Robin Hensley
Robin Hensley (John Disney/ALM)

Editor’s note: We are pleased to bring Robin Hensley’s column back to the Daily Report. Although this piece will run in print on Tuesday, due to Labor Day, look for her column every other Monday as she interviews successful lawyers who share their marketing and business development secrets.

Law firms love to tout the former government attorneys in their practices, assuring their clients they have lawyers with firsthand knowledge of how the wheels of government turn. And as far as building business when a government attorney comes on board, it’s just a matter of leaning back and waiting for the phone to ring, right?

Former Justice Department attorney Paul B. Murphy, now at King & Spalding, and former Hawaii attorney general David M. Louie both chuckle at the idea of just waiting for the business to pour in after returning to private practice.

Louie joined Kobayashi Sugita & Goda in Honolulu after his four-year term as AG ended in 2014. He recalls that he had a thick Rolodex but “zero” business to start. Adding to his business development challenge, he had decided to shift his previous, pre-AG practice that centered substantially on insurance defense and construction defect litigation to an additional focus more on commercial litigation, regulatory work and lobbying.

To be sure, Louie already knew quite a bit about building a practice. He was a founder and managing partner at Roeca Louie & Hiraoka (now Roeca Luria Shin) before leaving the firm to accept the governor’s appointment as AG. His CV is loaded with honors, including serving as president of the Hawaii State Bar Association.

Still, he found himself with too much unbillable downtime in the beginning of his second time around as a private lawyer. He did what all the books said to do—attend bar events and business luncheons, write notes to former and prospective clients and never miss a chance to get in front of people who might send him business. And his practice began to take off but not as quickly as he had hoped.

What was missing, he determined, was focus.

“I realized that I only had so much time,” Louie says. “As the former AG, I had lots of speaking invitations, but I began to see I was filling up my calendar with engagements that had marginal value in business development. Rather than just get in front of anybody and everybody, I had to be more strategic. I came to the realization that I had to be relentless in focusing my networking and marketing to people who were in a position to help me.”

That narrow focus, he says, doesn’t apply to everyone.

“For a junior attorney, I think it’s a good idea to seize every opportunity to raise your profile. But I had name recognition; the problem was turning that into business. Just showing up at bar and business events all over Honolulu wasn’t an efficient use of my time.”

Paul B. Murphy: DOJ to King & Spalding

Murphy left a partnership at King & Spalding in 1997 to join the U.S. Department of Justice. He served in several high-level posts, including associate deputy attorney general and U.S. attorney in Savannah. He returned to K&S in 2004 as a partner in its special matters and investigations practice, where he focuses on white-collar crime and False Claims Act defense.

Like Louie, Murphy faced the challenge of turning his name recognition into business. In the beginning, he went in every direction in his quest to get in front of people. In his first two years back at K&S, he says he seldom turned down an invitation to speak or write. As his practice began to take off, however, he says he “began to consider the ROI of every speaking engagement or event, and, if it didn’t fit my strategic objectives for business development, I sometimes had to say ‘no.’”

Murphy says he also had to remind himself of all the business development resources he could lean on at King & Spalding. “As a prosecutor, you get used to being self-sufficient. I had to remind myself that I had an incredible supporting team at King & Spalding, especially other partners who went out of their way to introduce me to potential clients.”

Both men now have robust practices, but they caution that government service shouldn’t be considered a “check-the-box” step in career advancement. Murphy says he took a cut in salary when he went to DOJ and has never calculated whether his government service yielded a long-term ROI. “I’m a believer in following your heart professionally,” he says. “I did it because I wanted to be a prosecutor and I had no grand plan to return to private practice. It never entered my mind whether it would bring me clients if I reentered private practice.”

Louie agrees. “I never thought about ROI. If that’s your motive, I think you’ll be disappointed. Do it because you think it’s the right thing to do and don’t look back.”