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By the time most law firm associates have reached the senior level (six to nine years out of law school), they have developed the technical skills and proficiency necessary to be good lawyers, and the personality traits necessary to please clients. The associates who are able to use these qualities to bring in new business, as opposed to simply completing the work assigned by partners, are much more likely to become partners themselves one day. So, how does one make the transition? Business development usually revolves around expertise/track record, interpersonal relationships or a combination of the two. An attorney with a highly specialized, hard-to-find expertise (such as enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) or a highly publicized record of success in a unique area (such as defending chief executive officers in white-collar crime litigation) will receive new business without spending much time developing interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, an attorney with a general commercial litigation background will need to diligently pursue and manage relationships with clients and referral sources to develop a steady stream of business. There is no single right way or magic formula for becoming a rainmaker. Successful rainmakers draw on their own personal strengths. It follows, then, that associates seeking to make the transition from worker bee to rainmaker must identify and capitalize on their own unique skills and assets to create a business development plan. Of course, all associate marketing efforts should be consistent with the goals and plans for the firm or practice group. An attorney with a unique skill to market will have an advantage in business development. Most prospective clients with a specific need will pass over the generalist and select an attorney who is a true expert in the area. Accordingly, senior associates should define a niche, or niches, for marketing purposes, and the more specific that niche the better. The niche should be featured prominently in the attorney’s biographical materials and will help focus marketing activities. A senior associate who does not already have a niche, should create one � and update marketing materials to reflect it. In some situations, the nature of the practice may make the niche obvious. For example, an associate in the tax group may have been assigned to work on a variety of state and local tax matters, including a number of property tax valuation appeals. Further, many of those appeals may have involved retail property. This associate could define his or her niche, not as a tax controversy lawyer, but as a tax lawyer who helps retail companies reduce their property tax liability. Once this niche has been defined, the associate can narrow his or her marketing efforts by focusing on retailing associations and getting to know their members, or by writing articles for their newsletters or other publications. While the associate’s resume should continue to reflect that he or she can perform a variety of tax matters, the special area of focus should be front and center. Similarly, an associate with a general commercial litigation or business transaction background can define a niche by focusing on a particular type of client that he has serviced � for example, companies in the telecommunications industry. This associate’s niche could be helping telecommunications companies resolve business disputes or enter new markets. A substantive niche may develop naturally in the course of practicing law. For example, a litigated matter may result in a published judicial decision on a legal issue that affects a common business concern, such as enforcement of arbitration agreements or the interpretation of an agency regulation. Senior associates should take advantage of the time spent working on the case by converting briefs or research memoranda into articles for publication, and offering to speak about the decision to bar and trade associations. Having worked on the actual case automatically cloaks the associate with credibility as an expert in the area. Every article written should be recycled in as many different media as possible. For example, an article written for a bar association presentation can be modified to include fewer legal citations and republished in a trade magazine. It may become part of the handout materials for a client seminar. Of course, copies of the articles should be forwarded to clients and referral sources as a method of keeping in touch and letting them know about the niche. Senior associates may be concerned that an overly specific r�sum� will be self-limiting or will not attract enough attention. This may be addressed by having a r�sum� that features more than a single niche, and that also includes a description of general background and experience. Many attorneys have more than one form of their r�sum�. Senior associates should remember that business development activities are more likely to be successful if they are marketing to someone who needs their services. A very broad r�sum� may reach a larger audience, but a narrowly focused r�sum� will get the attention of the clients who have a specific need in the niche area. Cultivating relationships For marketing purposes, important relationships fall into two broad categories: clients and referral sources. Clients are the people who actually purchase services, and may include current and former clients as well as prospective clients. Referral sources include any person who can refer a client to an attorney. This may include an actual client who refers a new client, a competitor who may be precluded from taking on a particular matter due to a conflict, a partner in the law firm, experts or consultants who also provide services to potential clients, law school classmates and the like. Current and former clients are the best source of new business, and should be a primary focus of marketing efforts. The key is to develop strong personal relationships with the people within the client company who can actually send business, or can help get it, or can serve as a referral source to other clients. Even if the client contact with whom the senior associate deals is not a decision-maker, that person may be promoted or move to another company, or may have contacts with decision-makers in the industry. For purposes of business development with clients, the first step is to provide outstanding service on all matters. Next, senior associates should take the time to develop a personal relationship by getting to know their client contacts as individuals � a good starting point is to spend an extra minute or two in each phone call asking how the client is doing and learning about his or her concerns and interests. Once a senior associate has demonstrated his or her ability to perform and has established a relationship with the client contact, two important activities for developing new business are staying in touch and following up. This can include, for example, sending the client copies of articles that may be of personal or professional interest or helping the client celebrate a victory, a promotion or another significant event with lunch, a gift or a congratulatory