Making it Rain: Practical Tips From Those Who Do

Jami Wintz McKeon is chair of and a partner in the global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. Her practice concentrates on complex litigation, including class and mass actions, and civil and regulatory proceedings. She is the first female to hold the position in the firm’s 141-year history and one of only a handful of women leading international law firms today. As the firm’s global chair, Ms. McKeon sets the strategic direction of the firm and leads 2,000 lawyers across Morgan Lewis’s 28 offices.

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

First, it is critical to understand that client relationships are all about personal relationships—there is no “impersonal” aspect when working with a client or prospective client. These personal relationships need to be treasured, developed, and cultivated in order to build your practice.

Second, you must take a long-term view and be patient, persistent, and genuinely interested in nurturing these relationships over a long period of time. It could be years before a client has a need for your service—during that time, you must continue to maintain your relationship. If you stay persistent over time, when the client has a need that you can fill (or is asked by someone else for a referral), you will still be top of mind.

Third, there is generally no such thing as “paying too much attention” to a client or potential client. Use each opportunity you have to build that relationship—this includes doing excellent quality legal work for the client; ensuring that every communication you send to the client (and this includes your bills) is a thoughtful one; understanding the client’s business and demonstrating that by customizing to their needs newsletters or articles that you think might interest them; following the events in the client’s business and in the individual clients’ careers; taking time to meet in person even when you are not actively working with them; taking them to lunch, etc. People evaluate you constantly, and any interaction with a client or potential client is an opportunity to further the relationship. Be particular and focus on the little things in all of your dealings with your clients and prospects. If you do this, it makes a difference—the message they get is that you are someone who pays attention to every detail.

What is (or was) different, either about you, or your firm, or anything else, that has allowed or enabled you to become a successful rainmaker?

I think the culture at Morgan Lewis has made the biggest difference for me. Morgan Lewis operates as a team; it is the antithesis of “eat what you kill.” Partners don’t get credit just for getting the phone call and they don’t fight over clients. The firm rewards teamwork, and it is ingrained in our culture that it is as much (and sometimes more) valuable to help another partner serve and expand a relationship with an existing client than to bring in a new client. It is definitely a team approach and a view that “a rising tide raises all boats.” If the pie is bigger, we all get a bigger piece of that pie. The firm expects our lawyers to be constantly thinking about how to generate work for other attorneys in the firm—if you are good at building relationships, it does not have to be just in your area of expertise.

Describe your typical marketing year.

I am engaged in business development every day. As chair of the firm, this is especially true. It really is involved in everything I do. While we all focus on opportunities to represent clients, we also look for opportunities to partner with clients on projects,and to speak at conferences and provide free CLE. I am active in the community—which sometimes leads to client opportunities but is also just part of good citizenship. It is also important for me to regularly meet with our clients, meet with industry consultants, and read the legal and business press to continue to stay on top of developments in our clients’ industries and the legal industry. Clients appreciate that you know and care about their challenges and what they need.

If you could only engage in one type of marketing activity (e.g., speaking, writing, networking, meetings, participation in bar associations or other trade association) for the next 12 months, what would it be?

I would not do just one thing. What is most essential is staying in close touch with our clients, and that comes with what we do every day. But if I were to separate that from “business development,” I would pick the one thing that would result in the most opportunities for contact and interaction with the clients and potential clients that I want to work with. This could be involvement with the community, such as my service on the board of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts here in Philadelphia.

How did you get your first client?

Years ago when I was still an associate, I was involved in a messy bankruptcy proceeding, and the outside corporate counsel for the company on the other side (who had come from Italy to watch the proceedings in court every day) came up to me after it was over and introduced himself. That company later hired me. It reinforced for me that when you do a good job, your client will notice, your adversaries will notice, the witnesses will notice, and your referral sources will notice. You never know where the work is going to come from.

Knowing what you know now, if you were starting over as a lawyer today, what would you do differently? 

I would be more aware of the opportunities all around me and jump on them. When I was just starting out, I wasn’t as attuned to this. Today, if I see a market that is underserved or a need that a client has, I see that as an opportunity and will bring in a colleague who has that expertise. For example, today there might be opportunities in cyber-security liability or False Claims Act issues, and it would be important to talk to one of our lawyers who is experienced in these areas and make an introduction to the client. I’ve also learned that opportunities don’t wait. If a client tells you there is a need, you need to make it a priority and respond quickly.

What, if anything, do you plan to do differently with respect to marketing your services next year or in the future?

We are not planning to change. The practice of law is very competitive and we will continue to keep our focus on our clients’ needs and on our relationships with our clients in everything we do and take every opportunity to enhance those relationships. We will also continue to always be available for our clients, provide outstanding client service and achieve successful results for them.

About the Author

Sherrie Boutwell is a partner at Boutwell Fay LLP and has focused a career of 30 years in the areas of employee benefits law and ERISA. 

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