested that I ask the most valuable and poignant question (a question that everyone entertaining a job offer should ask): “What is your 5 year vision for me?”
The pay was not “big firm” exciting, but the future opportunity overshadowed that
And Kris said to me, “Well, if everything is going well and you are doing great work, you should be Partner in 5 years.” My Dad said, “Wendy this in an amazing opportunity and I think you should go for it.” While the pay in the beginning was not as exciting (or as enticing) as big firm pay, the future opportunity was. I immediately accepted the position.
Advice for making Partner
Shortly after I joined the firm, one of the other Partner’s left. When he did, I automatically gave myself the responsibilities of a Partner. I constantly thought about and acted in the following manner:
- How can I be helpful to the firm?
- What can I do for the firm to make it more profitable?
- What is in the best interest for the business?
- How can we more fully serve our clients?
- What can I take off of Kristine’s plate and run with?
While I would ask myself these questions, I would go to Kris and ask her the same questions. I held myself to a Partner role – even though I was not yet a “partner” in the business sense.
Importance of Mentorship
Kristine Howanski was an amazing mentor and taught me the ropes, allowing me to do the work and trusting in me. Make sure you work for / with someone who believes and trusts in your skills, capabilities and value that you add.
Conducting myself as a Partner before I was invited to be one
Because I made the decision to conduct myself as a Partner before I was invited to be one, it was a very easy and natural progression for when that offer came. It also allowed Kris to become comfortable with my work quality and commitment to the firm.
Get involved in your Bar Association and bring in business
I was doing a good job with my clients and bringing in my own business. I was also getting referrals from existing clients. And, almost just as importantly, I got myself out there.
I joined the Maryland State Bar Association and the Baltimore County Bar Association. I was the Head of as many committees as I could be before having children. I did a lot of my networking and professional social involvement before I had kids. I was out around 3 nights a week back then. (Today, with 2 kids, I try to be out only 1 night a week.)
Finding new clients / Bringing in new business
I would break down the source of my new business into the following:
- 50% is from word of mouth – former clients who refer you to their friends and then the friend of a friend of a friend . . .
- 25% is from our website – website marketing and SEO are huge. Do not build your own company website, you may think you are saving money, but you actually are not. I would encourage all businesses to invest in someone who knows what they are doing and can build you an effective website.
- 25% is from my networking and referrals
Networking secrets / tips
This is something I am still learning and trying to be better at. There are days when I feel like I have the energy and charisma and can talk to anyone and everyone and I try to capitalize on those days. There are some days that I am more of a wallflower and I need to push myself to really “network.” I received excellent advice a while back which I still strive to achieve:
- come prepared to every networking event – know who you want to talk to
- show up at every event 10-15 minutes early and get to know the organizers
- have 3 good conversations
Turning Facebook into business referrals
After I meet someone and get their business card, I send a Facebook friend request. I think when people see you as a real person on Facebook, you come across more genuine and as an actual person– which is easier for others to connect to. Now, I know that this controversial, but it has worked for me. You also need to be active on social media and post relevant (and interesting) content daily. This way you are popping up in their newsfeed more which constantly puts you on the radar.
Use Facebook Niche Groups
Find your special FB niche group. I am part of a “Law Moms” group and we cross-refer a lot. People want to refer to someone they know or someone they have common ground with. Facebook groups also provide a great community. Participate and become known within your Facebook group. I received several referrals from other attorneys in the group after they posted a need for a family law attorney in Maryland. The amazing thing was that I didn’t even see these original posts . . . but fellow Law Moms in the group did, and replied to the thread with – “call Wendy Meadows.” It is that easy.
Best marketing technique / Separating ourselves from the competition
2 hour new client consult
Our client onboarding procedure at Howanski, Meadows and Erdman is very unique which separates us from the competition. We have a two hour consult with prospective clients (which we do charge for). In those two hours, we ask a great deal of questions and give a tremendous amount of valuable advice. I think this client onboarding process has been instrumental for us in gaining clients.
We also don’t set unrealistic expectations for our clients. We are honest and transparent in helping our clients manage their expectations.
Apply for awards in your industry
Kristine and I have both won various awards. Kris was recognized as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women by the Daily Record for 2017. I received the Daily Record’s Leading Women award. Kris, Rob and I have all been rated as Super Lawyers/Rising Stars. Clients really like to see this on our website. Try to qualify for awards and don’t be shy to ask your friends to nominate you. Also, return the favor and nominate colleagues you think worthy!
Not following my gut / my instinct. Stay true to yourself and if something feels wrong – it probably is. Stand up for yourself no matter where you are in your career. At the end of the day, you and you alone are the one that needs to protect your image, dignity, and reputation.
How do you balance, work and family?
It is a true balancing act and while sometimes I feel like I rock at this, sometimes I just can’t. There are days when I feel like I am on the top of the world and doing everything right: I am a good mom and made my kids a healthy meal, I’m a good lawyer and won my case, and everything is amazing – these are the “high” days. Typically, when I feel this way, 2 days later, I feel like everything is terrible and that I’m the worst mom in the world and nothing is going my way. It is just a very tough balancing act and you have to know you will have peaks and valleys and to roll with it. You also need to know on where to focus at that particular moment and to give it your 100% attention.
4 work life balance tips
- When I am at work, I am at work. When I am home, I am at home. I try not to cross the two if possible.
- I encourage everyone to eventually be your own boss so you have control over your hours / time. Or, try and get in a position where your boss will be flexible with your hours.
- You can be just as efficient in 4 days as others can be in 5 if you put your mind to it. For me, I am home on Mondays, and I get that extra day of being a “mom” which is crazy helpful in having weekend time for the family and really plugging into my kids. Also, being a mom an extra day a week, just makes me feel more “mom-like” for lack of a better world and I truly feel like I get the best of both worlds as I get a peek into what SAHM life may look like, but then I get to go back to work the next day and be a working mom too.
- Wake up earlier and eat as healthy as you can. I am up between 4:45 and 5:30 and exercise first thing in the AM. If you don’t exercise in the AM before the kids are up, it likely doesn’t happen. Take care of yourself. Eating clean and healthy (80-90% of the time (I like my glass of wine!)) will give you so much more energy to help you accomplish what you need to. If you need a bit of motivation and help, reach out to me on Facebook. I am also a Beachbody Coach (in all my free time!) and am passionate about exercise and helping others achieve their fitness goals. Finding this passion actually binds the rest of my life together because a) it makes me happy = happy mom/wife = happy family and b) it holds ME accountable health-wise and when I am taking good care of myself, I can better take care of everyone else: my family and my clients.
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