March 01, 2019 March/April 2019

Making Mist Today So You Can Make It Rain Tomorrow

A personal vision, self-knowledge and marketing to your strengths can help Millennials become successful.

Tea Hoffmann

Associates today have great potential, but often this potential is untapped or misunderstood. If you were born between 1981 and 1996, you are one of 71 million Millennials in the U.S., and you make up 43 percent of all actively licensed lawyers. With over 400,000 lawyers predicted to retire in the next decade—many of whom are essential rainmakers—your success is more important to the practice than ever. You need to start making mist today so you can make rain in the future.

If you are a Baby Boomer, you may be struggling to understand the new generation of lawyers. This article provides Millennials with guidance on how to become the next generation of law firm rainmakers and Baby Boomers with insight on how to better support these future rainmakers.

Define Success

No one starts practicing law with the idea they will fail or regret their career choice. Yet, many don’t take the time to determine what a successful legal career means and what they must do to achieve it.

Many years ago Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr., who later became chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, told me life was made up of only two things: sacrifice and reward. He said you must identify your reward—your vision of success—and get up every day and decide if you are willing to sacrifice what it takes to move closer to it.

The first step to your success as a young lawyer is to determine what success looks like for you. What do you value, and how do you want to see your life evolve over the next 40 to 50 years? Do you have written goals, and are you working to accomplish them every day? Have you articulated these goals to the partners at your firm? Are you building a career based on your vision of success or someone else’s? Do you understand what the goals of your firm are and what your part is in achieving them? Are the partners in your firm encouraging you to fulfill your goals? Are your goals and the firm’s goals aligned?

These questions should be considered early in your career. Failure to have a personal vision of success, to seek understanding of your vision before being hired or to ask what the firm’s expectations are very early can lead to unhappiness. I believe this failure is the reason Millennials, on average, stay with their first firm for less than two years.

Smart Baby Boomer leaders ask questions like these before hiring. But if they don’t ask, tell them. It’s essential that your values and goals align with the firm’s. If the goals do not align, or the firm can’t articulate its goals and values, you need to think hard about the fit. Firms willing to ask the right questions can tweak their expectations and create win-win opportunities.

In the words of Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” Your Baby Boomer colleagues should realize that you may not desire to walk the same path they did. Many of you saw your parents continuously strive for more financial success at the expense of work/life balance. You still want the financial security and rewards that a profitable practice can bring, but you also value flexibility, family time, community service and relationships.

To achieve balance, seek technology tools that allow you to have a more flexible schedule. Proactively suggest, and offer to help plan, firm events that incorporate family members, prospective and current clients, and referral sources. Suggest that the firm participate in community activities with the firm’s key clients. Volunteer to be on a firm committee that improves the overall culture.

Through compromise and understanding on both sides, a stable of lawyers from every generation can be built that is happier, stays longer, achieves more and leaves firms more viable.

Use Your Natural Strengths

To become a leader and rainmaker within your firm, focus on your natural strengths. Take a personality test and embrace your personality style. I use for my coaching clients, but there are many free tests on the internet. If you find you are an introvert, don’t fear, just acknowledge that large gatherings of strangers may not be where you need to focus. Instead, focus on smaller meetings with peers, prospective clients and referral sources.

Introverts are generally great listeners and naturally curious. Maximize this strength. Utilize this advantage to team up with an extrovert who may not be as focused on becoming a relationship builder and client sustainer for your firm. Even if you’re not a glad-handing country club type, maybe you can become a subject matter expert by writing or blogging frequently on a topic.

If you are an extrovert, position yourself where you can be seen and heard. Public speaking is a great way to build your personal brand, but only if you enjoy it and are a good speaker. Seek small-scale speaking opportunities initially and gain confidence as you refine your speaking style. Ask for feedback on your presentations and use this to improve. Watch others whom you admire speak, inside and outside of the practice, and how audiences react to them. Podcasts, webinars, YouTube and Facebook Live are examples of platforms to present on topics you are passionate about. Your speaking skills can build trust and overall name recognition.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, you should be involved in the community and civic organizations early and be truly present at these events. Work toward a leadership role by joining committees and doing your part as a member. It may take time to become recognized, but consistency over time will build relationships. Be careful not to overdo your outside firm commitments. The quality of your involvement, not the quantity of organizations you are involved in, yields the best results.

