Advice from the Experts: How to Become a “Rainmaker”
by Leslie P. Lasher, Teague Campbell Dennis & Gorham, L.L.P
At some point, every young lawyer transitions from learning how to practice to learning how to use their practice to generate business. In the first few years, your goal is simply to learn how to practice law. After a few years, the focus shifts from learning how to practice to trying to find your “niche.” Then comes the big one: once you have figured all of this out, you have to figure out how to generate business. Then, maybe one day you will be a “Rainmaker,” which is of course the ultimate goal in the marketing world.
This process generally occurs in steps. Sometimes, though, we have to try to figure all of these things out in one fell swoop. This process is not easy and leads to questions like: What if I am still figuring out what areas I want to practice in? How do I market myself? How to I earn the business of my ideal clients? What organizations are really worth my time? And my personal favorite: How do I sell myself as an expert in a certain area when I have only been practicing four years?
The Young Lawyer’s committee hears these questions all of the time. So, we thought it would be worthwhile to seek some advice, and who better to ask than some of the State’s most highly regarded defense attorneys. Our distinguished panel of experts includes:
- Julie Theall Earp; Smith Moore Leatherwood L.L.P., Greensboro, North Carolina,
- David Allen; Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo, L.L.P., Charlotte, North Carolina,
- Leslie Packer; Ellis & Winters, L.L.P., Raleigh, North Carolina,
- Nick Ellis; Poyner & Spruill, L.L.P., Rocky Mount, North Carolina,
- Don Ennis; Ennis Baynard Morton & Medlin, P.A., Wilmington, North Carolina, and
- Bill Bulfer; Teague Campbell Dennis & Gorham, L.L.P., Asheville, North Carolina
The following recommendations are a compilation of the experts’ intuitive, and sometimes off-the cuff advice on “How to become a Rainmaker.”
1. Quality sells. If you do a good job, people notice. Your current clients will not continue to hire you if you do not produce quality work, nor will they recommend you to others. According to the experts, the main reasons clients choose to fire their attorney is because the attorney was a poor communicator, was not worth their high fees, or did not pay enough attention to their case.
So, while your client may not appreciate how brilliant your brief was on the Motion for Summary Judgment, they are abundantly aware that you cannot spell correctly in an email, always send their correspondence to the wrong address, or cannot explain a basic legal issue in a way they can understand. These are easy things to get right, and they are easy things to be good at. So, it goes without saying that the first step in becoming a “Rainmaker” is to pay attention to detail, sharpen your skills, and perfect your work product.
2. Become an expert. Find something you like, and go with it. Then, learn everything about it that you possibly can. Find someone who is in that field, whether it be an attorney, a client, or a friend, and ask them to teach you everything they know. You should not let your age or year in practice hold you back from learning, but instead use it to help set yourself apart at an earlier age. Ask for a ride along or a plant tour. Take a class in order to learn your clients’ trade or skill. Ask the experts in the area what publications they read, and start reading them. Then, start writing and presenting on topics that are interesting and useful in that particular field. Don’t be shy. Tell your colleagues and your clients about your interest and your new found expertise and ask them if they know a group that would benefit from your knowledge, articles, and presentations. In order to sell yourself, you have to know yourself, so start learning.
3. Sell your product. Once you have the work product and the expertise, one expert says: “you simply have to get out of the cloud that you currently walk around in.” As another expert put it: “you are never going to get a date if don’t ask anyone out.” So, start thinking of yourself as a product provider, and start thinking of everyone you meet as a potential client or a referral source. Figure out who your ideal client is. Figure out what they like to do and where they hang out. Then, go there and hang out with them. Stop telling people what you do for a living and instead tell them how you can help them with what they do for a living. Start telling your ideal clients how much you like to work with them, and ask them to keep sending you work. But, don’t be the pushy lawyer that is always saying “we want your work!” Everyone has the capacity to sell their product, but different approaches work for different people. Forget the dog and pony show and take the time to figure out what works for you, and then, go do it.
4. Build and maintain personal relationships. According to one of our experts, this is the “don’t be a jerk” part. If people think you are a jerk, they are not going to recommend you. According to another expert “Competence is presumed. Relationships are what really make you successful.” So, be genuine and empathetic. Become as invested as you can, and always use the word “we,” never “you” or “me.” Do not be Facebook friends with people you meet, be actual friends. Call people on their birthdays, send them a memento after you win a big case, or send them a handwritten note every so often. If your clients are not up for the standard “conference dinner,” put on your jeans and go watch football instead. Lawyers do not typically get clients by showing the depth of their legal knowledge, so, stop talking about law all of the time. While it certainly does not hurt educate a client on a certain issue, taking a genuine interest in your client will likely get you farther.
5. Be intentional and get involved. Only really lucky people become “Rainmakers” by chance. Yes, some people are just naturally born for it, but for most people, it is going to require a lot of very intentional effort. Start by determining the most important organizations to you and your practice. For attorneys that get business primarily from lawyer referrals, this may mean becoming involved in a state wide organization, like the NCADA or the State Bar Association in order to expand your referral base. For others, this will mean finding the trade association that your niche group of clients belong to. Then, as one expert says “you have to get involved- with capital letters: INVOLVED.” It is simply a waste of your time go to an event and not meet new people, or to be on a committee and offer no input. You have to be dependable, and you have to devote your attention to the organizations you have chosen. When you are engaged and intentional, whether it is in your law firm, organizations, or personal life, good things will follow.
All of the experts unanimously agree on one thing: “Rainmaking” is not rocket science. There is no trick or magic pill. While these attorneys are now experts in maximizing the balance between practicing law, marketing, and generating business, getting there was a career-long process. As one expert aptly noted: “At the end of the day, there are hundreds of lawyers who do exactly what you do, just as well as you do. So, you have to find a way to be memorable. You have to be true to yourself.” Becoming a “Rainmaker” simply does not happen overnight, so we as young lawyers should not become discouraged. We simply have to have our eyes open when an opportunity presents itself, be smart enough to recognize it, and brave enough to take it.