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Kendal Tyre, age 36, has a client base that rivals those of attorneys with three times his experience. How has he been so successful after just 10 years of practice? In the fourth installment of our rainmaker series, meet Nixon Peabody’s Tyre, a second-year partner who has built an impressive list of clients by networking in affinity groups and making the most of his opportunities. Do you recall your first client? Yes, it was incredible to me at the time because it was a household name — Blockbuster Entertainment. It came about as a result of my involvement in the National Bar Association, the oldest and largest bar association of predominantly African-American lawyers, judges, and law students. I became involved in the organization because a senior partner at the firm thought that it might be interesting for me to network with other African-American legal professionals. That has been one of the best things I have done in my legal career. Going to my first convention, in 1994, opened my eyes and allowed me to interact with general counsel and minority in-house counsel at major corporations. A couple of years after that, I received a call from someone I had met in the organization who had just moved to an in-house position at Blockbuster. He called on a Wednesday afternoon, and by that evening, Nixon Peabody was retained to handle a litigation matter. On Thursday and Friday, two additional matters arrived. As a third-year associate, I found myself managing work assignments from clients who thought it was important to reflect diversity in their outside legal counsel. It was a litigation matter? Yes, and I’m a transactional attorney. But it began what was a very exciting couple of years. For me, it underscored the importance of networking within minority bar organizations. There’s a tremendous sense of community — a sense that we are standing on the shoulders of others who have come before us, and therefore we have an obligation to help others. Many people join organizations, yet it never results in business for them. What is it that you’ve done that’s made this strategy work? I’m involved in something I really care about. Since 1994, I’ve gone to every convention of the National Bar Association. I’ve chaired committees, spoken on panels, and next year I’ll serve as chief of staff to the incoming president of the organization. And I’ve treated each project or assignment as if it were a billable work assignment. When you do that, people notice how you handle yourself, how you execute your committee projects, the diligence and the passion you bring to the association’s work. You show them your commitment, and they realize that you’ll bring that same passion and hard work to projects that they might send to you as a client. Ultimately, it comes down to who they trust. And the reverse is true as well, right? Absolutely. Some people look at joining organizations as a business development quick fix. They attend a conference and come back with 30 business cards and that’s supposed to mean something. Or they join a committee, but don’t really contribute. Those things simply don’t work. It’s the “slow grow” that’s so much more effective. You get the business cards, you make the initial contacts, you follow up with clippings of relevant news articles, you follow up with client newsletters, and you do great work on every committee in which you participate. Eventually, when an issue comes up in your practice area, people remember you. You’re a transactional lawyer, a practice area that’s in deep recession. How have you kept your practice going? You have to look at any slow time as just another opportunity — to do more writing, to do more speeches. And you can never really do too much, as far as service for your current clients. Do you think that business development is somehow different for you because you’re an African-American lawyer? No. Some people happen to be involved with their alumni organization. Some spend a lot of business development time on the golf course. Others join women’s organizations. This just happens to be what I’m into. However, marketing in and among affinity groups has definitely come to the forefront of marketing strategies. As the African-American community has evolved professionally, there are more minority attorneys who hold very powerful positions in organizations. That creates opportunities that perhaps didn’t exist 20 years ago. So, undoubtedly the payoff is greater for those who are focused on those communities. But regardless of how you market your practice and where you market, at the end of the day, you have to deliver the goods. What business development techniques do you think work best for you? I’m still a relatively young practitioner, so I market to my peers. Often, when people walk into a room, they try to talk to the people who have all of the power and authority. I’ve gravitated more toward people who are my age — maybe someone who’s new to the in-house position or who’s still in private practice, but may eventually move on. I look to my peers as a source of potential work, not only in minority bar organizations, but also in other organizations. Do you specifically ask them for their business? Yes and no. I don’t think there’s any real formula. It’s just having a sense of the person — getting a feel for what their comfort level is and what they’re looking for. Often, it’s very easy to just say, “Our firm does that,” or, “Who are you hiring for counsel? What are the prospects of you hiring our firm or me?” Have you been able to transcend the relationship beyond that person? You need a base of work that you’re doing with them in a variety of disciplines to make sure that the client becomes institutional. Of course, it’s easier if you develop the right relationship with your initial contact and have a level of rapport and communication where you can confide in them. You can tell them, “I’m really trying to build my practice and I’d appreciate if you’d listen to a pitch that we’ve just put together,” or, “I’d really like you to introduce me to . . .” A lot of lawyers are very uncomfortable with business development. Have you felt that discomfort? How have you gotten over it? On occasion, I’ve felt some discomfort, but it’s something that has to be done. Sometimes you do things that you don’t like. As you progress through a law firm, there are certain skills that you have to acquire, and business development is one of those skills. Much of it is trial and error. You have to find what works for you. You have to have some appreciation for what your talents are and cling to those talents. Be honest with yourself. So what do you think your talents are? My talents are developing relationships with people, anticipating their needs, and delivering a solid work product myself and/or pooling available firm resources to deliver what’s needed. What would you say are the things you don’t like about business development? I just wish I had more time. Sometimes my life feels like an experiment in sleep deprivation. There are a number of opportunities that I see that I’d like to take advantage of, but there is often not enough time in the day to do the billable work that I need to, manage my current clients, and at the same time, pursue my business development goals. What are your current business development goals? My recent focus is on launching Nixon Peabody’s new “Diversity Initiative.” The objective of the initiative is to assemble teams of partners and associates to pursue clients who have identified diversity as a requirement for their outside counsel. If a potential client is interested in diversity, we assemble a client service team that consists of minority attorneys with the appropriate skills or experience. These attorneys may second- or third-chair a transaction, but the ultimate objective is to give them the skills and experience to one day first-chair a deal. From the clients’ perspective, they get the diversity they’re looking for in their outside counsel. From Nixon Peabody’s perspective, it addresses the need to develop our minority attorneys and our business. And hopefully, it positively impacts retention. For me, it gives me an opportunity to further scale my practice. What’s next for you? There’s an informal group of us who are pooling our resources for business development in a variety of countries. I have a number of contacts with the Society of Black Lawyers in England and Wales. In 2001, I worked with the president of the Black Lawyers Association in South Africa and moderated a panel with members of that organization on the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a recently enacted U.S. trade bill. I am also developing ties with the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. I’m interested in bringing together these networks so that there’s mutual benefit for all concerned. With the globalization of the different marketplaces, I think that’s the next stage for marketing within these various organizations. What advice would you give to a young lawyer? Really know your substantive area of law. At about the third year, it becomes equally important to honestly assess where you are, where you want to go, and to start developing the relationships that you’ll need to get there. You have to take control of your own career. I set out to build those relationships that I thought I would need to be successful. That’s essentially what I’ve done, and that process never ends. You can never discount the importance of your internal relationships either, especially early in your career. What do you know that you wish you knew when you first started? I wish I knew about these organizations the day I entered law school. I am always surprised at the number of minority attorneys at large and small firms who are unaware of the networks available to them. It’s really a shame because when I return from a National Bar Association convention, I feel invigorated and ready to face another year. When you understand the history and the burdens that African-American practitioners have faced in the past, when you understand their struggle and appreciate what they were able to accomplish despite the odds, you feel a tremendous sense of pride. It’s a legacy that is your own — and it’s a legacy to build upon in your own way. Felice C. Wagner, a former practicing attorney, is CEO of Sugarcrest Development Group Inc. Her D.C.-based firm gives seminars and training programs throughout the country on business development and client loyalty. She is president-elect of the Legal Marketing Association’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter. She can be reached at (202) 828-1242 or at [email protected].

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