As featured in Law.com on August 25, 2021
For the last several years, there is one recurring question lawyers have been asking me: “What is the secret behind rainmaking?” After having served two long-term tenures as a chief marketing officer, first for Debevoise & Plimpton and more recently for 14 years at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, I left to write a book to try to refine the answer. I’ve gone on to observe what works in trying to win business, and I’ve seen what does and what doesn’t.
Find and Focus on Your Passion
There are lawyers who develop a genuine curiosity and passion for a practice area or an industry, and then they take another step and dive deep into the area, cultivating expertise beyond the law. Enthusiasm, when combined with in-depth knowledge, has a unique value. By having a goal of being the best possible practitioner in a practice or industry, and knowing the key players as well as the legal nuances, lawyers of all ages become more than legal experts to their clients; instead, they become subject-matter experts, with an ability to identify trends before they happen and strong personal connections to others in the field. These are the lawyers to whom clients remain connected, even when there isn’t an active litigation matter or a deal to be handled. Clients call them to discuss business strategy, ask for introductions to others in their industry and connect when they need career advice. These rainmakers have the essential tools to handle a legal matter, but in addition, they are authentically interested in the area of practice.
You’ve Got to Have a Plan
There is research that shows that if you write down a plan, you are more likely to achieve its goal. While practice plans created by marketing departments can be incredibly helpful in providing strategy and support to grow an area of the firm, a personal business plan can be a tremendous help. True rainmakers are focused on a goal, and leave little to chance. While, yes, they are just as likely to start a conversation with someone they sit next to on a plane who may one day become a client, a good plan provides a goal, as well as the right tactics to achieve it. The most important element of successful plans involves focusing on a defined objective and then refocusing or narrowcasting that goal. Is the goal to win more business in a particular industry? That’s a start, but can you narrow that down to specific companies within that industry, such as family-run businesses that are ripe to go public, or companies within a particular geography? The more specific the objective, the more likely rainmakers and their marketing teams can develop tactics to achieve it.
Treat Everyone Like Your Best Client
My dad had several senior leadership posts during his business career, but I always noticed he was as kind and generous to the person sweeping the floors as he was to a member of his board. I’ve seen lawyers who have this ability, and I’ve watched this behavior create a ripple effect between the various people who work for them, their colleagues and their clients. Equitable and gracious treatment tends to be the quality of the very best rainmakers, those who are super-high achievers. They treat everyone well. I’ve also seen lawyers who don’t treat people who work for them the way they should be treated. But in this small world, one day a former employee may turn out to be an industry influencer or best friends with the firm’s most important client.
Marketing Is a Muscle
People are not born knowing how to generate business. Like any other new skill, it takes practice. I remember speaking at my first partner retreat. I was nervous, and although I had rehearsed no less than 100 times and went to the conference room the evening before the event to practice without notes, it was intimidating to deliver a talk in front of 200 partners I had never met. But the second time I spoke at a firm retreat, I was more comfortable (and likely much better). And the third time, I was relaxed, and while I had prepared text, I was happy to entertain lots of questions from the audience and juggle them with ease.
Jeffrey Klein, a superstar lawyer to companies as well as individuals in the sports and entertainment industry, has said that marketing is a muscle. Jeff believes that business development skills require practice, but if one puts in the time and does it over and over again, it will become more comfortable and likely bear fruit.
Practice may not make perfect in the area of rainmaking, and no one lawyer hits it out of the park every time they swing for new business, but practice does increase one’s ability. If you are not used to selling yourself or speaking about your capabilities or those of the firm, start by taking colleague out to lunch and try it with them. Then take a friend outside of the firm to lunch and do the same. Eventually, the more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Superstar rainmakers are not born that way. It takes hard work and practice. Having passion and a plan and treating people well are the key ingredients.
Deborah Farone is founder of Farone Advisors LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on helping law and other professional service firms, technology companies and individuals with strategic planning, marketing strategy, and marketing training. She is also the author of “Best Practice in Law Firm Marketing and Business Development.”