Eva Davis co-chairs Winston & Strawn’s 75-lawyer private equity practice which last year handled 150 deals (worth $12 billion), $2B+ of deals which she personally led. During 20 years of practice, Eva has worked with leading private equity funds on their most important transactions. She also manages the Los Angeles office and serves on the Executive Committee.
Top Three Tips to Be a Successful Rainmaker
You need to develop business as your authentic self. That may change over the years as you go from a junior lawyer to a seasoned rainmaker, but what has been consistent on my journey is that I present myself to my clients and do activities with them that are “truly me.” I don’t pretend to be something to just fit in. This was more difficult when I was the more junior woman dealing primarily with more senior men, but I found ways to make it work.
For example, I don’t play golf, but I will ski or hike with my clients. I will also talk about my children (to those clients who have children, especially if they are around the same age), and even include them in some activities (trip to the aquarium or zoo). And, as a life-long Girl Scout (and former Girl Scout leader to my two girls, now in college), my annual client gift is a green box of Thin Mints delivered just before St. Patrick’s Day!
Your clients want you to know everything about what they do and the industry in which they operate. You need to be able to help them understand current trends and look ahead and anticipate what might be coming next. When I reach out to clients or prospects for a meeting (pre-COVID) or Zoom call (now as we work remotely), I almost always offer to share with them the trends I am seeing in their industry and in private equity/M&A generally. This almost always guarantees a meeting or a call.
I am like gum on your shoe—you cannot get rid of me. I follow up all the time. First, in every meeting I have with a client, referral source, internal Winston attorney, or prospect, I always offer to follow up with some additional information, such as an introduction for them to someone in my network who might facilitate something they are considering, information on a particular industry or M&A trend, an introduction to a deal lead, or even a recommendation on a personal matter (for example, how to identify the best nanny, daycare provider, or pre-school).
Second, my contacts are categorized by number based on “type” (e.g., client, active prospect, referral source) and coded for easy follow-up, including notations on the last topic we discussed, summarizing particular areas of interest or concern, and even recording family milestones (new baby name and birth date or wedding anniversary) for later follow-up.
The Role of Entrepreneurship
My firm encourages entrepreneurship. You are able to take any idea and run with it with little to no oversight but with active support from the marketing and business development professionals at the firm. Recent examples include:
- We now host (and I chair) a bi-annual “Southern California General Counsel Roundtable” where we bring in one or two experts within Winston or outside of Winston to discuss trends that might be of interest to local general counsel and provide general counsel with the opportunity to network with their peers.
- In response to a recent Forbes article that indicated that women have no interest in owning their own private equity firms, I posted a contrary view on LinkedIn that went “viral” (as much as LinkedIn goes viral) and received 10,000+ views and about 50 comments. That resulted in a new series Winston now hosts, “Correcting the Record: Yes, Women Want to Own Their Own Private Equity Firms.” This series involves women PE founders, senior women PE practitioners at Winston, and senior or diverse women at private equity firms to present topics of interest every other month to women interested in forming their own private equity funds.
- In response to the pandemic, Winston and I have hosted several peer-to-peer roundtables among general counsel and/or business persons/attorneys in the same industry to focus on “The Next Normal”—namely, how companies have pivoted during the pandemic and recommended best practices for issues ranging from employees/workforce to data privacy and cybersecurity to commercial contracts and deal-making.
I spend about 1/3 of my time on “marketing” or business development, both internally and externally, including:
- Publishing at least one article per year related to private equity and/or industry expertise. My published thought leadership during the pandemic includes 11 articles in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Institutional Investor, and other publications
- Speaking externally on at least one topic per year related to private equity and/or industry expertise (often related to the article that was already written or will be written) including five “external” (via Zoom) speaking engagements during the pandemic
- Board service for business and non-profit organizations that relate to my industry and/or keep me connected with the community. I currently serve on the advisory boards for Read to a Child, Institute of Corporate Counsel, and the Kenan Institute for Ethics and Leadership, among others
- Regular posts on LinkedIn about private equity and industry topics related to my practice with a particular focus on trends I am seeing. During the pandemic, I have posted, on average, 3-4 times per week
- Host conferences around my expertise
Rainmaking “War Stories”
Relentless pursuit and follow-up are the through-line in all my business development efforts, whether we are discussing my first, most recent, most unexpected, or best client. Patience is also key: in the case of my first client, it took well over a year to land the business (with repeated follow-up) but that first private equity fund remains a client to this day.
An example of the “relentless pursuit and follow-up” strategy, coupled with patience, is my 13-year pursuit of Century Park Capital, my best private equity fund client of all time. I originally met with two of the senior managing directors at CPC in 2000. The three of us were all around the same age, all relatively recently married, and all recently had our first child. Plus, we all lived within about two miles of each other.
Over the years, we saw each other at industry/PE functions, but also at church, soccer matches, pre-school, elementary school, town fair, and so on. I’d never had so many opportunities to run into a prospective client professionally and personally, but they never hired me. I didn’t give up! In late 2013, one of the fund managers called me about a deal the fund was pursuing in Europe that their law firm for 15+ years did not have the capabilities to cover. My firm did, and the rest is history!
How Do You Close the Sale?
First and foremost, I always ask for the business. Surprisingly, many don’t always make the ask. Secondly, relentless follow-up. I listen to what they want, the questions they have, what is troubling them, and follow up with information, ideas, and substance. Also, I make introductions to others in my network who may be helpful, too, on those same questions or issues.
My gender (which, early on, combined with my age) was my biggest obstacle. I chose the field of private equity because I thought the deals were challenging, complex, different every time—and not “commoditized” M&A work that was heavily forms-based. Plus, private equity funds are in the business of doing M&A deals. As an M&A lawyer, why not pick a client whose sole purpose for being is to do M&A? But, in choosing that field, I chose a field that was, when I started and still to this day is, predominantly male.
Business development was a particular challenge because the men I was targeting for business would misinterpret my intentions and think I was pursuing them for dates. I got asked on a lot of dates. I had to find ways to develop business “authentically” that didn’t look or feel like a date. This meant more breakfasts and lunches than drinks. And, if drinks, then drinks at 5 pm (not later in the evening), and I would limit myself to only one drink. And almost never dinner.
Ultimately, my age overcame these obstacles. I’ve found that men don’t necessarily need to feel smart around me. They can ask me all the questions they might think are “dumb” questions and not be threatened by me. Plus, I do not need to take credit for any idea of mine.; I give it to my clients. I believe this has helped me significantly in my business development as I’ve become more senior.
Your career can be a very hard and long journey, so it is critical to find an area of law and clients you really like. It’s also critical to form a wide-ranging network to support you on that same journey who serve different roles–some as your own personal board of directors who can be an honest sounding board when making career moves; others who can serve as referral sources, industry experts, or deal leads, and even others who can provide you with speaking or branding opportunities.
About the Author
Rachelle J. Canter is the founder and principal of RJC Associates, which provides executive coaching and training to lawyers, law firms, and other professional organizations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.