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Rainmakers: Law firms must look to the next generation

Janet Ellen Raasch

Janet Ellen Raasch is a writer and ghostwriter who works closely with lawyers and other professional services providers – helping them promote themselves as thought leaders within their target markets through publication of articles and books for print and rich content for the Internet. She can be reached at (303) 399-5041 or jeraasch@msn.com.

The financial health of most law firms relies on the efforts of a few rainmakers – lawyers who are able to keep the new-business pipeline flowing while their colleagues focus on the practice of law. Who will make the rain fall at these firms when it comes time for the traditional rainmakers to retire or move on?

Often, a gap exists between the generation of lawyers that has developed the firm’s current business and the upcoming generations that have no experience in this area. For law firms functioning in an ever-more-competitive environment, this generation gap can have serious business consequences.

“To solve this problem, law firms should create – and put into effect – a formal structure to encourage and reward the passing of rainmaking skills from one generation of lawyers to the next,” said Mark Maraia. “When we asked our clients about the best time to begin training associates in business development, the consensus was the third or fourth year.

“Not all of these associates and junior partners will be natural rainmakers,” said John Mitchell, “but each can find something that he or she is good at – in addition to the everyday practice of law – that will bring additional business to the firm in the years to come. They key is to discover each lawyer’s unique existing strength – and build on it.”

Maraia and Mitchell discussed development of a law firm’s next generation of rainmakers at a meeting of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Legal Marketing Association, held April 11 in Denver at the Oxford Hotel.

Maraia, a lawyer and business development coach to lawyers, is the author of Rainmaking Made Simple. Mitchell, also a lawyer, specializes in working with leaders to accelerate the pace of their personal and professional development within law firms. Both are with Denver-based Maraia & Associates (www.markmaraia.com).

Participate in meetings

“One of the best ways to pass rainmaking skills along to associates and junior partners is to involve them in the process of preparing for business development meetings,” said Mitchell. “Then, bring them – as active participants – to those meetings. Let your associates observe a cross-section of the firm’s best rainmakers in action.”

Smart lawyers prepare for business development meetings well in advance. “You wouldn’t think of going to court to persuade a judge or jury without careful and complete preparation,” said Maraia. “Similarly, you should not go into a meeting, to persuade a prospective client to hire you or give you more business, without a significant level of preparation. You simply cannot prepare in the cab on the way to the business development meeting. And yet, this is exactly what most lawyers do.”

“Delegating some of the research that goes into meeting preparation can be a win/win approach for a busy rainmaker,” said Mitchell. “The associate or junior partner learns how to prep for a meeting, while the senior lawyer is able to bill more hours. Librarians, legal assistants, secretaries and other staff can also lighten the preparation load.”

Principals at Maraia & Associates advocate the NQA approach – needs, questions and advances – to preparing for a business development meeting. “Lawyers crave structure,” said Maraia. “As coaches, we ask our lawyer/clients to employ each of these elements in a disciplined approach to preparation. Following this structure helps busy attorneys avoid ‘random acts of lunch’ and other non-productive interactions.”

Prepare needs, questions and advances

A lawyer who is looking for new business should focus on the personal needs and fears of a prospective client rather than on the needs of the organization. “People are far more likely to hire you when you show sensitivity to their personal needs – such as looking good to their boss, staying within their budget and getting promoted,” said Maraia.

Before any business development meeting, lawyers should prepare a list of question that will uncover important information about the client and its needs. “You should consciously plan to listen carefully to the potential client’s answers to these questions,” said Maraia, “rather than launching into a long presentation about your firm.”

“Seeking an ‘advance’ means that a lawyer should be thinking about the next step in building the relationship with a potential client,” said Maraia. “How do you want the meeting to end? Do you want it to result in a follow-up phone call, another meeting with the same person, or a meeting with someone else in the company? Determine this ‘advance’ before the meeting even takes place.”

As you plan for the meeting, give the associate or junior partner a meaningful role. “The person you are training as a rainmaker should participate in the meeting in direct proportion to the amount of work that he or she would actually be doing,” said Maraia. “Give them a few relevant questions to ask – questions to which a support lawyer would logically want to know the answers. Rehearse. Then, let them shine in the meeting.”

After any business development meeting, debrief with the team. “Do this right away,” said Maraia. “Immediacy is critical. It is shocking how many important details you can forget by waiting even a few days.

“Discuss what went right and what could be done differently next time,” said Maraia. “Discuss who is going to follow-up – when and how. Listen carefully to the comments of your associates or junior partners. They have a different professional perspective and they are from another generation. They will hone in on important details that senior lawyers may totally miss.”

Associates and junior partners can also be involved in speeches and presentations. The goal of any presentation is to start or deepen a relationship with the people in the audience. Ahead of time, associates and junior partners can research the audience and the topic, and personally call firm clients and prospects with an invitation. They can attend the speech, and – ideally – participate in the presentation.

“Just like in a business development meeting, you can give associates and junior partners a few good points to contribute so that they will be perceived as emerging experts,” said Mitchell. “Work with them to systematically follow up with audience members to maximize the marketing value of the presentation. Any presenter who doesn’t follow up misses out on most of the value of public speaking.”

Develop a practice focus

A successful law firm rainmaker can tell you exactly who is his or her ideal client – and who is not. In other words, a successful rainmaker’ practice has a focus – the more specific, the better.

Current rainmakers should work with the next generation as mentors – formally and informally – helping associates and junior partners to determine their ideal, narrowly defined target markets, identify new prospects within these markets, come up with a plan for meeting and creating relationships among these new prospects, and create metrics to make sure that these plans really get put into practice.

“Remember, however, that your ideal client is not the same as their ideal client,” said Mitchell. “As a rainmaker/mentor, your job is not to create your clone. It is to help associates and junior partners discover and pursue their unique passion in the law – and to help them develop a structured approach for pursuing new work in this market.”

Share the relationship

Successful rainmakers can create their successors by sharing – clients as well as billing credit. “Give one of your clients to the up-and-comer,” said Mitchell. “It does not have to be one of your top clients, but it should be a good client with growth potential.

“Nothing breeds success like success,” said Maraia. “This experience promotes confidence in the young lawyers and accelerates their business development learning process. In addition, young lawyers who have good relationships with their own clients are happier and less likely to be lured away by your competitors.”

Sharing billing credit with other lawyers frees senior lawyers to do more rainmaking while inspiring associates and junior lawyers to work harder because they have a stake in the outcome. “One of our clients went from bringing in $500,000 a year in work that he did mainly himself to $3.5 million a year in work that he shared,” said Maraia. “Shared billing has made him the most popular lawyer to work with in his firm.”

Involving associates and junior partners in meeting and speech preparation, developing a practice focus and actual client relationships are just three ways in which rainmakers can helps train the next generation of business development experts at their firms. In addition, inside or outside coaches can be asked to assist with this process.

“Once you decide to take this step, the most important thing is to be consistent,” said Maraia. “Most lawyers already know which skills they need in order to be successful as rainmakers,” said Maraia. “They just don’t act consistently to put this knowledge into practice – because there is no structure in place. If you act consistently – and I mean 100 percent of the time – on what you already know, you will be successful as a rainmaker.”

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