Through the Glass Ceiling: Legal dynamics

Minna Felig and Kimberly Lindy put a new face on the business of law in Israel.

minna felig 298 (photo credit: )
minna felig 298
(photo credit: )
Minna Felig is a successful lawyer turned head-hunter. Kimberly Lindy is a successful organizational consultant turned head-hunter. Each is American born and educated. Each had a flourishing career in the US and did well for herself in Israel. Their individual success stories are admirable. As a team, they're changing the face of the business of law in Israel. Their firm, Felig/Lindy Legal and its affiliated company Law/Jobs Int'l, specializes in management strategies and recruitment solutions required by law firms, patent firms and corporate legal departments. Working out of a streamlined office complex in Ramat Gan, they operate on three continents, but the bulk of their work is in Israel. But don't make the mistake of thinking that they're just an employment service. They help effect mergers and they find partners, associates, legal clerks, lawyers licensed to practice in other countries, general counsel, staff counsel, temporary and outsourced lawyers and native speakers of many languages who know how to translate legal documents or act as interpreters for clients who speak neither Hebrew nor English. And that's only the absolutely legal side of the story. They also take care of the administrative needs of legal firms, helping them find administrative directors, office managers, paralegals, bilingual legal secretaries, partner secretaries, English secretaries, Hebrew legal secretaries, English legal secretaries, English-Hebrew typists, receptionists, general translators and file clerks. In short, they can provide all the human resources that a legal firm needs other than the cleaning and catering staff - and in cases of extreme urgency, they could do that too. Felig, a mother of four children aged 6 - 13, is also married to a very successful lawyer, but their careers run separately. A native New Yorker who has been living in Israel since 1992, she started her law career as legal recruiter, then a public defender, moving on to work as an entertainment lawyer and subsequently practicing intellectual property law. After making aliya, she was a hi-tech lawyer until her work began to interfere with her family life at which point she decided to open a recruitment company for the legal profession. That was in 2000 when the whole concept of what she was doing was virtually unknown in Israel, and where it was largely rejected by those to whom broached the subject. Fortunately, she had made some good professional connections while working as a lawyer for S. Horowitz & Co., one of the oldest and most distinguished of Israeli law firms, and later for Meitar, Littman Nechmad (now Meitar, Liquornik, Geva & Leshem, where her husband Clifford Felig, who specializes in securities, is a partner). From 1997-1999, she also was a visiting lecturer at Bar Ilan Law School. "Most Israeli lawyers are convinced that they don't need any assistance," says Felig. "It's hard for them to accept that people who have studied the business of law can help them. No one can accept the concept of management consulting until we give them solutions to their problems." When they finally do understand and learn to appreciate what Felig/Lindy does, she says, they often spend as much as an hour at a time on the phone getting the firm to come up with solutions for immediate or long-term needs "but they're loathe to pay." When they are willing to pay for the service, she points out, they are more inclined to hire an American consulting firm over one based in Israel, even when such a firm is run by Americans with a bilateral grasp of situations. She cites the example of one legal firm that spent $100,000 on bringing in a US consultant and getting all the wrong advice because the consultant didn't understand the Israeli market or the sensitivity of war-peace issues. BEFORE COMING to Israel in 1980, Philadelphia-born Kim Lindy had set her heart on becoming a community rabbi. She had earned a first degree in Political Science and Jewish Studies at McGill University and a master's degree in International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. She also attended the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, but did not complete her studies once she made up her mind to make aliya. "I knew I couldn't be a rabbi in Israel," she says in retrospect. Since then, several women rabbis have been accepted in Conservative and Reform congregations in the country. It was probably in the cards that Lindy would have a future relationship with the legal profession. Prior to her aliya, she worked as an assistant to prominent Philadelphia attorney Theodore Mann in his capacity as President of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations. Lindy freely admits that this was the best period in her life. "We were in and out of the White House. I was on first name terms with the vice-president, and I was 24 years old. I knew then that there would never be anything better." Her first job in Israel was with Bank Hapoalim where manager Yaacov Levinson assigned her to launch the bank's international and foreign relations department. Her job was to deal with foreign visitors, train international bank managers before they went abroad, take care of sponsorships, organize international conferences and liaise with Jewish communities abroad. In addition, she was in charge of all dinners sponsored by the bank in major hotels. She also planned seminars and organized tours for visiting dignitaries who were guests of the bank. In 1987, married and with two small daughters now aged 22 and 18, she returned to the US mainly because she missed the comforts of home she had once taken for granted - after waiting seven years for a telephone line to be installed in her home in Ramat Hasharon, she simply couldn't wait any longer for something as basic as a telephone. She spent five years in the US working as the executive director of the Friends of Bezalel, bringing groups of art lovers to Israel, and returning each summer on vacation. Through her work with Bezalel, she realized that people could not understand why they should support such an organization without seeing the work. So she started her own business, Jaffa Collections, based on hand-crafted jewelry and Judaica items and sent collections to various Jewish organizations to use for fundraisers. While in America, Lindy's marriage fell apart and she returned to Israel in 1992 as a single mother. She immediately got a job as director of guest services at Tel Aviv University and while there saw a newspaper advertisement offering the job of Director of the Central Region of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. When she went for the interview, she told them that she mixed in a wide circle, had lived in Israel for several years and had never heard of AACI before reading the advertisement. "If I've never heard of you, there's something wrong with your marketing," she said, "and that's the reason you should hire me." Within 18 months, she achieved a 