Learning the art of rainmaking

Learning the art of rainmaking

The problem faced by nearly all lawyers who set out to build their practice is that they are the product they also have to sell. The Indian lawyers’ pie may be large but taking the first nibble is often the hardest part.

In law school and in the first few jobs, young lawyers will hopefully be taught ways to hone the product. But no client will come to seek out another excellent young lawyer: nowadays, there are so many other good lawyers about.

Unfortunately, many good young lawyers are not naturally great at sales or business development, as it is referred to in polite circles. In fact, many studies suggest the majority of lawyers are not good salesmen at all.

Star rainmakers are the rare exceptional specimen. Every rainmaker is unique in his own way, but the stereotypical one is the smooth talker, the life of the party, the one everyone drifts towards at the conference, or the one who inspires confidence and awe within 10 seconds of talking to him.

The rainmaker concept is also what makes the tried-and-tested law firm model so successful. The rainmakers, who are good at attracting clients, rise up the narrowing pyramid towards partnership, the pinnacle of achievement within the traditional law firm structure.

The work the rainmaker brings in trickles down the pyramid where a larger number of excellent young lawyers, sometimes together with the rainmaker, deliver the product (do the law). And to a certain extent, the law firm can commoditize sales into a marketing and business development department that can help the almost-rainmakers punch above their weight, or call in the assistance of more senior partners on the rainmaking efforts.

And so the cycle continues. The firm’s partnership keeps growing and everyone (at the top and bottom) gets richer.

Now what should a young lawyer do if he fancies as having a bit of rainmaker potential? Clients have started getting to know and trust him; maybe they even like him. The young lawyer even managed to get a small piece of work from a client new to the firm whom he met socially.

If the law firm is doing things properly and by the book, the partners will already suspect or know that he has a rainmaker (or at least partnership) potential, before he himself does. The partners would be grooming this potential by encouraging the young lawyer to meet more clients, improving interaction skills and sharing the secret tricks of the art by example, instruction and mentoring.

But, more often than not, for a variety of reasons, they may not. A partner or law firm may be unaware that this is what they should be doing and that it could be in their interest—after all, things have worked fine so far at Lex Law and Co., so why bother changing it?

Maybe the structure of the law firm isn’t conducive to this either. How does a firm adequately and fairly reward an excellent young lawyer in an equity model that is still mostly a big pool divided by one or by a small number of family members?

Or, possibly, there just isn’t enough space at the top—a more excellent young lawyer or a boy with bluer eyes may get the promotion, while the good lawyer languishes as a senior-principal-associate-designate-in-waiting.

Or, most worryingly, a partner may feel insecure about lifting up this excellent young lawyer, cocky and hungry and with an expensive Indian and foreign legal education behind him. One day, the pupil may eclipse the master and take away the master’s clients to boot.

Then, your paranoia rising, you start wondering. What if I can do this work entirely without a partner? What if I know more than the partner about most of these deals, and what if half the clients speak to me more often and rely on me more than they do on the partner? What if the money I billed on that last case went directly into my own pocket and I was sitting at the biggest desk in the office?

The conclusion some excellent young lawyers draw is obvious from the statistics of new firms mushrooming in India’s metro cities.

But whether the new law firm does survive, as today’s feature suggests it can, will depend first and foremost on salesmanship, followed by years of patience and committed consistency.

Alternatively, the excellent young lawyer could forego most of the business development and marketing-speak and just find that influential relative or godfather in the industry or the legal profession.

Kian Ganz is a lawyer-turned-journalist based in Mumbai, from where he publishes legallyindia.com.

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