card. In-person visits to the client’s place of business is an excellent way to cement and expand a relationship. The visit should be at no cost to the client, and should focus on learning about the client’s business methods, objectives and challenges. Unless the client has requested that the attorney make a pitch, contacts with clients should generally not involve “selling” services or telling the client about the law firm’s capabilities. Rather, senior associates should spend time asking clients about their needs and listening to what they say. After the clients have articulated their needs, the associate can follow up to with information about how he or she, or other members of the firm, can meet those needs. Of course, before engaging in these activities, associates should confer or coordinate with the partner in charge of the client. In the abstract, a list of possible referral sources may seem endless � classmates, bar and trade association members, competitors, former colleagues and clients, and so on. Therefore, senior associates should focus their efforts on “high potential” referral sources, meaning people who know the targeted clients, who believe that the associate will do an excellent job and who are willing to act on the associate’s behalf. Examples of high-potential referral sources include highly satisfied current or former clients, people who have referred business to the associate in the past and people with whom the associate has a strong professional relationship. For these sources, the key activities are staying in touch (occasional phone calls, sending of articles, invitations to speak on a panel, lunch, sporting events, etc.) and letting them know that referrals would be appreciated. This may be as simple as telling the person, “I really enjoyed working on ABC case and would like to handle more of those. Do you have any ideas about how I could get referrals for similar cases?” Additionally, most attorneys keep a long list of referral sources who do not fall into the high-potential category. Given the time constraints facing senior associates, sending an annual holiday card or occasional copy of a pertinent article may be all that is appropriate. Business development plans To make the transition into a rainmaker role, it is essential that associates write a business development plan. A written plan will help the attorney to clarify his or her objectives, focus and prioritize marketing activities and establish a roadmap to success. Step One is to set goals. Why have a plan at all? Business development takes time and perseverance. Associates are not likely to succeed without a strong personal motivation to do so. Accordingly, a plan should start with a statement of the associate’s vision for his or her career path and the personal reasons the associate wants to develop business. For many associates the motivation is simple: advancement to a partnership. However, some associates find that it is more useful to state something concrete, such as: “Control $500,000 in annual billings from clients that I generated on my own.” Once the associate has articulated personal motivations, the next step is to set an annual goal. The goal should be specific, measurable and realistic. For example: “Be retained by XYZ Co. to handle an employment litigation matter,” or, “Become nationally recognized as an expert on new 123 regulations and cultivate referral sources in that area.” Step Two is to focus marketing efforts by selecting marketing targets. When selecting marketing targets, a good place to start is determining where business has come from in the past � is there a regular outside referral source, a client contact who keeps sending new work, a partner in the firm who refers matters? A good marketing plan should identify the names of current and former clients that may be a source of new business, and also identify existing referral sources. Those individuals with whom the associate has a positive history should be the primary focus of marketing efforts. It is also useful to identify new opportunities. If the target is XYZ Co., and the associate has no contacts within that company, then the associate will need to perform some research to determine who can make an introduction to relevant people at XYZ Co. or to identify the organizations that include as members pertinent individuals at XYZ Co. If the associate wants to become known as an expert in 123 regulations, there is likely a bar association that may be interested in 123 regulations. Additionally, appropriate marketing targets may include non-lawyer consultants in the field or trade association members who are subject to the 123 regulations. Step Three is to select marketing activities. Once the associate has identified marketing targets, the next step is to decide exactly what to do to market to those people. For example, if the associate has an acquaintance who works for XYZ Co., selected activities may focus on staying in touch with that person, learning how outside counsel selection decisions are made at XYZ Co. and determining whether XYZ Co. has any unmet legal needs. Specific activities could include having the library or marketing department conduct research about XYZ Co., a phone call and lunch with the acquaintance to obtain information, followed by a request for an introduction to the decision-maker, followed by keeping in touch with the acquaintance and the decision-maker. If the associate wants to become known as an expert in 123 regulations, an important activity would be to determine what speaking and writing opportunities are available within the pertinent bar and trade associations. Most senior associates need to update their biographical marketing materials. Another specific marketing activity may be to create and implement a systematic plan to stay in touch with current and past clients. Step Four is to write the plan. Associates should write down their goals, targets and planned activities, including specific names and dates for completion. They should look at the written plan once a week and check their progress. Senior associates should remind themselves of their personal motivations for business development, and be persistent. Being a rainmaker means being in control of a book of business. An attorney who controls a book of business will have more professional satisfaction and opportunities. Rainmakers generally become partners. Rainmakers are invited to join powerful committees (such as the compensation or executive committee) within a law firm. Rainmakers are able to select the clients and attorneys with whom they wish to work and can command more flexibility in their schedules. Rainmakers are not likely to be targeted for layoffs, and rainmakers have doors opened for lateral movement to more lucrative positions. Associates who choose to invest their time and energy in making the transition from worker bee to rainmaker have little to lose and much to gain. Monica L. Goebel is a consultant with ClientFocus, a business development coaching company based in Roseville, Calif. Previously, she was managing partner of the Phoenix office of Washington-based Steptoe & Johnson LLP. She can be reached at [email protected].

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