29 percent increase in membership. She started a professional women's club within AACI, which brought together 200 active women who networked with each other, and then expanded the networking to include men. The networking brought many business opportunities to light and steered numerous AACI members towards new jobs. After five years with AACI, Lindy left with great reluctance. "It was a non-profit organization that didn't pay enough for me to support my family," she says. Her next job was with US Science and Technology, another non-profit organization connected to profit. Her initial challenge there was to organize Israel's first intellectual property conference in 1998. "I had no knowledge of the intellectual property community in Israel and I didn't really understand what they wanted me to do," she confesses, but, nonetheless, she managed to put together a conference with 70 speakers from abroad that attracted 400 participants. One of the witnesses to that success was Ilan Cohn, of Reinhold Cohn & Partners, a law firm that is now The Reinhold Cohn Group. "If you can do this, you can run my company," he told her. She had been a Jewish organizational professional all her working life and this new initiative to go into the business world was daunting. She didn't even know whether running a law office, when she wasn't a lawyer, could be characterized as a profession, so she called her brother Jeffrey Lindy, a prominent litigation lawyer who sits on the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association, for advice. He said it was, indeed, a profession and told her to go for it. She became the first executive director of a legal patent firm in Israel. The firm had a staff of 150 people including 25 patent attorneys. Lindy oversaw the merger between the patent firm and a litigation firm. The company originally had been a family firm with a benevolent dictator in the person of Michael Cohn, - Ilan Cohn's father. When the senior Cohn retired in 2001, the firm became a democratic governance with nine partners who did not want to have an executive director telling them how things should operate. Lindy takes a certain satisfaction from the fact that three people were hired to do the job she did alone. After leaving The Reinhold Group, Lindy became chief executive officer of Herzog Fox & Neeman, Israel's largest and most diverse law firm, where she was responsible for all aspects of office administration and staffing including overseeing mergers, renovation and expansion of office space, developing Web sites and marketing materials and the evaluation and reform of standard office services and procedures. "Law firms in Israel used to be small and they grew gradually, but there was no understanding of how an international law firm should be run," says Lindy, explaining that in this context the physical planning of office and conference spaces is a matter of paramount importance not only to those who work in the firm but also to clients. AFTER ASSESSING what she had been able to do with Herzog Fox & Neeman, Lindy joined forces with Felig in 2002. "We're basically the first two legal management consultants in the country," says Felig. "Now there are two other people doing what we do." She identifies a trend in Israel to have larger law firms. "We find law firms that are missing certain practices and help them to profit through mergers or the acquisition of another law firm." "Hi-tech companies come to us to find patent attorney and general counsel," adds Lindy. One of the things of which they are particularly proud is that the firm has introduced into the operations of some of its clients an evaluation process whereby the performance of each employee is evaluated by the people they work with. They are given feedback they may not have received in the past but, more important, they get automatic, annual salary raises if the feedback is positive. The problem, says Felig, is that there isn't enough feedback. "In most of the larger firms, they say that they are giving feedback - but they don't. It's very important for a lawyer to get feedback, especially because large law firms have grown exponentially. A large firm used to be 25 partners. Now you have a whole slew of law firms that have broken through the 50-lawyer limit and they don't understand that it's a business. A lot of lawyers with up to four years experience have no idea of what's in store for them because they have no track and no feedback. When a good lawyer gets up and leaves, the heads of the firm take it personally because they don't know how to manage expectations." There is a similar issue she says, with client expectations. When law firms were small, the client could expect one of the senior partners to handle his or her case. But today when clients come to a firm of 95 lawyers, says Felig, they don't understand that it's usually a junior partner who is assigned to do the work. "If the firm is not taught to manage client expectations, it will have unhappy clients," says Felig. Although the kind of work Felig and Lindy do pays very well in the US, with legal consultants getting 25% to 33% of the first year's salary of anyone they have placed in a law firm, in Israel they get only 8.3%. Though not as lucrative a profession as it is in the US, its upside outweighs its downside. "Our biggest problem is that we like what we do too much," says Felig. The two women work very well together. "We take each other's strengths and use them to complement our weaknesses - and we trust each other," says Lindy. Both get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from helping people fulfill their career ambitions. "All of the other things I've done were preparing me to understand the practice of law," says Felig. "Helping Israeli law firms to reach international standards is very exciting," notes Lindy, although the toughest thing she's had to do by way of international standards had nothing to do with mergers, acquisitions or networking. A top notch lawyer suffered from extreme body odor and Lindy had to find a creative way to tell him that it was offensive to both his colleagues and his clients. Her solution: She told him that the deodorant he was using was not really suitable for someone of his stature and that he should change it. At the time, he wasn't using a deodorant at all - but he was sufficiently savvy to take the hint. MINNA FELIG Profession: Lawyer and legal recruitment expert Age : 44 Status: Married with four children Education: Graduate Georgetown University Law School and Barnard College of Columbia University Professional Milestones: Practicing attorney. Opening own legal recruitment company Partnership with Kimberly Lindy. KIMBERLY LINDY Profession: Organizational consultant and legal recruitment expert Age: 52 Status:Divorced with two daughters Education: BA McGill University MA University of Pennsylvania Graduated with honors from Hebrew University certificate program for organizational and management consulting. In MBA program at Bar Ilan University Professional Milestones: Executive Director AACI Central Region Executive Director of a law office, Partnership with Minna Felig