Could you be unemployable? It’s up to you.

Introducing Ron Peterson, a guest author.  To learn more about Ron, scroll to the end of his post.

Lawyers will often carry Phi-Beta Kappa keys, law review credentials, marquee college and law school degrees, and—after a few years of diligent and conscientious practice—a growing realization that they may be unemployable! How can this be? Throughout school your work has been “A” quality, tests confirm your abilities, you law work has proved impeccable—but advancement has been halted at a critical time in your career. Unlike the earlier part of your life, after six or seven years, law firms take for granted the quality of work and focus more on your ability to attract new business. The nitty-gritty that now counts has shifted, and how well you can sell yourself and your firm to new clients becomes paramount. Whether you like it or not, you’re at the level of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, not the intellectual equivalent to your college deans! This is a difficult fact to digest, and mystifies many lawyers while leading to an inconvenient-truth about modern law firm practice—it’s a business.

Unlike your school courses, where quality of work guaranteed success, being in a business environment is entirely foreign to the singular emphasis on good work that brought you there. Bringing in clients that pay their bills is now almost always a necessary (bordering on sufficient) metric by which you will be judged for promotions and bonuses. You can have other partners, of-counsels, associates or even contract attorneys do the actual work, just so long as you can bill on their backs.

“Don’t clients care about quality?” Of course they do, but there are a lot of smart lawyers (too many, some would say) and others can do just as well as you can and are waiting at the doors for the chance to show it. Julie Fleming-Brown has been flogging you with this realization for years, and it’s time you acted upon it. So, here are a few steps that can help you bridge the gulf between worker bee (read: potential victim) and rainmaker:

  • Start thinking of yourself as someone who needs to bring in business (change your mindset);
  • Look for opportunities to help potential clients, formulate a solutions-orientation strategy and communicate it to those people. Just make sure it’s intelligent and is designed so the prospect can understand it and see the value;
  • Tom Goldstein built a Supreme Court practice by finding split-decisions on Lexus-Nexus and asking the parties if they wanted to take their case to the Supreme Court, (a very simple, but entirely effective approach that led to his chairing his firm’s litigation and Supreme Court practice). Joel Popkin built a consulting practice by reading about corporate problems in the news, figuring out a potential solution, and writing a letter outlining the work and benefits to the CEO;
  • Tom Gorman puts many extra hours in per month for his website and blog,, where he keeps a large audience around the world up to-date on a variety of securities issues (and loves doing it!).

The above examples represent a small sample of what attorneys have done to build their client base for the good of both themselves and their firms. Surely, you can think of things that are even more effective, can’t you?

I recruit partners, of-counsels and some associates for the most prestigious law firms in the world, both here and overseas. Every day I hear from some hapless soul about how wonderful his or her work is and surely some firm needs their input. Sadly, they generally don’t. I do suggest that working on a marketing plan is the very best step any attorney can take to make themselves valuable, and I’m glad to help them in this effort. Even more than sketching out a plan is taking those first steps to implement the ideas.


Ron Peterson is a legal and lobby recruiter with in Washington, DC and can be reached at (240) 308 0337 or He ran an investment banking firm, was a VP at brokerage firms such as Prudential & Paine Webber, holds several masters degrees plus graduate certificates, and is the author of When Venture Capitalists Say “No”—Creative Financing Strategies & Resources and Technology Transfer in the Life Sciences, both now e-books that are free for Life at the Bar readers. Just e-mail with your request. Also, do you have some good stories about building a business that you’d consider sharing, in some form, for a new book?

2 replies
  1. Cato
    Cato says:

    So what does a smart, hard-working, pleasant, socially awkward, shy, 5th year associate do when he is getting hammered for not making rain? I am never going to be good at bringing in business because I am not a “schmoozer”–i don’t like golf, fancy dinners, and abhor cocktail parties.

  2. Julie Fleming-Brown
    Julie Fleming-Brown says:

    The #1 thing I’d suggest for you on business development is to change your attitude about what activities can bring in clients. Yes, golf and fancy dinners and cocktail parties are “traditional” routes, but they are by no means the only ones! And you don’t have to be a schmoozer to get clients. I’m an introvert as well, and I’ve found a bunch of ways to get clients — including writing, networking, bar association involvement, community involvement, and so on. Some may work well for you, others may not work at all, depending on your interests and your practice area.

    To get started, I’d recommend that you read some rainmaking books. I recommend Jim Hassett’s Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide. You’ll get a lot of good ideas there, and I would guess that you’ll get ideas of rainmaking activities that would be a better fit for you. You might also visit click on the Client Development category (in the far righthand column) to see past suggestions I’ve made.

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