Lawyers & Rainmaking
March 18, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: Friend is a senior litigation associate in a mid-sized firm in a smaller legal market. Partners have told him they want to see more business development. Problem is, the market is a mature one, saturated with firms. How does he make it rain?

His firm does corporate defense work primarily, mostly for very large companies, who all have in-house counsel and who all have not just one but several law firms in place already. His firm already has relationships with most of the largest businesses in the area (and a couple of the others, they'd be conflicted out); they already get work from all available insurance companies; and there isn't a lot of business growth occurring in this economy.

So the partners want him to make it rain, but how? In a saturated, mature market where one is a defense attorney, how does one drum up new business? I assume much of this work will be convincing clients with existing legal relationships they'd rather be in a relationship with you, but what are some specific steps? Where can he search for business?

Things he is currently doing: Teaching some continuing ed seminars for lawyers and paralegals on a technical area he is pretty expert on; joined local volunteer groups and bar associations; developing relationships with other firms to get referrals relating to this very technical area. (His practice is reasonably broad but obviously it's easier to get referrals in the narrow area where he's the only guy in town with the expertise.) Should he target particular local groups? Write articles for consumer/business publications? Write them for law journals? Should he become a local newsmedia gadfly/expert doing legal commenting?

(Also, any rainmaking will have to occur without a falloff in billable hours, and my friend has a family to go home to at night, so how time-intensive things are is at least a consideration; a large investment of time with a large payoff is okay, but not a large investment of time with minimal payoff.)

A lot of the rainmaking advice seems targeted towards plaintiff's attorneys, and isn't useful for defense attorneys. He's looking for input not just from other lawyers but also from people generally who may have insight into why their business changed attorneys and how he could replicate that, or whose business development skills/techniques in other industries would also be useful in law.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Could he write--for a newspaper, legal journal, blog, whatever--about something in his area of expertise? That would give him wider exposure and more clout in his area, which could result in people calling him for advice, leading to more business.
posted by sallybrown at 11:23 AM on March 18, 2010

Since the clients are businesses, has he considered that old standby, the country club? The intersection of 'family friendly,' 'affordable,' and 'also frequented by business owners' may be vanishingly small, though. Other options might include the Rotary Club and similar organizations. If he doesn't have any qualms about mixing God and Mammon, what about church, if that's his thing? He could also get involved with the local Chamber of Commerce.
posted by jedicus at 11:37 AM on March 18, 2010

My SO spends all day working with attorneys on Business Development and here's his Hot Tip: the adult novelty industry. If your friend's firm can stomach it, there's a huge untapped (excuse me) market out there.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 11:43 AM on March 18, 2010

Joining an inn of court may be helpful.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:56 AM on March 18, 2010

Oh, here's one. Since we're in a recession, more clients are failing to pay their bills, which leads to collection actions. He could look into doing defense work for those companies, though it's not likely to pay very well for obvious reasons.
posted by jedicus at 12:01 PM on March 18, 2010

Background: I am a VERY junior partner at lower-tier BigLaw in a small-ish city, who used to work in a big city, struggling with rainmaking.

OP, I feel for your friend. At one of my old firms, associate business development "requirements" were one of the many nefarious ways in which the associate ranks were thinned. Associates who various partners really wanted admitted into the partnership were bequeathed clients or were somewhat clandestinely "cut in" to existing or new relationships, so that on paper, they showed business development when in reality it was something that was not entirely theirs to claim.

At many large firms, the type of work that most associates are able to get isn't the kind of work that the firms are interested in. It's a lose-lose situation.

In a sane and rational world, when an associate hears "we need to see more business development", that should mean that those evaluating the associate for partnership want to see the associate performing more activity which could, in the future, lead to business. So, participation in the business community (and yes, befriending people who might be in a position to refer work to you or hire you), becoming known as an expert in a specialty, etc. At evaluation time, associates point to the few gems they have cultivated, and the partnership looks to that as proof that the associate "has what it takes" or at least has the potential to develop real business. That's the way it SHOULD work in a sane world, but sadly, I suspect the reality is that some firms are saying to associates, "if you don't have an $x of business, you'll never make partner".

Some advice I have seen is that your friend should try to find situations where he is the only lawyer in a room full of people who are in a position to need the type of lawyers at his firm. As an associate, I was encouraged to participate in civic activities with other "young professionals", not because my firm thought that the junior analysts that I was hanging out with would give a 2nd year associate any business, but in the hope that in 10 years when I would be a partner and they would be a VP of somethingorother, that relationship might turn into some actual business. Most of that sort of business development is VERY long-term, and unfortunately, showing a book of business when you're up for partnership or being evaluated is all about "what have you done for me recently".

What others say is that to some extent, it is a numbers game. You start with the small mom-and-pop shops, help them out with their small problems, and hope that they succeed and grow and start needing help with larger problems.

So that's me repeating what I have been told.

I am struggling with a lot of this myself so here is what has worked for me in my own business development:

1. Luck
2. Leveraging VERY specific expertise through cross-marketing (i.e., Joe, a partner at my firm, does work for Client X, and learns that Client X needs help in the specialty area that I have experience in; or, better yet, Joe introduces me to Client X to see if they need my expertise).
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:27 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am a lowly law student, but had the same initial thought that QuantumMeruit discussed with actual detail (which I do not have, of course). From what I've heard, sometimes firms do stuff like say they want more business development so they can have an excuse to let people go later on. Not saying that's what your friend's firm is doing, and this may reflect my distrust of biglaw based on gossip I hear from other students, as well as junior associates.
posted by ishotjr at 12:36 PM on March 18, 2010

Has he kept up relationships with law school classmates who now work in other geographic areas? Another possibility for drumming up business is when an out-of-town business entity needs to find an in-town lawyer for a matter, and those referrals can come from former law school classmates. Keeping himself visible in non-local ways -- through publications especially -- can also be a good way of doing that.
posted by palliser at 3:42 PM on March 18, 2010

Tell them that if he wanted to be a salesman, he wouldn't work for a firm.

But yeah, networking.
posted by gjc at 6:19 PM on March 18, 2010

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