Image Conscious Past SBM president gives tips on image building

By Cynthia Price

Legal News

Immediate Past President of the State Bar of Michigan Julie Fershtman is on a mission: to help female lawyers throughout the state elevate their visibility and status.

So what better place to bring those concerns than to the Women Lawyers of Michigan (WLAM), an organization "[s]triving to secure the full and equal participation of women in the legal profession in furtherance of a just society"?

Fershtman visited WLAM Western Region for a luncheon meeting in March, where she shared her experience and resulting advice through a PowerPoint presentation, "Improve Your Image and Ratings for Career Advancement, Marketing and Increased Compensation."

The well-known attorney, now with Foster Swift Collins and Smith in the firm's Farmington Hills office, was in solo practice for 17 years. Chatting with the 20 or so women attending before lunch was served, Fershtman got a feel for the wide variety of attorneys present, and had the broad experience to tailor her presentation to the interests in the room.

Her focus was on rating systems, recognition rankings, and awards.

Fershtman's PowerPoint, which she said was the first she ever created, started out with the question, "What kind of reputation do you want?" The slide featured a family law attorney's garishly illustrated advertisement which said, "Husband a dangerous cheating monster? DIVORCE HIM for as little $300."

The laughter in response seemed a good indication that that was not quite the way those present wanted to be seen.

After acknowledging that women in large law firms had an advantage due to accessing the service of dedicated marketing personnel, Fershtman said the first order of business in improving one's ratings was to know what entities are engaged in rating and ranking.

Virtually everyone in the room was familiar with Martindale Hubbell rankings and Best Lawyers, but many fewer raised their hands when she asked about Avvo.

"Women rarely know what they're rated," she continued, "yet 50 percent of consumers consider ratings very important."

She described the various rating systems and then told the WLAM members how they can influence them. She also noted that, once a woman is recognized, increasing recognition tends to follow.

Tellingly, Fershtman's page on the Foster Swift site lists her "Highlights and Recognitions" as, among others:

* AV Preeminent Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory

* Best Lawyers in America (Commercial Litigation and Insurance Law)

* Michigan Super Lawyers (Civil Litigation Defense) 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

* "10.0/10 - Superb" (highest rating) by lawyer rating service

* "Top 15 Women to Watch," Crain's Detroit Business, 2010

* "Leader in the Law," Michigan Lawyers Weekly, 2010

* "Michigan Top Lawyer,'' Dbusiness, 2009

* "Metro Detroit's Most Influential Women," Crain's Detroit Business, 2007

* "40 Outstanding Business Leaders Under 40," Crain's Detroit Business, 1996

* "21 Young Lawyers Leading Us into the 21st Century," Barrister Magazine, 1995

Fershtman is a litigator specializing in general insurance defense and business, and she also focuses on premises liability and sporting and recreational liability, with a sub-specialty in equine law.

She told the WLAM attorneys that one sure way to increase visibility is to become involved in bar activities, advising that there are numerous other advantages as well. For those who might want to explore involvement at the State Bar level, she suggested starting with the Representative Assembly, the "legislature of lawyers," as she put it.

Another piece of advice was to have a good publicity photo and send press releases to local media outlets, whether print or on-line. She said she had often run into people who thought they recognized her, but she surmised that it was because they had seen her picture in the paper. "There's no downside to that," she added, laughing.

Fershtman asked rhetorically, "Does any of this make you a better lawyer? No, probably not, though some of it may. But does it help you get clients if people know you, and view you in a positive light? Yes, it does. That's important."

And she concluded by asking the women present to be supportive of each other and of other women attorneys. "Promote each other. Nominate a woman attorney you know to be a Super Lawyer or Rising Star."

The officers of WLAM Western Region hope to offer avenues for such support, along with continuing opportunities to get to know other women attorneys.

The state WLAM is holding its 95th annual conference on April 12 at Detroit's Westin Book Cadillac.

Published: Tue, Apr 9, 2013