I’m serious! The world has changed. In my 27 years as a legal marketer and in-house in several firms, I have never seen the situation more serious in terms of lawyers being de-equitized or flat-out fired for not bringing in business.  Back in the nineties I was with law firms that quietly – very quietly – would advise partners to leave because they were not pulling their weight in terms of bringing in work.

That was the inspiration behind a post I did in the first month of this blog in January 2005.  My post “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired” discussed a messy firing of a partner at then named Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.  As I pointed out then, I had not seen a rainmaker who developed significant business for themselves or other lawyers in a firm ever be let go.

And it is no different today. But, more and more lawyers will be let go in today’s tough, competitive legal world.  The reason is simple.  Clients are more demanding and less willing to pay whatever a firm wants to charge.  Accordingly, there is and will continue to be much smaller pies to share, and too many partners do not want to “sell” or don’t know how. In the the “good ole days” most lawyers didn’t have to market, because their plates were usually pretty full, especially in BigLaw firms.  So, not to worry.  Things will be fine.

With the definite move to outsourcing specific work to smaller or foreign firms, and to the use of high quality, mid-size regional firms, it is only going to get worse for the non-producers in any size firm.  It is time partners woke up to the need to develop business NOW!

Further, if your firm has a marketing department, don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will (or should) solve the problem.  Developing business (selling) is primarily up to the individual lawyer.  The marketing/business development staff is there to assist, guide and otherwise support the lawyers’ efforts.

Fellow legal marketing coach, Mike O’Horo had an interesting article last week about how lawyers avoid selling in favor of the latest marketing fad, which, of course, they hope means they won’t have to personally sell.

Well, folks.  That ain’t going to cut it.  More and more partners will get fired, if they do not get involved in serious business development efforts directly.  Planning to do it won’t work alone.  If you haven’t been developing business all along, you will need a coach to help you IMHO.  He/she could be an internal coach (if you are lucky enough to have one in-house) or an external one that you feel comfortable working with.  Because chances are you won’t pull it off by yourself.

Bottom line: time to start developing business or looking for a new job.

Some would argue that Rainmakers are born that way, and those that aren’t can’t. It is conceded that developing business does not come easily for a lot of folks, but the skills can be taught, at least to most lawyers.

Ed Poll’s article that appeared in LawyersUSA this week, advises small firm and solo lawyers to make themselves rainmakers by going where the prospects are. I would add where clients and referral sources are as well.

Further, I would agree that some planning (vs. “random acts of golf and lunch”) is necessary, and Ed’s suggestions are good ones. Here are a few things you should do:

  • Profile your ideal client;
  • Develop a strategy that is aimed at that target group rather than being general in nature;
  • Identify what clients need and want (by asking them for starters);
  • Ask them for their opinions, goals and make them “feel like part of the team” (which should provide good insight into what prospects similar to those clients would also like);
  • Communicate appropriately (i.e., don’t argue with or put client on defensive, or otherwise use your lawyer interrogation style);
  • Ask open-ended questions in face-to-face meetings, and then listen; and
  • Attend trade shows your clients attend (and where prospects that match your ideal client profile) will also be.

Your chances of being a successful rainmaker will greatly increase if you follow this simple advice.

According to an article by Jamie Heller on the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, law firms are not going to have a good year. In fact, according to a Wachovia Wealth Management group that services law firms, firms are looking at a downturn of 5% – 6%. And that “is going to be a good year,” or as one of the group’s members put it, “flat’s the new up.”

The evidence, especially in firms over 300 attorneys, shows that firms are tapping credit lines significantly, cutting non-producers (“dead wood walking the halls”), and more closely scrutinizing claims of laterals, according to the article.

But, as rainmakers know, they have nothing to worry about, as I pointed out in a post 3 ½ years ago, “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired.” Things have not changed. Billable hours are not the test here.

Effective business developer = rainmaker = job security.