I have written several posts that focus on how lawyers can improve their business development success. The secret to becoming a rainmaker and The secret to becoming a rainmaker – Part 2 are two recent examples. In both posts, the advice is simple – something every lawyer could do. Yet, too many lawyers don’t budge.
The first article I wrote about business development and rainmaking was published in the Texas Lawyer in 1996, “The Myth of the Perfect Rainmaker.” It discusses the “perfect” personality or communication style for bringing in business. Of course, there isn’t one, thus the title.
Jim Dolan is a friend, adviser and sought-after leadership coach and psychotherapist. He works with a lot of lawyers, and writes a column in the Texas Lawyer called “The Lawyer’s Coach.” I have reprinted Jim’s posts on my Law Firm 4.0 Blog, with one about integrity being my favorite.
Jim and I recently visited about lawyers and business development over lunch.
Guest post by Jim Dolan:
Recently my friend Deborah and I were having lunch and talking business. Somehow the conversation got around to the profitability problem law firms face in a time when the marketplace pie is shrinking. We recalled recent studies done by two big financial institutions (Citigroup and Wells Fargo) that both have substantial interests in the fiscal health of firms.
During our discussion, Deborah said, “In the hundreds of partner and firm leader interviews I’ve done related to various initiatives, I always ask, ‘What percentage of your partners would you call rainmakers?’ Surprisingly, the answer is consistently the same. For a dozen or more years, the response ranges from 8-11%.” She noted that firms with origination-based compensation systems trend slightly higher, but, on average, only marginally so.
I’d always known that only a small number of law firm partners were “real producers,” but the 8-11% number was a surprise. What that means is this: between 40-60 lawyers in a 500-lawyer firm pay not only their own salaries and overhead, but support their admins, associates, professional staff and all their families. A real eye opener when viewed in the bright light that illuminates our economic prospects.
But vast opportunity is also revealed. Law firms’ only real capital is their human capital, and the non-producing members represent vast untapped potential. If the 89% could somehow begin to do something, rather than nothing, if they could move their business development activity incrementally, show even a 1 or 2% increase, and if that happened just with 30% or 40% of the non-producing 89%, then law firms would begin to show huge revenue and profitability increases in fairly short order.
How to do this? In my experience, the non-producers see themselves as professionals who provide expertise in specific, highly specialized areas of knowledge. As high academic introverts, they typically prefer to be left alone to work methodically through highly structured, intellectual tasks. It is a great thing they provide, but left undeveloped is their capacity to come to know and listen to their clients as the people they are. (It’s like the surgeon who views his patients as gall bladders or broken arms rather than John Smith, the father of three, or Ava Hanson, the 9-year old dynamo who loves gymnastics.)
Clients want to know who is representing them; and this is the root of business development: -know your client. Does this mean putting on a plaid sport coat and white loafers? Does it mean pretending to be something you are not? Absolutely not, it only means connecting on a human level in a way that is meaningful to your clients. It’s about them, not you.
Regularly stay in touch with clients, ask how business is, stay on top of trends and news in their industry, know their competitors, what your clients’ concerns are, what problems they face, where it hurts, where their emotional labor is going. And it means taking what you learn and doing something with it – show clients how your intellectual resourcefulness can help assuage their concerns.
If that is done frequently enough, then the 89% number becomes 88, 87, 80% –and revenue and profits will rise.
Deborah and I left lunch feeling like we’d solved a big problem, the only one left being to convey that message, which is what I am doing here. Now it’s up to you.