Find a Mentor

Once you determine what you want to accomplish and what your strengths are, it’s time to start working on your goals. One of the secrets no one told you in law school is that to be a successful lawyer in most firms, you must eventually have your own clients. Your clients initially may be the partners who are giving you work, and making them happy is extremely important. But eventually, in almost every firm, you will be tasked with obtaining your own book of business.

While many firms don’t encourage or train newer lawyers on how to create a client base, and few law schools teach this skill, it has become one of the most valuable skills a lawyer can obtain. A profitable book of business is an asset and, without one, you may find yourself consistently at the whim of lawyers who feed you work when they have work to give. The sooner you begin attracting your own clients, the more value you will bring to the firm.

To that end, find a great mentor or two, people you respect and want to emulate and you believe understand your vision of success. Ask them to teach you how to practice law and do good work. Ask them to take you on client visits and to court. Watch how they interact with opposing counsel, judges and their clients. Determine what you want to emulate and what you don’t. Ask them how they developed their client base and ask others within the firm as well. Constantly seek an honest assessment of your work product, and don’t be upset when you get less-than-stellar feedback.

Ask what you could improve and what you could, or should, be doing to develop business. The lawyers at your firm who are successful can offer you invaluable insight on how to begin building your book of business. Seek their wisdom.

Use Differences to Make an Impression

Millennials generally are savvy marketers. Most have been using the internet since they were toddlers, while Baby Boomers saw the first law firm ads and thought they were distasteful. Social media and internet marketing tools may still be foreign or uncomfortable to your older peers, but these tools are important to your success. Capitalize on this difference to build your practice.

An impressive LinkedIn profile and use of YouTube and Twitter are great ways to get your name and subject matter expertise to the marketplace. Understanding how to maximize each of these tools and how to stay within ethical guidelines can allow you to differentiate yourself from your competition, add value to your firm through promotion and impress future clients.

Use your marketing know-how to your advantage by using keywords in your content to drive traffic. Create calls to action within your firm’s website and help your Baby Boomer peers better understand the importance of products like Avvo rankings, artificial intelligence tools and Google Ads.

Additionally, you are uniquely positioned to know that testimonials matter and your prospective clients are looking for positive reviews and rankings. Gather testimonials early and utilize these to attract clients for yourself and the firm. Build your expertise in an area you are passionate and knowledgeable about and get “ranked” in that area to build your brand.

Keep Learning

Albert Einstein said that learning should begin at birth and end at death. If you desire to be a rainmaker, you must engage in continuous learning on how to better understand, connect and relate to prospective and existing clients as well as your peers. Here are a few books I highly recommend:

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie.
  • SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackman.
  • To Sell Is Human, by Daniel Pink.

I would also encourage you to take a sales course. I did this in my early 30s, and it was life changing. I was in a class filled with insurance salesmen and even one funeral home director, but I learned more during my weekend sales class than I could have imagined. The Dale Carnegie course I took was incredible and filled with relationship building and proven follow-up techniques. There are other classes and even online courses. Seek these out. If you master and refine your sales skills, you will gain confidence and become a better rainmaker. Don’t wait on your firm to provide this training for you or to pay for it. If you want to improve and build your book of business, you should be willing to sacrifice your time and money for the reward.

Stay in Touch and Follow Up

Many lawyers have a stack of business cards on their desk from prospective clients or individuals who could have become clients, referral sources or simply business friends. Don’t do this. Cards sitting on your desk do nothing for you. Create a follow-up strategy to stay in touch and track every contact that could use you or your firm or refer business. Be diligent about connecting on LinkedIn and sending handwritten follow-up notes to prospective clients and those who refer you work. Establish good follow-up habits for your current and past clients. Stay in touch with former classmates and opposing counsel you admire.

Final Words

Regardless of your age or generation, if you want to become a rainmaker, it will require time, patience, persistence and discipline. Start making it mist now because every flood starts with a single raindrop.

Tea Hoffmann

Tea Hoffmann is the managing principal of Law Strategy Corp. Her mission is to be the change agent that lawyers need to become more successful long term. She is a business development, time management and leadership coach for lawyers of all ages and stages. She also helps firms compete by providing strategic guidance to firms through her signature Competitive Advantage program.