Rainmaking Is All About Relationships: Julie Theall Earp

Julie Theall Earp is chair of the Management Committee of Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP, a firm of more than 165 attorneys in seven offices in the Carolinas and Atlanta, Georgia. She is also a longstanding member of the firm’s Litigation Practice Group and a member of the Labor & Employment Law team. In 2017, she was selected by the Triad Business Journal as a Most Admired CEO and by American City Business Journals’ Bizwomen as one of its 100 “Women to Watch” nationwide. Julie has been ranked in Chambers USA as a leading practitioner in North Carolina Labor & Employment Law since 2006, recognized by Law & Politics Magazine seven times as one of the “Top 50 Women” attorneys in North Carolina, and was voted Greensboro Best Lawyers Employment Law Management “Lawyer of the Year” four times. Over the course of her career, she has been honored to serve as chair of the Middle District of North Carolina Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and as chair of the Employment Law Practice Group of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys.

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What are the top three tips you would give to a lawyer who wants to be a successful rainmaker today?

  1. Don’t view rainmaking as a sales activity. View it as relationship building. The most successful rainmakers are those who are genuinely interested in the prospective client’s business. Approach business development as an opportunity to get to know the prospective client better so that you can provide more meaningful assistance. Choose prospects in which you truly are genuinely interested. Read what they read and go where they go, even if it means that you are the only lawyer in the room. You will stand out that way. Work on the relationship and the business will follow.
  2. Don’t be afraid to show what you can do. We are taught to be humble and not to brag. But speaking the truth about your skill set or connecting the prospective client to another lawyer if you do not have the skill are services that a prospective client will value. In addition, for some, it is much easier to sell the team or another individual than it is to sell themselves. Your teammates can also talk you up in ways that may feel uncomfortable for you. That’s still rainmaking.
  3. Hunt in pairs. It is hard for many people to walk into a room without knowing anyone in it and begin to build relationships. It is easier to travel to those types of events in pairs, being careful to divide the room and work independently, while getting back together from time to time. Hunting in pairs doesn’t work if you are glued to the person who came with you!

If you could engage in only one type of marketing activity for the next 12 months, what would you choose and why?

I think the most effective form of business development is the 1:1 meeting. Recognizing that it takes other “touches” to get to the point when you can ask for the 1:1 meeting, getting to that point should be your primary goal. It is a turning point. At the meeting, you can establish a rapport, build trust, show interest, discuss your experience or skill, and find out if there is an opportunity to meet legal needs. Too many times we view “success” as landing the work. While that is the ultimate success, many other successes must come first. Women can struggle in firms because business development is often built around male-dominated activities, but doing what it takes to get the 1:1 meeting, (speaking, writing, etc.) can be a good fit for women. The 1:1 meeting is the difference between having an acquaintance and building a relationship. Even if the work does not come immediately, well-built and maintained relationships generally lead to work. The advice given in Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People is still a good tool for working toward the 1:1 meeting. Get the meeting and then you can get the work.

How has the world of marketing legal services changed over the last 3-5 years?

My sense is that relying on the size or reputation of the law firm that hires you, alone, is no longer enough for most of us. Young lawyers now must find ways to make meaningful connections with others who either are, or will be, in a position to direct work. That means that in addition to billable time, young lawyers must invest many nonbillable hours in things that interest them and in which they will dedicate the deep effort necessary to build relationships. This is mainly time spent in organizations outside of the firm, whether they are community groups, bar activities, industry/ trade groups, or organizations that center on particular skills.

About the Author

Afi Johnson-Parris is an attorney with Ward Black Law PA in Greensboro, North Carolina, focusing on divorce and veterans’ disability matters. She is co-editor and a contributing author of Marketing Success: How Did She Do That? Follow her on Twitter @johnsonparris.

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