I’m reading a new survey from ALM, New Partners Ambivalent About Rainmaking, Survey Finds, and am aghast at the naïveté of the respondents. Apparently, 49% of new partners surveyed don’t think that their ability to make rain is a deciding factor in their being promoted to partner (equity or non-equity).

Asked how important they think certain factors were in their promotion, 84.4 percent of respondents said they believe they were promoted according to their ability to perform first-class legal work, and 60 percent cited the strength of their commitment to the firm. (Respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.) Just under half—49 percent—of new partners said that their ability to bring in new clients was an important factor in their promotion, although equity partners saw developing clients of their own as somewhat more important than nonequity partners did. “Associates are not adequately aware that they effectively need their own book of business of approximately $750,000 to $1 million to be a partner at a large law firm,” one respondent wrote in the survey. “Even if an associate is promoted, they are destined to be unsuccessful as a partner without this size of a book.”

Wow. Without clients, you know the people who write big checks to the firm, there is no firm. Clients do not appear out of nothing. Those relationships have to be developed over time, years actually, then maintained and hopefully built. Institutional clients no longer exist. You cannot make partner and expect — poof! — originating credits miraculously appear. And to the 84% who think the ability to do first-class legal work is what got you promoted, let me clue you in on something: The ability to do first-class work is stipulated; you would have been fired years before if you could not do so. And while business development might not be the most comfortable of tasks for an individual, it is very important to a firm that their equity partners bring in new business. A law firm cannot exist on service partners alone (unless you hire a Pete). Business development (sales) is not a talent many of us are born with, but it can be learned and developed over time for many (not all). But it first must be engrained into the culture of the firm. Too many firms do not support business development, but expect the results. There is no training or coaching to learn the skills necessary to accomplish the tasks. There are no rewards, in the form of hourly requirement credits, for business development. Too often the hurdles to get approval become insurmountable, and I haven’t even touched on the compensation system. How timely that Dave Bruns and I will be presenting next week at the ALM West Coast Law Firm Marketing & Business Development Leadership Forum in San Francisco: The Total Package: Business Development Integration for Success. This is a topic that is near and dear to the business development teams across the country, and we hope to discuss what firms need to do to support the success of their business development programs.  

  • Lindsay

    Aghast is the right word here. Wow. That’s just amazing.

    And you’re the second person I’ve seen today writing that it’s possible to be taught to be a rainmaker (Jaimie Field mentions it too: http://jaimiefield.com/2014/11/05/rainmaking-recommendation-105-an-attitude-adjustment/), so now there are no excuses.

  • garyemerson

    Pure inanity. Working with small firms, they get it. The offer their young associates and even law clerks coaching to learn business development, and then they have a compensation plan in place to reward them. This is not rocket science.

  • Equally astounding is that 84.4% of respondents say they think they were promoted by doing first-class legal work, and 60% cite the strength of their commitment to the firm. Who do they think pays their quarterly distributions for doing “first class legal work,” and how do they think there’ll be a firm for them to commit to absent generating new work?

    The problem is compounded by the fact that, by and large, the personality traits that drive someone to be a lawyer are the exact opposite of what makes someone want to go into sales. A few law firms have tinkered with having a “sales staff,” non-lawyers who make the initial contacts and meetings, bringing in a lawyer for technical discussions of an issue and to be present when the sales person asks for the work. Still others are looking at hiring a “business development coach,” either on retainer or on staff, to work with lawyers.

    But even if these become widespread strategies, lawyers still need to recognize when a client is talking about something that opens the door to an additional file. Lawyers who think they are totally removed from the business development process are totally removed from reality.

  • this is a fascinating topic right now as a study was just released in Australia (reported by Australasian Lawyer here: http://www.australasianlawyer.com.au/news/major-study-uncovers-the-achilles-heel-of-law-firms-193538.aspx) “by the Australian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and Julian Midwinter & Associates (JMA), ALPMA/JMA Taking the Pulse of Business Development and Marketing in Australasian Law Firms” that reports:

    1. Most Australasian law firms are struggling to develop an effective business development (BD) and marketing programme, despite recognising that it is pivotal to achieving firm growth.

    2. Three-quarters of respondents rated their marketing and BD development function as either under-developed (45%) or just “adequate” (32%).

    3. 80% of participants said hiring additional marketing or BD staff was their firm’s least important approach to achieving growth.

    4. This shows there is a real disconnect between anticipated revenue growth and how firms actually intend to achieve that growth

    What’s clearly apparent in the legal services sector is an astonishing lack of understanding of the business of law by many of the business owners (partners) of law firms. Hence, this would in simple terms explain the failure of many law firms. And the likely failure of more. And should the US adopt UK-style ABS ownership of law firms – the US legal sector will be in for likely years of layoffs, mergers, disruption until in the end (and likely decades later) most B2C legal services will be provided by LegalZoom style organizations with lawyers as employees (and earning much less) and many B2B legal services going in the same or similar direction. I think in this space we’ll see the PwC’s and NewLaw organizations gobbling up swathes of corporate legal work – leaving only a tiny few hyper specialist elite law firms with traditional ownership structures continuing to operate (maybe) and hyper specialist local boutiques continuing to serve the needs of hyper niche business clients. But in 50 years time – American law will likely be run exclusively as publicly held business are – but the road to that end point will be long, slow and painful.

    • Wow. Love how 1&2 are completely out of sync with #3. We’ll see how well that strategy works. There is no Father Sales or BD Fairy coming to rescue them. They have to build this within themselves.

  • well, as we’ve seen many times before and will see many times again, many firms do not pay attention to business realities and fail as a result, And many lawyers have had to scrap their career as attorneys as a result.

  • Those interested in reading the full results of the Taking the Pulse research, mentioned by John above, can download it for free from here: http://www.alpma.com.au/Research/marketing-business-development-benchmarking

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