Top Three Tips for Becoming a Successful Rainmaker
1. Create A Niche Practice
It is important to develop a niche practice and to perfect your legal skills in that area. But it is not enough to simply find your niche; you also need to develop a reputation as the “go-to-lawyer” in that particular field. You can achieve that goal by becoming involved in bar associations, seeking out writing and speaking opportunities, and proactively seeking to work on high-profile matters for senior partners, which will give you visibility within your firm and your community. It will also ultimately enhance your ability to attract clients directly and through referrals from other lawyers.
When I began as a young associate, I had the opportunity to join a newly created antitrust practice group in my law firm. This was a daunting challenge, because I had never even taken an antitrust course in law school. I recognized that this would be a terrific way to specialize in a new and growing area of the law and jumped at the chance to join this group. To gain familiarity with antitrust law, I took it upon myself to read treatises and cases on my own time at night and weekends, in addition to working on antitrust matters at the office.
I soon discovered that this had been a great decision, because I enjoy the factual and legal complexities and intellectual challenges of antitrust law practice. It not only involves civil and criminal cases, but also requires knowledge of economics and statistics, and often implicates interesting constitutional issues. The cases are extremely interesting because they each present the opportunity to learn about a wide range of industries.
There were many challenges entailed in developing my niche in antitrust law, including the fact that it has historically been dominated by male attorneys. But I succeeded by applying two traits that women rainmakers should all bring to bear in their work – grit and perseverance, as well as a growth mindset, meaning that you are not afraid to take on new challenges, and develop new expertise through dedication, effort and deliberate practice. Equally important to becoming a successful rainmaker is patience and resilience. You cannot be deterred or unduly discouraged if you are rejected when you make a pitch for business. Instead, try to learn as much as possible if you hit a roadblock, and focus on taking a different approach moving forward.
2. Take Risks
To develop business, you must take the initiative, be willing to take risks and not be afraid to fail. After making partner at a large law firm and developing a significant book of business, I decided to leave the security of a large firm partnership and join with two other women to create the first women-owned law firm in Philadelphia that concentrated its practice in class actions and complex commercial litigation. I wanted to have more control over the types of cases I was handling, and be able to provide more competitive fee arrangements to my clients. I was confident that, given the relationships I had built up with clients over the years, they would follow me to my new firm, where I could offer the same high quality representation I had previously provided, but at more attractive rates.
I also made sure to leave my law firm on good terms and not burn any bridges with my fellow partners. As a result, my former firm became a very valuable referral source, particularly in situations where it had a conflict. In addition, I correctly perceived that forming a small firm could provide significant advantages in my ability to obtain referrals from attorneys in other firms who did not see our firm as a competitor if they needed local counsel or needed a firm to handle a case in which they had a conflict.
Creating a women-owned law firm provided unique marketing opportunities. For example, when we started our firm, it was 1992, the “Year of the Woman” in politics, and we were able to secure a great deal of publicity. Also, programs like the Resolution Trust Minority and Women-Owned Law Firm Initiative set aside work for qualifying law firms. We successfully pursued that business and made it part of our pitch to clients.
In addition, I took a risk when I later joined my current firm, a nationally recognized antitrust boutique. Once again, taking risks allowed me to expand my practice, and my current firm afforded me the opportunity to represent individual defendants in criminal antitrust matters.
I believe that knowing when it is time to make a move and take a risk, and then having the courage to act on that knowledge, are important in developing your book of business. Once again, being gritty is a must!
3. Develop and Maintain Personal Relationships
I believe that another key to rainmaking is developing a close personal relationship and bond with your clients, so you can become a trusted advisor and confidant. The better you understand your client, both personally and professionally, the better able you are to anticipate and address the myriad challenges and issues they confront and gain the client’s confidence that you will successfully handle their matters.
I have assisted clients not only in their specific legal matters, but also in their efforts to attain leadership positions in bar associations and other organizations; to secure their participation as a panelist in programs; to obtain a position on corporate boards; and to facilitate their introductions to in-house counsel at other companies and to other individuals who can help further the client’s own career.
Developing and nurturing these close personal relationships is invaluable, because senior in-house counsel, like their law firm counterparts, often obtain new positions, and you want to ensure that after making a move, the lawyer will continue to refer business to you from the new place of employment.
It is very helpful to stay in touch with college and law school classmates and colleagues from prior firms and matters. I have been pleasantly surprised by numerous referrals over the years that would not have occurred but for my continued contacts with these individuals.
Marketing Activities and Approach
My marketing approach varies enormously from year to year, month to month and even day to day. Ideally, I try to consistently devote at least one hour a week to marketing.
I have a mindset where I look at almost every interaction in which I am involved as a potential rainmaking opportunity. You never know from whom you will get business. Therefore, it is important to broaden your network in business and social contexts to cultivate relationships that may ultimately lead to potential referrals. One of my long-time clients resulted from my interactions with her when I was president of my son’s Parent Teacher Organization and she was the treasurer. As we started working together, I came to know her better, learned about her business, and was able to secure her as a client.
Moreover, I believe it is critical to be active in both your legal and business communities. Participate in organizations outside your law firm by becoming involved in bar associations on the national, state or local level, or in your Chamber of Commerce. Such participation fosters networking, which often leads to business. When you participate, always work to gain a leadership role where others can see your skills in action. Bar association work allows you to meet attorneys from other jurisdictions and practice areas, and those contacts can turn into referrals. Significantly, bar association work provides a unique opportunity to build your profile by speaking and writing in areas where you have a particular expertise.
I also strongly believe that if we are really going to move the needle forward to ensure the advancement of women in the profession and finally make a meaningful increase in the percentage of women equity partners, women lawyers must refer business to other women lawyers. Moreover, as a senior women lawyer, I think it is imperative to implement equitable client succession policies so that younger women lawyers can obtain origination credit for clients with whom they have worked. By doing so, we will help younger women lawyers become rainmakers.
About the Author
Roberta (Bobbi) Liebenberg is a senior partner at Fine, Kaplan and Black in Philadelphia, where she focuses on class actions, antitrust, complex commercial litigation and white collar criminal defense. She twice served as chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, and is chair of DirectWomen, the only organization devoted to increasing the representation of women lawyers on corporate boards. She has received a number of awards and honors, including being named by The National Law Journal as one of the country’s 75 most “Outstanding Women Lawyers,” and received the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and the Martha Fay Africa Golden Hammer Award from the ABA Law Practice Division.