One of the biggest expectations of newly made partners is that they will begin to generate business of their own. Easier said than done-especially because there's so little literature that speaks from the perspective of the buyer. A former general counsel shares the inside scoop.
One of the biggest expectations of new partners is that they will begin to generate business of their own and bring new clients into the firm. Easier said than done—especially since so few firms train their associates in how to build rainmaking skills. To get up to speed as a new partner, you will likely have to attend business development seminars and build your library of rainmaking books. I myself have an almost complete selection of the current rage of books on rainmaking, and there is much good stuff out there. But there is also something missing. Very little speaks from the perspective of a buyer, the perspective of the “rain” to be made. That’s where I come in.
I spent almost 25 years in house at one of the largest financial institutions in the country, ultimately serving as chief counsel to a number of key businesses. We had a world-class in-house staff and a powerful bias for handling almost anything ourselves, but when we simply couldn’t handle the work inside, we found the best of the best in outside counsel services. In all of that hiring, and sometimes firing, here’s what struck me about the best of the best and their business development strategies.
While great rainmakers come in a lot of varieties, they all have in common certain critical skills that are simple and transcend type. They all share vital characteristics 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, some were effervescent, some forceful, some more subtly strong, with stamina showing a simple yet compelling ability to handle what came their way. But 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. In short, he doubtless had bigger things on his mind and more promising clients than one that looked as good as gone and a deal that had toxic written all over it.
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 (and other questions like it) to get people to talk about themselves, their work, their companies and their industries. And then 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. Whether someone is calling to ask you to walk the ramp in a beauty contest, or to help them get a TRO, or simply to make a quick request, 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. I’m here!”
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 for some of your folks? We can brainstorm a bit and share some perspective on what this might mean for the industry.”
It’s a gift of information before you get paid that assures 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 assure you the work if the company needs representation on that issue down the road.
Another beauty of this give-before-you-get strategy is that it can be leveraged. I am utterly confident that I was not the only one who got that voice mail from Abby. My rainmaker probably got that same message to a dozen other lawyers likely to share my concerns.
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—more connections than they can possibly manage —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 10 or 15 minutes on a real call or more in a face-to-face meeting. You can forward something in e-mail or ask to go to voice mail to avoid wasting a potential client’s time as well as your own:
“It’s Lee, and I just saw some e-mail traffic about issues that the state attorneys general were kicking around at their annual meeting. We’re looking into it a bit more but it looks like the environmental stuff is something our guys are all over. We would love to share some thoughts with you and your folks about where we think this might go. Give me a call! Maybe we can set up a quick conference call if that would help your folks. I’ll look forward to it.”
Short, sweet and to the point. You don’t necessarily have to get there first (although that is certainly the best place to be) 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.
It’s a Winning Combination That Carries the Day
Over the years, I learned that great rainmakers come in wildly unpredictable varieties. They are all very, very good at what they do. That’s assumed. Apart from that, some are articulate and statesmanlike; some are less so. Some are lovable, in a way that only a lawyer could love, but lovable nonetheless; some, in their worst moments, are not even likeable. But they all share the vital characteristics described here, which combine to create a simple and consistent strategy for success in developing business, a combination that distinguishes them from the lawyers that companies
don’t call when they need help.
So keep your strategy for business development simple: Be energetic, outwardly focused and on message. Add value before you get the business. Be disciplined and efficient. If, in so doing, you assure that your in-house partners are up to speed on the big issues and look as good as they deserve to look as the experts in their businesses, you cannot lose.