Tips and techniques on how to become a rainmaker

By Mike Scott
Legal News

Students learn many of the skills they need to be successful in the legal arena while in law school. But one area where new lawyers often need experience is how to be successful at new client development.

Today, being a rainmaker, even at an earlier age, is as important as ever. That’s why the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association’s Barristers’ New Lawyer Bootcamp session scheduled for Tuesday, March 9 in Detroit is expected to be well attended.

The seminar, planned for 1 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. in the SMART Detroit Training Room of the Penobscot Building, will focus on “Effective Client Development.” Hosted by Clark Hill attorney Daniel Bretz, the seminar will provide information on how lawyers can earn greater exposure for themselves on a personal and professional level. Ultimately such knowledge can lead to landing new clients, said Bretz, who specializes in litigation, labor and employment law, and health care matters.

“One of the skills that young lawyers can struggle with is how to be successful practicing law beyond just winning cases,” Bretz said. “Law firms of all sizes are full of attorneys who are smart and very good from a legal perspective but it’s what else you can provide that sets you apart.”

The best way to increase your level of billable work is through personal and professional connections and networking, Bretz said. Lawyers that have their own book of business also will be highly valued in the marketplace. In fact, it is the quickest way that young lawyers can earn partnership status as well as higher salaries and bonuses, Bretz indicated.

“The year to start working on (becoming a rainmaker) is day one, year one,” he said. “Even with billable requirements that you may have, you need to focus on what other value you can bring your firm.”

It is difficult for many law school students to understand the value of marketing and networking in their own legal practices upon passing the bar, because such skills are not often taught in law school, Bretz said. While some law professors understand the value of rainmaking in the legal profession, it is not a part of the curriculum for most classes. So while law school students are given a tremendous legal education, they may not enter the workforce with a strong business or entrepreneurial sense.

So those skills are often what new associates need to learn on their own, Bretz said.

“Developing relationships is a skill that is generally self-taught in our industry,” Bretz said.

The first step that Bretz recommends to lawyers of all ages in creating new business is to engage in activities that they naturally enjoy. That may include participating in volunteer or church activities, being a part of an adult sports league, or engaging in other hobbies with professionals. Often these social activities will eventually lead to personal relationships that can result in business referrals.

“You want to meet other people who are the centers of influence for their employers or an industry or community,” Bretz said. “Eventually the dots start to connect.”

Rarely does a single contact result in immediate business. It is a relationship that needs to be nurtured over time. Often a social connection will lead to multiple referrals that may end up with a qualified lead being acted upon. But it is important to note that referrals only work when someone in a lawyer’s network validates him or her to others.

And a network contact can come from anywhere, Bretz stresses. A lawyer could chat with someone on a two-hour plane or at a professional conference and develop a long-term relationship. Over time, a lawyer will develop a new skill — one that relates to the proper timing of when to formally ask for business.

“If you spot a legal problem, or your (network contact) says that he or she has a legal issue, that can mean the time is right to offer to help,” Bretz said. “If you ask prematurely it can ruin the relationship.”

Other lawyers can regularly serve as great network contacts as well particularly for attorneys who possess a specialty that another firm or lawyer can’t provide, Bretz said. Accountants, bankers, insurance agents, and other professional service experts also can serve as valuable referral contacts.

Young lawyers should also be willing to consider investing time and money in continuing education for their own marketing and sales needs. Public speaking courses or sales training can be effective ways to develop confidence. Volunteering on committees or offering your experience as part of a chamber or association seminar can help give you and your employee further exposure that can help build your professional reputation, Bretz said.

“It’s not easy to stand up a deliver a seminar in front of a room full of people and although some lawyers have that skill coming out of law school others don’t,” Bretz said. “To really be successful at bringing in your own business you need to feel comfortable getting out from behind your desk and out of your comfort zone.”