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June 07, 2019 Articles

The Power of a Referral Network: Rainmaker Spotlight Interview with Jane Langan Mach

An experienced female litigator talks about how a strong referral network can help you generate business.

By Young Advocates Committee

Welcome to the YAC’s Rainmaker Spotlight series! This series features tips and lessons from senior lawyers and successful business developers. We explore practical issues and get the benefit of real-life anecdotes from those who have not only survived but thrived.

Developing business is an important step to becoming a successful attorney. As a new lawyer, how do you begin to build your practice and develop client relationships? The best people to answer these questions are the rainmakers of the legal industry—the people who have landed the big clients, created a brand, and established themselves as successful business developers.

In this edition, we hear from Jane Langan Mach, a partner at Rembolt Ludtke in Lincoln, Nebraska. She focuses primarily on family law issues, particularly complex divorce, paternity, custody, child support, and adoption matters, including both trial and appellate work. 

How long have you been practicing law?

I started working with Rembolt Ludtke right out of law school—so, for 24 years.

What kind of practice do you currently have?

I work as a partner at a law firm with 25 other attorneys. I am one of three lawyers who do domestic work at the firm. I typically have a number of active cases going on—anywhere from 40 to 60 at a time—with the majority being complex or high-value divorce cases.

Did you always want to go into domestic relations law?

I always knew that I wanted to do litigation. When I got out of law school, I did some general civil litigation, and then I got a few domestic relations cases and really liked the one-on-one interaction. It grew from there once word got out that I did family law work, and I got referrals from other attorneys and partners in my law firm. Now, approximately 95 percent of my work is domestic work.

How did you land your biggest case?

My biggest (or highest-stakes) case involved multiple corporations owned by spouses and a lot of spreadsheets to determine the value of the businesses.

But my most complex case was really several cases in one. A neighbor of one of my partner’s clients needed a guardianship for her great-granddaughter and came to me for help after being referred by my partner. Her granddaughter had left her child with my client, and my client was unsure if she could care for her. Then, the great-grandma took the child to a doctor’s appointment and learned that the doctors wanted to adopt the child. At that point, I had a guardianship proceeding and what looked like an adoption in the works, all of which was complicated by the need to get a termination of parental rights over the child in question. I then learned that my client’s granddaughter was married and had another child who she could not take care of. In the end, I had intervened in the granddaughter’s divorce, pled and proved termination of parental rights against the husband, the unwed father consented to the adoption, and both great-grandchildren were adopted by their doctors. The case had two trials (in two different court levels) and three appeals. I also later helped the doctor and her spouse adopt another child and represented them in a civil lawsuit against a roofing contractor. Later, the adoptive mom/doctor asked me if they could name me as guardian of their children in their estate plans.

All of that work came to me because my client was a neighbor to someone who knew someone (me) who did domestic work. A lot of my cases come to me that way.

What do you find is the hardest thing about business development?

You cannot scare up domestic work like you can with other areas of the law. You cannot walk into a home and say, “How about a divorce?,” or pitch it and do requests for proposals. That is the hardest thing—most of my clients come from referrals from former clients and other attorneys.

What advice would you give to a new attorney trying to develop a family law practice?

If you want to do domestic work, the first thing you have to do is take the work. There is a big need for volunteer lawyers for small-time divorces. Make yourself available to other partners for referrals, get in front of judges, and be seen doing the work. Send thank-you cards for referrals, and be ready for your cases to lead to other opportunities.

What is one thing that you know now about business development, that you wish you knew earlier in your career?

It is OK to say no to potential clients. That was hard for me to do initially because I wanted to help everyone who came to my office. However, you do not have to take on every case, and sometimes you are helping them when you say no and pass them on to someone else. This is true no matter what area of the law you are working in. If you do a good job, your client will tell five people. If you do a bad job, they will tell 20. If you cannot devote yourself to the case and zealously advocate for someone, you should refer him or her out. When you refer that person out, you may be thanked in kind with a referral later on from that attorney.

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).