I don’t know why this isn’t intuitive, but, if you bring in new business to a law firm, or you are identified as having the ability to bring in new business, your job will be, for the most part, safe in this economy.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog discusses this in Do Law Firm Associates Fear Rainmaking? The blog quotes Thomas L. Friedman’s New York Times Op-Ed, The New Untouchables:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

However, I find that the following paragraph in the original article, omitted in the WSJ post, incredibly on point:

That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.

Did you catch this line? “Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait.”

When the economic downturn, recession, depression is over, it will NOT be business as usual.

In addition to the right education mentioned above, I will add, more importantly, the need for the right TRAINING as well. I have discussed here, here and here the need for law schools to better identify and promote business skills, which include the ability to make rain.

I’m not talking necessarily talking books of business in the millions of dollars, but enough so that each attorney is able to feed themselves, and I am not talking “eat what you kill” compensation systems. Moving forward, service partners will only be in demand when times are flush, and the business is over-flowing. But their jobs will always be on the line.

At prior firms I have seen specific rainmaker/service partner relationships that work well, when times are good. But, once a practice slows down due to the loss of the service partner to retirement or another firm, for instance, or the slowing of the economy that most firms have felt these past couple years, who is the first attorney to be shown the door? The rainmaker. No. The attorney with the capability to make rain? Not right away. Or the service partner?? Ding, ding, ding, ding.

I know that a lot of lawyers went to law school to be lawyers, and not necessarily businessmen and women, or, worse yet, salespersons.

However, the practice of law has evolved dramatically over the 11-plus years that I have been in legal marketing. The institutional clients, who were passed down from senior partner to junior partner, the bread and butter of the firm for the past 75 years or more, no longer exist nor can they be depended upon for new and sustainable business. In addition, as firms have grown over the years, they have become multi-million, hundreds of million, or BILLION dollar businesses, and are now managed that way.

I also know that the skills necessary to make it to the top of your class in law school are not necessarily the skills that are needed to prepare you for a career as a legal rainmaker. And, unfortunately, most firms expect you to develop and learn these skills intuitively, and do not provide business development training and coaching as a part of their culture.

The WSJ Blog concluded with this:

So what about rainmaking — or “client development” in the more antiseptic law-firm parlance — is so risky? We’re not entirely sure. But here’s a thought: Bringing in business — at least in its rawest form — involves a bit of gladhanding and salesmanship, which, yes, isn’t always going to work. So the risk is that such efforts will fail, something that lots of lawyers just don’t have the stomach for.

Wow. How depressing.

I’m not going to leave you hanging there. We’re about solutions at The Legal Watercooler. So here are three things you can do today:

1. Personally invest in coaching & business development training

If your firm won’t pay for coaching or training, pay for it yourself. You’re still making a pretty good salary. And considering you’ve already invested tens of thousands into your education, what’s a couple thousand more? There are a wide range of companies and consultants who offer training and/or coaching in every market in the United States. You can expect to spend a minimum of $200 a month for coaching, and $2500-$5000 for business development training, which might or might not include one-on-one follow-up coaching.

2. Take advantage of your firm’s marketing department, or local Legal Marketing Association.

If your firm has a marketing department, make use of their time. Take a marketer to lunch and pick their brain for things you can do to enhance your practice … and do them.

If your firm doesn’t have a marketing department, check out your local Legal Marketing Association and attend some of their monthly meetings. We’re a friendly bunch and pretty helpful. Make contact with the local chapter president, and have them introduce you around the meeting. There are also numerous legal marketing blogs you can follow.

3. Take a rainmaker to lunch.

Identify the rainmakers in your firm and take each one to lunch. Ask them how they built their practices. I promise that each one has a style all their own and you will pick up new and useful information that will help you build your legal practice.

If this is not feasible, look to your law school alumni association. Who amongst your locally practicing alum has a prominent or successful practice? Call them up and ask to take them to lunch. Prey on their ego. The worst thing they can do is say no.

Making rain for MOST lawyers is not intuitive or instinctual, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t feel natural, but the skills can be learned if you avail yourselves of the resources … and the resources are out there. You just have to invest your time, and perhaps your money.