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How US Law Firms are building the next generation of rainmakers

There is a generational shift in the buyers of legal services.  So it makes sense that there should be a generational shift in the people trying to connect with those buyers too.

Why this is happening and what firms are doing to encourage the shift was the subject of a fascinating talk at the 2015 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference I’m currently attending.

Here are some of the more interesting things that were discussed. 

"We don't just want to hear from the old white guys"*

Most people agreed that young lawyers had previously been left alone and were often remained an untapped resource when it came to attracting new clients.

To change that, some US firms are now exposing junior lawyers to clients within their first year. This helps develop a client-centric culture at the firm.

Lawyers are also expected to start building their professional networks in their first year. This means taking advantage of the academic, sports and social networks they established at college and matching their networks of classmates to their networks of client contacts.

One mid-size firm reported that a new lawyer bought in US$4.3M worth of business to their firm in 2013 just by tapping into their university network… How’s that for hitting the ground running!

Getting business behaviour right

The temptation in an adversarial profession can be to see opposing counsel as the enemy. But, as one firm pointed out, opposing counsel can be one of the most fertile sources of referral work.

That’s why they remind young lawyers “never be an 'asshole' (or dickhead or rude) to others: whether or not they’re on the opposing side.  For example, if opposing counsel drop their files in court, the least a lawyer can do is ‘help them to pick em up’.  

Starting as they intend to continue

Some US firms are getting Marketing and BD get involved right from the beginning by providing training and coaching in BD as part of their summer grad programs (our summer clerk schemes).

But it doesn’t end there. Firms are starting to show just how vital BD is becoming by including an assessment of whether young lawyers ‘get’ the importance of business development, as part of their overall review. In other words, if you think ‘sales’ is beneath and you ’re afraid to get your hands dirty bringing in new clients, then there may be no job at the end of the program for you.

Some firms are hosting regular panel sessions with successful junior partners and senior associates, which all grads and junior lawyers are expected to attend. In these sessions lawyers learn how to develop business - and their careers - the right way.

Breaking down the hierarchy

Another trend that’s happening in the United States is that junior lawyers are finally getting proper kudos for any wins from their marketing communications teams. No longer do partners automatically get credit for their juniors’ work, as though their staff are an extension of themselves.

Lawyers and associates are included in post-mortems on matters, debriefs on how a client was won or strategy of a case. They’re also:

  • Included in case ‘kick off’ meetings
  • Included in monthly new client meetings to see if their personal networks can help identify contacts or connections
  • Invited to contribute to regular ‘tech talks’ – meetings that discuss new technology, apps or tools in the market.

And every lawyer has a business plan, right from day one.

And finally...

Don’t expect everyone in your firm to become a rainmaker, was one final piece of advice that many firm leaders handed out. But at least do your best to encourage rainmaking, so that those lawyers who rely only on their technical ability become an exception in your firm rather than the rule.

*A direct quote from William Sailer,  Senior Vice President, Legal Counsel, Qualcomm Inc. and former chapter President of ACC about the lawyers they see pitching for work.

Sue-Ella Prodonovich