Becoming a Rainmaker: The Importance of Expertise, Reputation and Personality

“While some clients will treat legal services as a commodity, doing that type of work creates conflicts and a race to the bottom on price that is unlikely to result in anything other than being overworked and underpaid.”

rainmakerThe key to rainmaking for lawyers is understanding that those who have decisional authority to hire an attorney are hiring you. Perhaps, once upon a time, those who hired lawyers were more interested in the name of the firm, but the days of an attorney staying with a firm long term are over. Attorneys move, firms merge or sometimes collapse. What this means is that, as long as the firm you are with is large enough to do the work you seek, your name and reputation far and away supersede the name on the letterhead.

If you doubt the importance of your name and reputation and believe that clients will always seek your services because of the good name and long term reputation of your firm, ask yourself this: If the top litigator at your firm announced today that she is leaving tomorrow to join a similarly sized firm (i.e., a firm with the infrastructure to provide the same behind the scenes support), how many of her existing clients will follow her, and how many will stay? And how many former clients are likely look to her new firm the next time they need representation? If she has maintained good relations with and provided good service to her clients, the overwhelming majority will follow her—or at least the clients that she wants to take. Inevitably, when a big-name lawyer makes a move to a new firm it provides them the opportunity to purge undesirable clients, leaving them behind, which is a lose-lose proposition for the old firm, which not only loses their top litigator but retains the undesirable clients.

You’re Not a Commodity

It should go without saying—but probably needs to be said—selling yourself as a professional is extremely different than selling a product or even a service of a non-professional nature, which are commoditized. It is an oversimplification to say that no legal services are treated as a commodity because in some areas clients do focus only on price. For example, the prosecution of patent applications at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is often treated as a commodity, particularly by larger entities not particularly concerned with quality because they are unlikely to ever enforce the patent and if they use it at all it will be bundled with at least hundreds or even many thousands of other patents in a licensing package.

It is preferable from a strategic client acquisition standpoint to focus on your services as not being a commodity. Race-to-the-bottom clients are not generally desirable clients, even when they are large multinational corporations. Such clients, even extremely large companies, that treat legal services as a commodity pay very little and they present numerous conflicts that will stop you from accepting work from others who, although smaller, will send you more lucrative business in the long run. Because smaller entities cannot rely on their largesse in the marketplace, they must focus on quality and, simply stated, being superior. So, while some clients will treat legal services as a commodity, doing that type of work creates conflicts and a race to the bottom on price that is unlikely to result in anything other than being overworked and underpaid.

The most successful rainmakers will not treat their services as a commodity. Of course, if you are not going to distinguish yourself on price, that means you need to distinguish yourself some other way—a way that will allow you to charge a premium. To accomplish this, it is essential to understand that anyone who offers professional services is selling themselves, not their firm—at least not in the first instance (more on this later). The rainmaker must sell their own personal expertise, reputation, and personality.

To illustrate the distinction, consider this question: When your central air conditioner stops working do you reach out to an individual technician by name, or do you look for a company with a good reputation and numerous five-star reviews? Of course, you look for the company with the best reputation and make the call. That’s because there is no way to know whether you are going to have the same technician today that will be sent to solve your problem the next time you call. So, you will focus on the reputation of the company and trust their hiring decisions and training and that they will stand behind the work if a mistake is made. But with legal services, mistakes really cannot be made, and if they are, they cannot be tolerated. Today, even small entities can do their own research online to identify lawyers with good reputations who are knowledgeable about a particular aspect of the law. This all means that lawyers are hired, not firms—you are not fixing air conditioners. However, you do need to be with a firm that provides the infrastructure necessary to competently handle the work.

Expertise, Reputation, Personality

Another example to illustrate this point is the hiring decision made when one needs a specialist for a unique medical problem. While you may be willing to just have the next doctor up see you when you have the flu or some common ailment, are you likely to do the same if you need to hire a surgeon, for example? Of course not. Even some health insurers will send patients needing some highly specialized surgery to a hospital in a different state where a surgeon handles only that type of surgery because often the most important factor that decides outcomes is how experienced the surgeon is at performing that particular procedure. And, while you might be willing to have a surgeon who is a real jerk do the surgery if they are a preeminent expert, how good must the surgeon be for patients to tolerate an obnoxious, arrogant, schmuck? We innately know the importance of expertise, reputation, and personality when it comes to hiring a professional, but lawyers often fail to apply their own everyday knowledge to the business of running a law practice.

It is critical for rainmakers to understand that their knowledge, reputation and personality are what is for sale. So, if target clients do not have a reason to believe that your knowledge translates into real expertise, you have little chance to win new business and might even be at jeopardy of losing existing business because other lawyers are actively courting your best clients. And for goodness sakes, realize that expertise and reputation mean nothing at all if no one knows who you are!

There are things that virtually every lawyer can do to stand out and become a rainmaker, even if you are an introverted nerd. Luckily, at least in the patent space, many of those who have hiring authority are themselves introverted and nerdy, which can create an immediate commonality. Putting yourself in the right situation and building on commonality is key—because no one hires someone they don’t know, and very few hire those they don’t like.

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Author: iqoncept
Image ID: 124232330 


Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of

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  • [Avatar for Stephen Schreiner]
    Stephen Schreiner
    March 15, 2024 09:07 am

    Excellent article, Gene. Very helpful.

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