Allegra Lawrence-Hardy is an award-winning litigator and trial lawyer who is a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School. Allegra has successfully defended Fortune 100 companies throughout the United States and abroad in numerous trials, arbitrations, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Among her 20+ awards, Allegra has been recognized by Chambers USA: Guide to Leading Business Lawyers, The Best Lawyers in America and Georgia Trend “Legal Elite.” After 18 years at Sutherland, an AmLaw 100 firm where she was an equity partner, a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, and co-leader of the business litigation and labor and employment groups, Allegra co-founded a litigation boutique, Lawrence & Bundy LLC, which specializes in innovative problem solving and creative fee arrangements for a nationwide clientele.
Rachelle Carter (RC): What are your top three tips for being a successful rainmaker today?
Allegra Lawrence-Hardy (ALH):
Identify your strengths so you are clear on what you have to offer, and ask your clients to help. I took clients to lunch and, as part of the conversation, I asked why they hired me the first time and why they continued to hire me. I would never have guessed the most frequent response: creativity, whether devising an innovative case strategy or a new deposition approach. So now, rather than curbing that instinct, I hone it.
Identify your values, including the kind of work and clients that are aligned with your values. For example, I have appreciated the opportunity to work with ethical companies and individuals whose values I respect, and who try to do the right thing.
Invest in client relationships. This investment has to run deeper than an occasional lunch. It means reading about them daily in the press, visiting them, learning about their businesses and their work days directly. For example, I worked on the factory line of one client, an eye-opening experience for the child of educators. That brief factory experience gave me an understanding of who their workers are and what they experience, information that has been instrumental in helping the company manage its risks. I also have made it my priority to understand the challenges of my management-level clients and provide information in a form that is most helpful to them, whether it is putting notes in easily digestible form or providing slides that they can pass on to their business clients. In-depth knowledge of clients allows me to serve them best and deliver the best results for them.
RC: Knowing what you know now, if you were starting over as a lawyer today, what would you do differently?
ALH: I would have routinized business and relationship development from the start. I would have been strategic about partnering with an accountability partner right away. It took me 1-2 years to establish this practice, but when I did, it had an enormous impact on my business development success.
My accountability partner and I had a Sunday night planning call to establish the week’s goals (number of calls, visits, touches, etc.) and then a 7 a.m. meeting on Wednesday to report on our activities. This practice may be useful wherever you are in your legal career, whatever your goals. Partner up to develop strategy, plan and establish accountabilities for action. By prioritizing and routinizing business development, you develop the essential habit of rainmaking. The sooner one begins, the better.
RC: How do you plan to market in the future?
ALH: I plan to continue to look for opportunities to develop the next generation of rainmakers. You don’t have to wait until the end of your career to share. I attribute much of my firm’s success to an emphasis on grooming the next generation. For example, I get more offers for speeches than I can possibly deliver, but I have talented colleagues who can and do take advantage of these opportunities. In my current firm, we have 12 talented and motivated lawyers, all of whom are actively involved in business development.
RC: What advice would you give on how to close a sale?
ALH: Be willing to ask for the business. I got offered three in-house jobs in my first year of business development by prospective clients because I never clearly identified the reason for my approach and never asked for their business. Always let a prospect know the reason for your meeting, and close the meeting by letting the prospective client know that you would welcome the opportunity to be of service.
RC: What is the secret to your firm’s success?
ALH: Collaboration. We have had extraordinarily successful results in our firm, winning 100% of our cases this year. Given our relative newness, we have invested a great deal of time in identifying the source of that success so that we can replicate it. And it comes down to having an extremely collaborative culture.
We set out to do something different, and we look for ways to approach cases that are different than they would be at a traditional law firm. For example, at the beginning of a case, we often gather the entire firm for a day of brainstorming without cost to the client. We challenge each other (pushback is encouraged) and think creatively about our approach.
We have seen ideas from these group meetings, from lawyers not having day-to-day responsibilities on a case, lead to bigger ideas, themes, and arguments that have ultimately won the case. We are a minority-owned law firm, but we have lawyers from every background. More importantly for our clients, we have authentic cognitive diversity. Different people bring their own perspective. Because we have a culture that encourages everyone to engage, without watching the clock, our clients receive the benefit of the cognitive diversity. And we are seeing that benefit in our results.
Let me share a recent example. As our team was preparing a summary judgment oral argument, we decided to eliminate one of the arguments from our presentation and rely only on our briefs for that argument. When we gathered as a firm to hear feedback on the presentation, a young lawyer pushed back – she thought it was critical that we include the argument. We eventually compromised by including one slide in the deck.
At the oral argument, the judge focused exclusively on that argument, so I was glad that we had the slide. When the oral argument was finished, the court granted summary judgment for our client from the bench based on that argument alone. It was a valuable reminder of the power of a collaborative culture.
RC: What is the secret to work-life balance?
ALH: I believe more in work-life “blend.” And I had a mentor tell me long ago that the secret to autonomy is a big book of business. She was right. As my book grew, so did my control over my schedule and my ability to be present for important moments in my family’s lives. We are in a service profession, and we have to be willing to inconvenience ourselves personally when our clients need us. But I find just as often that my clients try very hard to interrupt vacations and holidays only when necessary.
About the Author
Rachelle J. Canter is the principal of RJC Associates, which provides leadership, career, organization, and team development services to executives, attorneys, and other professionals. She can be reached at email@example.com.