Thank you, Above the Law, for your wonderful click-bait in today’s “Associates Bonus Watch” memo:

Associate Bonus Watch: A Litigation Powerhouse Announces

Some associates are pleased, but others don’t like the firm’s expanding marketing requirement

Oh, who, pray tell, could this firm be?

No need to click through. It’s Quinn Emanuel.

In the accompanying article, Quinn Emanuel’s New Marketing Initiative: An Interview With John Quinn, John B. Quinn describes the new initiative:

We’re asking every associate and counsel in the firm to participate in at least one marketing project during the course of the year. These projects might include contributing to a presentation to a prospective client about a potential new engagement, helping to write an article, doing some research on an industry, or a host of other things. The project must be approved by a partner.

emphasis added

Sounds like Quinn Emanuel just served up a big glass of legal marketing Kool-Aid to their associates, and they are not all too pleased about it. 

When asked by ATL, “shouldn’t business development and marketing be left to the people who are actually good at it, whether they’re associates or partners, instead of getting the entire firm involved?” Mr. Quinn responded:

In this effort, there is a role for everyone. The idea that some people are marketers and some are not is simply wrong. Whether they know it or not, all lawyers are marketers, making impressions for good or ill in the business and legal community. A very few are naturally good, some get good by working at it, some are oblivious, and some are just bad. We should find a way for all to be contributors. It’s important for the firm to succeed, but it’s also important for the associate to succeed. It’s very empowering to to know how new work comes in and what succeeds and what doesn’t. It’s like the saying about giving someone fish to eat versus teaching them how to fish. We’d like to demystify the process of how work comes in the door.

As for “the new initiative being tied to bonus eligibility, and why is time spent on these (very worthwhile) marketing efforts not includible in the 100-hour non-billable allowance towards bonuses?” Mr. Quinn replied:

It’s important; we want to make sure people understand that we think it’s important, and we really want them to do it. If we tie it to bonus eligibility, I hope we’ll get 100% participation. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to do this without expecting to be paid more for doing it. We also conduct deposition and trial training programs; we expect people to attend those, but we don’t pay them extra for getting that kind of professional training. Marketing is important too.

Why now?

Quinn Emanuel is one of the most profitable and successful firms out there, so why now? Considering Mr. Quinn graduated Harvard Law School in 1976, I’m going with retirements are looming for many of the firm’s current rainmakers.

Reputation and PPEP aside, Quinn Emanuel is still a law firm and has to deal with what all firms deal with when their founding partners retire (or get close to retirement): Someone has to bring in the business. It’s about the legacy of the firm.

Learning how to develop new business is not a skill taught in law school. From my experience, many of the firms we work at were founded by partners who naturally brought in new business. They had great legal skills, great people skills, and at the right time they started a great firm. Over time, those firms became very successful, but no one realized or paid attention to HOW the business was coming in until the rainmakers started to retire.

As these partners retire, a business development vacuum is created. Who is going to bring in the work? If you’ve been riding a rainmaker’s coattails for 20-plus years as a service partner, it’s going to be really tough for you to turn about and learn this new (to you) skill. That’s when the lateral hiring as a strategy (unsuccessfully) kicks in, mergers start to happen, or firms just quietly close their doors.

The BEST thing an associate can do is learn marketing and business development skills early on, and appreciate what the firm is attempting to do: provide you with a marketable skill.

There are no shortages of highly skilled lawyers set loose by their firms because they do not have the right stuff to make partner. But skilled lawyers who can bring in the business? They are highly prized, rarely found, and well compensated … and they possess skills that we legal marketers can and do teach. We’re just looking for the right students.

So kudos to Quinn Emanuel. And my hat is off to all the associates and counsel taking advantage of this initiative.