So often, people talk about “rainmakers” as if rainmakers are born, not made. Not true. I’ve never seen a survey of great rainmakers to see whether they believe they were born to develop business, but every one I’ve asked asked tells me that, although there may be some personality traits that they were able to develop to help them land clients, the skills themselves were learned.
So, how do rainmakers learn their skills?
1. Mentoring. If there’s a lawyer you know who excels at client development, talk with her. Ask what she did to learn how to approach potential clients. What attributes does she consider important for business development? Which activities work well, and which don’t? Most lawyers are willing to share their knowledge and experience, but you have to ask.
2. Develop your own marketing plan and work it. What steps can you take to market yourself to your existing clients and to broaden your network/external exposure? If you need ideas, ask your mentor or check any of the many rainmaking skills books that are on the market. Think strategically and plan your networking events (formal and informal), writing and speaking opportunities, and whatever else may be a part of your plan.
It isn’t easy to balance work and personal life, and adding in marketing may seem like it’s too much. But planning your efforts, and considering how you might fold in personal interests with networking opportunities, will help you to find time to hit all of the bases. Don’t over-extend yourself. Instead, break down the larger tasks (like writing an article) into pieces that you can accomplish each day. That will help you maintain forward momentum and it’ll also prevent overwhelm. Be sure to share your plan with your mentor, a coach, or someone who can help you stay on track. That action alone will significantly raise the chances that you’ll keep up with your plan and see results.
3. Tune up your attitude. Two beliefs about rainmaking present challenges: that it’s somehow rude, and that it’s unnecessary.
Some people conceive of client development as the task of getting out, meeting people, and self-promoting. One image of networking is that of an opportunity to foist a business card on any warm body and a soapbox to tell unsuspecting contacts about how great a lawyer the networking genius is. ICK! I don’t know of anyone who would like to interact with someone who behaves that way. That isn’t what client development is about. Instead, it’s an opportunity to learn about other people and to develop a relationship. It’s often repeated that clients hire people, not firms, and it’s human nature to prefer to hire a known entity. (I take some issue with that, but clients certainly interact with particular lawyers and there’s no question that those interactions can facilitate or retard the decision to retain the firm.) So, the short-term view is that marketing is a way to become that known entity and to develop relationships; the long-term view is that it’s an opportunity to help potential clients solve legal problems they’re facing. Focus on that attitude.
Although some lawyers would prefer to focus on doing top-quality and top-volume work, and not on bringing work in the door, that’s probably an unrealistic desire. As a junior associate, it’s easy to expect to be fed work. But someone has to bring the work in. A lawyer’s success requires a stream of incoming work, as does a firm’s success. Firm “grinders” (who grind out the work but do nothing to bring it in) are in a rather tenuous position because strong legal abilities and good client service are the minimum requirements for practice, and those who have nothing more to offer are weak when times get tight. This is even more true in today’s highly competitive environment. As a result, client development skills are critical.
Finally, consider the career satisfaction that will likely result from bringing clients into your practice. You’re building in the ability to work with clients you enjoy, on the kind of work you prefer, and you’re creating your own success. That’s hard to beat.
4. Think creatively. As noted above, the market is flooded with books that promise great tips on marketing. Some of those books deliver, some don’t… But you can bet that your competition is reading them as well. Spend some time thinking about what you can do that’s outside the norm for client development. Instead of serving as a speaker at a CLE event, can you organize an event? Can you get involved in a professional association to which your target clients belong? Can you put together some kind of program that offers tangible benefits to your target audience? This kind of activity requires planning time and will likely require support from your firm, but if carefully executed, it can pay off.
5. Never forget your existing clients. While you’re working on how to bring in new clients, be sure you attend to your current clients. Always provide excellent service and legal work. Clients are often willing to sing the praises of good attorneys, and they are always quick to criticize those who fall short. Whether you serve individuals or large corporations, your clients will talk about your service if a friend or close colleague asks. Keep in mind what you’d like them to say, and let that guide your practice.