Rainmakers I Have Fallen For

By Barbara D’Amico

You don't necessarily have to get there first, but you need to get there very, very fast.

As a new partner, you know you must generate business. To jump-start your efforts, you may well attend business development seminars and build a library of rainmaking books. You may even read a chapter or two. All positives! But, even with all that diligence, there will almost invariably be something missing: the perspective of the buyer and the rain to be made.

In my experience, great rainmakers come in a lot of varieties, but they all have certain critical skills that are simple and transcend type, skills that combine to create a consistent strategy for success in developing business, a combination that leaves you no choice but to trust them to protect you. And these characteristics can be learned and practiced to advantage by absolutely anyone who has the will to try. If you’re a new partner who wants to learn how to really make rain, here are the strategies that will distinguish you from the rest of the pack.

Great rainmakers have energy. Of the great rainmakers I’ve worked with, all showed energy in one form or another, without regard for the other things that were going on in their lives—an energy that promised they were there to get the outcome I needed or, at least, the best outcome I could reasonably hope for.

Here’s an example. My firm had entered into a deal with a particularly aggressive and powerful company—a deal that seemed to some like a good idea at the time but one that had its terrible ups and downs. The law firm that had documented the deal, once our main provider, was on the outs after one of our many mergers and was busy trying to make a living elsewhere. Nonetheless, late one afternoon, when a crazy event occurred that looked like it might present a way out of this nightmare, I picked up the phone and, within minutes, got the senior partner who had done the deal.

The partner was working flat out on another matter and was also in the crosshairs of firm management in a difficult time. But his answer was clear: “I’ll pull the file right now and look at it tonight. Do you want me to call you? It might be late. Or, we can think it through together first thing tomorrow if that works for you.” He wasn’t going to get much sleep that night, but his professional shoulders were broad and they had room for my problem. The implicit thrust of his quick response was: “What can I do for you?” His firm was on the outs then, but he was ready to stick with it. It is no coincidence that he ultimately became a close confidant of the company’s general counsel and regained a role for his firm.

Great rainmakers are outwardly focused. “What can I do for you?” Six words that create an immediate connection by showing interest, caring, and a focus on service: If you need something done, I’m interested and I want to see if I can help. To me, great rainmakers ask that question to get people to talk about themselves, their work, their companies, and their industries. And great rainmakers listen, actively and with intent, to find out what’s on people’s minds, what’s keeping them awake at night. Then they find a connection and offer help.

And the magic of “What can I do for you?” is that no matter what the conversation, it is always the right opener. The question sets up a platform from which you can demonstrate your interest, your excellence, and your responsiveness. It is a chance to share your message and add value.

Great rainmakers are on message and add value before they get business. The best of the best target their message to the buyer’s needs. Once I’d spoken with them, I knew that they were offering excellence and experience. I felt that I was their niche, and I knew they could deliver, even from their shortest voice mail: “Hi, it’s Abby. I just wanted to put something on your radar screen. We’re aware of a new investigation that raises some interesting issues that could spread to your industry. It’s the first of its kind, and probably not the last, so I’d like to share some thoughts about some issues you might want to look into and offer a hand if that’s appropriate. Give me a call when you get a minute.”

Who in their right mind wouldn’t call back to get that inside scoop? And when that callback comes to them, great rainmakers have an offer on the table: “Here’s the story. . . . Would it be helpful to you if we came in and went through this in a little more detail? We can brainstorm and share some perspective on what this might mean for the industry.”

It’s a gift of information before you get paid that ensures that your inside contacts will look good when they walk into the office of the general counsel or a leading executive and explain what might be on the horizon and what should be done to be prepared. It certainly gets you a callback for follow-up questions that will help cement the relationship with your prospects; it may give you a role in an investigation, especially if there are concerns about attorney-client privilege; and, done well, it could virtually ensure you the work if the company needs representation on that issue down the road.

Great rainmakers are disciplined and efficient. The best that I worked with were absolutely disciplined and efficient enough to make those proactive calls like Abby’s across the industry—and they got responses. But beyond that, they were always prospecting. When great rainmakers read the paper or watch the news, they see events that call out for their services or connections, so they pick some and pass the rest along to others who might benefit, thereby building the network that feeds their future business development efforts.

This is where the wonder of e-mail and voice mail really shows itself. You don’t have to take ten or 15 minutes on a real call or more in a face-to-face meeting. You can forward something in an e-mail or ask to go to voice mail to avoid wasting a potential client’s time as well as your own.

You don’t necessarily have to get there first, but you need to get there very, very fast. It would be a terrible shame to be diligently working on the checklists and ticklers so popular in the literature of business development while simultaneously failing to make that one call or send that one e-mail to make that one connection that could open a door and truly make a difference.

So keep your strategy for business development simple: Be energetic, outwardly focused, and on message. Be disciplined and efficient. Add value before you get the business.

For More Information About the Law Practice Management Section

- This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 40 of Law Practice, July/August 2007 (33:5).

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Barbara D’Amico is the former general counsel of JPMorgan Chase’s Retail Financial Services Businesses and is the founder of Esquire Crossroads, a coaching and consulting firm. She may be reached at .

Copyright 2008

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