With Attorney Coaching Programs, One Size Does Not Fit All

 In 2006, my firm was a 13-attorney boutique commercial litigation firm in Portland, Oregon. More than 80 percent of our revenue was generated by David Markowitz, the firm’s co-founder. It became clear that this model was unsustainable. Dave would eventually retire and without his rainmaking abilities, the future of the firm was in question. Leadership realized it was crucial for other attorneys in the firm to cultivate rainmaking skills. The goal was to eventually get to a point where Dave originated 20 percent or less of the firm’s revenue, without reducing the amount he generated.

Dave, one of the most prolific rainmakers in Oregon, created an attorney coaching program that has since changed the trajectory of the firm. Now, eight years later, the firm has reached its goal, with Dave generating 20 percent of revenues, while the dollar amount of revenue he generates has increased, not declined. Our firm has grown to 26 attorneys, and the firm now has a rainmaking culture that encourages all of our attorneys, from junior associates to senior partners, to participate in business development activities.


The program, outlined below, works well for our firm. However, many other types of law firm coaching programs are available. I have spoken with several of my fellow marketing colleagues at firms of various sizes, who have robust coaching programs. The scope and approach of their programs vary, but all agree that they have made a significant difference in their firms’ bottom line.

Markowitz Herbold PC – 26 Attorneys

The Markowitz program is simple. All attorneys in the firm are invited to participate, however participation is not mandatory. Currently, all associates and most shareholders are in the program. Every three months, individual attorneys meet with me and Dave. Each attorney in the program is required to have a marketing plan. During the meetings, we discuss how the attorney’s marketing activities are going and what we can do to help. Dave offers advice, gives guidance and encouragement. Attorneys commit to action items based on their plan. My role is to take away barriers and excuses for not following through with their action items. For example, if they agree to write an article, I help pitch the article to the publication and run interference with the editor.

It’s simple, but it works. We have found that origination for an attorney in the program typically doubles after two to three years in the program.

Ungaretti & Harris – 110 Attorneys

Mark Karkazis, director of marketing at Ungaretti & Harris, said his firm started to offer coaching eight years ago because leadership recognized the benefit of giving attorneys direct guidance from an experienced sales professional. Mark, who has a sales background, serves as the program’s coach. Any attorney who wants coaching can participate. Attorneys of all levels work with Mark regularly, or as needed, to get advice on specific situations such as how to get their first matter from a prospect, how to network, or how to prioritize opportunities. This type of situational coaching has enhanced the sales culture within the firm and has been helpful to attorneys in generating business.

Greenberg Glusker – 87 Attorneys

Jonathan Fitzgarrald, chief marketing officer at Greenberg Glusker, told me that his firm started its program three and half years ago when firm revenues were declining due to the recession. Firm leadership felt that developing rainmakers was vital to their ongoing success.

Among the firm’s business development initiatives is an annual program called the Rainmakers Roundtable. Composed of 10 of the firm’s top revenue generators, the group meets once a month for 10 months. At each meeting, one of the 10 attorneys presents on their practice (practice overview, how they have historically attracted clients, typical referral sources, etc.), as well as plans for future growth. The other attorney participants then provide feedback and ideas for generating additional revenue, like introductions to their contacts and ways for cross-selling the firm’s services. When time permits, the group also will engage in a spirited discussion surrounding a business development topic, like overcoming obstacles or closing.

Jonathan reports that attorneys in the program have increased their productivity by 20 percent or more.

Bryan Cave LLP – 1,000 Attorneys

When Steve Sunshine, a senior partner in the Irvine office, was in his late 30s, he realized that all rainmakers had certain characteristics and behaviors that made them good at what they do. He talked with rainmakers inside and outside the firm to learn what made them successful. Implementing what he learned, Steve saw his origination increase. Over the years, others recognized his success, and attorneys starting coming to him for advice. Seven years ago he decided to share what he’d learned, and created the firm’s Coaching the Coaches program.

According to Senior Marketing and Business Development Manager Tom Helm, Coaching the Coaches teaches people to ask the right questions, truly listen, build relationships and genuinely care about others.

The program is based upon three pillars: Authenticity, Seeds, and Scanning for the Gap.  Authenticity is being oneself all day, every day, a consistent characteristic of rainmakers. Seeds are “deep meaningful relationships,” that rainmakers develop with others, not for the purpose of bringing in business, but for their own fulfillment. Scanning for the Gap involves rainmakers thoughtfully engaging with potential clients who may need the rainmakers’ services.

More than 800 attorneys have participated in Coaching the Coaches. Participants advance through the 12-month program via monthly one-hour calls with Steve and other partners who are graduates of the program and demonstrated rainmakers. A different “lesson” is presented each month, and homework is assigned for the next meeting. Participants are required to actively participate on the calls by sharing success stories and what they learned from the previous lesson. These participants or “coaches” are required to take what they have learned and share it with another attorney in a one-on-one session throughout the 12-month program.

Murphy Pearson Bradley & Feeney – 46 Attorneys

Clare Ota, marketing director at Murphy Pearson, said her firm needed to build its attorneys’ business development skills and opted to hire Practice Boomers, an attorney coaching and training company, to implement its program. Clare says that Murphy Pearson started the Practice Boomers program about six months ago. Participants in the nine-month program include 10 junior partners and three senior associates. Practice Boomers has developed a series of business and practice development-focused video modules designed specifically for attorneys.

Before the coaching meetings, attorneys watch a series of videos, most only five minutes in length. During the bi-monthly meetings participants discuss the lessons from that particular module. Topics include how to build business development routines into your day, how to set achievable goals for your practice, how to differentiate yourself from your competitors, and how to develop productive referral sources to name a few.

Clare said that the firm has seen immediate results in the six months since starting the program. Participants are actively engaged in business development and are enthusiastic about rainmaking.


Seeing results

Jonathan said it quite succinctly. “If a firm is serious about moving the needle forward, they should consider implementing an attorney coaching program.”

Successful coaching programs require buy-in from firm leadership, committed participants, an investment in resources (both money and time), and a focus on execution. The bottom line is this:  If you want to increase rainmaking efforts in your firm and create a sales culture that will develop the next generation of rainmakers, you should consider implementing a coaching program that is tailored to meet the needs of your firm.

About the Author

TrujilloKarie Trujillo is the marketing director at Markowitz Herbold PC in Portland, Oregon. She can be reached at 503.219.2343 or karietrujillo@MHGM.com.





(Image Credit: ShutterStock)

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