Heidi Barcus is a health care litigator and trial attorney who has represented hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals in health care liability matters for over 25 years. She has tried numerous matters to verdict at all trial levels of Tennessee and Kentucky courts. She practices in the federal and state courts of Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as all appellate courts of each state. She writes a bimonthly practice management column for Law Practice Magazine and previously served as an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Heidi is past chair of the ABA’s Law Practice Division and former chair of ABA Women Rainmakers.
Top Three Rainmaking Tips
Tip 1: Believe You Can Originate Business. At the beginning of my career, I was dissatisfied with my bonus. The firm accountant took the time to sit down with me and explain the compensation structure. She told me that the only way to really make money was to originate business. Originating business was the furthest thing on my mind. I was trying to just get my feet under me and understand the assignments on my desk. I pushed back and explained that the senior partners already had all of the origination locked down and there wasn’t a way for me to bring in new clients. This woman told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to be an originator. I believed her.
Tip 2: Treat Everyone Like a Referral Source. You never know where work is going to come from. My first origination came an older lawyer who was working on a case with me. We represented codefendants. At each deposition, no matter how inconsequential a witness, I arrived on time and prepared. I was ready to take the lead, if asked. I had the key documents at my fingertips. Many years later, when he needed to refer a case, he remembered me and sent the case to me. From there, the cases just kept coming from different sources. No matter how small the matter, treat everyone you meet like a referral source.
Tip 3: Ask for Business. You aren’t going to get the business if you don’t ask for it. You can take as many people to lunch as there are hours in the day, but if you don’t ask for the work, you aren’t going to get it. Be sure to make a direct ask for work at the end of your networking lunch.
My Uniqueness as a Successful Rainmaker
Aside from having someone who told me I would be a successful rainmaker and believing that I absolutely could be a rainmaker, I really enjoy rainmaking. I like the hunt. I like identifying a line of business, researching the company, making plans for how to get myself in the same room as the decision maker. My firm requires me to prepare quarterly business development plans. Recently, I asked a lawyer if he had filled out his quarterly report and he snorted at me and said he didn’t fill those forms out. I couldn’t imagine. I told him that the only reason I had set up a dinner meeting in February with him and a potential client was because of that form. That form pushes me to keep rainmaking top of mind. Rainmaking is thrilling. Even when the initial ask takes years to produce fruit, I find the whole process exhilarating.
My Marketing Year
I devote a portion of every single day to marketing. Remember that marketing isn’t just setting up networking events. I consider every court appearance and every deposition I attend a marketing event. You never know who is watching and who that person knows. A referral can come out of any encounter you have. If this question only includes marketing events, I meet with every existing client at least once a year. It is important to check in regularly and ask for feedback. I also arrange one potential new client meeting each quarter.
Typical Marketing Activities
For existing clients, I take careful notes about each client on my iPhone. I know how many children the client has, what sports team the client follows, and anything else I learn during the representation. That way, I can tailor the types of activities I engage in. For example, if someone is a Georgia fan, I call that person after a big game. If someone is a bourbon drinker, I send a special bottle or plan a trip to Louisville. It is the connections that count. It doesn’t matter what type of activity you engage in. Clients hire people they like to work with. The lawyer who spends the most money on a client is not necessarily the lawyer who gets the business. So, don’t waste your time trying to plan the most elaborate spa day or purchasing the most expensive Christmas present. Instead, consider what the most meaningful activity you can do is. For example, a simple call to congratulate your client on her favorite team’s win can mean more than anything else. During COVID, I called on clients just to see how they were doing. I send pictures to clients. I remember birthdays and work anniversaries. Handwrite notes congratulating clients on promotions, newspaper mentions and successes. Nominate clients for awards.
Favorite Marketing Activity
If I could only engage in a single marketing activity, it would be networking, especially traveling to meet in-person with clients for lunch, dinner or a football game. This is the best way to connect with a client and create memories. For both existing and prospective clients, I would choose taking that individual for coffee or lunch. There is no substitute for time spent learning about someone and their business. It is all about connections.
If I could add a second favorite marketing activity, it would be attendance at client- sponsored meetings. These meetings allow me to develop a referral network with lawyers across the country.
My firm absolutely supports me and prods me. I have to develop a yearly business plan and update it quarterly. That certainly helps keep rainmaking top of mind. However, even without firm support, you can be a successful rainmaker. All you have to do is find a way to make a personal connection.
My team consists of four lawyers, a paralegal and two assistants. I am lucky to work at a firm where we raise each other up. We invite each other to marketing activities and look to support each other in other ways..
Rainmaking War Stories
My rainmaking stories often start with building relationships and being prepared. I got my first client when an older lawyer from another firm was looking for conflict counsel and noticed that I always showed up prepared. He referred me my first case. I got my best client as a referral from other clients. Same thing for my most unexpected client – a referral from other clients.
How did you get your best client?
I got my best client from a referral from my first client. My practice is insurance defense-based. I represent providers who are sued for professional negligence. The number of insurance carriers and physician groups available for me to represent is limited. It is a small network, and it feels like everyone is connected. Once I found a way into that network, the business kept growing by word of mouth. Every day I find connections. For example, last year I reached out to a client I wanted to work with via LinkedIn. Before I could set up a lunch, that client left her job. However, she gave me the name of her replacement and made introductions for me before she departed.
How do I close the deal? The only way to close the deal is to ask for the business. Don’t be shy about asking for what you want. If you don’t get the business on the first ask, don’t give up. Stay in touch with the prospective client. Send notes and letters. Congratulate her/him on promotions. Nominate her/him for an award. Someday the work will come.
About the Author
Rachelle J. Canter is president of RJC Associates, a leadership, career, team and executive coaching firm in San Francisco.