Rainmaking Mistakes Continued: If You’re ‘Too Busy to Market,’ You’re Dead Weight

“The lack of skin in the game combined with a worker attorney being placed in control is a recipe for rainmaking disaster, and ultimately for the firm.”

rainmakingAttorneys who believe they are too busy to spend time marketing themselves are always going to be career limited, and if they are given too much authority within the firm structure, they will ultimately destroy the firm.

Attorneys who do not market themselves have a job because rainmakers bring in the work for them to do. But work dries up for a variety of reasons, sometimes because the rainmaker moves on to another firm that better appreciates their contribution, because of an economic downturn, or because another lawyer or firm has stolen away your clients. Whatever the reason, when work dries up, the lawyers who are the workers of the firm have little to do, become dead weight and are the first to be sent packing—at least that is what happens if the firm wants to succeed. As we know from experience, however, the workers of the firm often wind up being the only ones left, with energetic lawyers and rainmakers leaving to go elsewhere as the firm disintegrates.

The fact that there are partner-level lawyers who do not market themselves but who make the lion share of the revenue from a client is really a failure of the partnership itself, and I know that from firsthand experience. Over my career, I’ve occasionally sought to affiliate with firms, but it has never been profitable. Not because I was unable to bring in work, but rather because of a failure in the compensation structure, or because I had no control once the client was brought into the firm, or both.

For reasons that have never made any sense, many firms seem to pay those who do the work much better than those who bring in the clients and service the relationship. Perhaps it is because those doing the work outnumber those bringing in the work, and firm policies become set or changed by the majority who do the work, not those who keep the firm afloat.

Undervaluing Rainmakers Can Lead to a Firm’s Demise

In one relationship earlier on in my career I was entitled to 10% of revenue brought in from the clients I brought to the firm, with 50% going to the lawyer who did the work and 40% going to the firm to account for overhead. Rainmaking done properly can become full-time work, leaving little time to actually do much legal work, particularly with work such as drafting a patent application, which might require you to spend several days with your door closed pumping out the work product.

Another unfortunate reality was that once I would bring in work, the attorneys assigned to do the work would sometimes alienate the client. Often this alienation occurs because attorneys assigned to do the work won’t take direction from the rainmaker, or they will disagree with the strategies already agreed upon between client and rainmaker. This thwarts the relationship from the start and prevents the rainmaker playing an important decisional role, which is essential because it is the rainmaker who will maintain the relationship and be tasked with increasing the amount of work and cross-selling to bring in other work the client has to give.

It is absolutely essential to always remember that the client hired the rainmaker, usually because of their reputation, expertise, and personality. When the rainmaker is marginalized, or not present, the relationship ends. It is that simple.

For example, I once lost one client I brought into a firm because I couldn’t get an attorney to send a standard confidentiality agreement the client could use immediately. As is often the case with startups, they find themselves in need of a confidentiality agreement immediately because they have a meeting set up tomorrow, which they never told you about before today. Not being admitted in the state where I was located, I needed an attorney at the firm to simply email this client with whatever standard, off-the-shelf, last-minute confidentiality agreement the firm had available. I was told they couldn’t possibly send a confidentiality agreement without first speaking with the client, understanding what the client is doing, and tailoring the agreement. I was even told: “I wouldn’t even know how to define the IP in the agreement.” Obviously, this is absurd.

The client needed something immediately to address a present opportunity. I had been working to bring in the client for many weeks. And now this red-light attorney is demanding a detailed consultation in advance of sending a standard, off the shelf confidentiality agreement because they wouldn’t know how to define the IP? And worse, this attorney didn’t even have time for the detailed consultation they were demanding until after the client would have disclosed at the meeting set for the next day! I don’t blame the client for taking their business elsewhere—which they did—because the firm was not there to help them with what they needed.

A Rainmaking Recipe for Disaster

The lack of skin in the game combined with a worker attorney being placed in control is a recipe for rainmaking disaster, and ultimately for the firm. Often, in my experience, those doing the work don’t really care whether the client stays with the firm because it doesn’t benefit them one way or another. They believe they will make their 50% doing any work, which is true, at least up until the point where there is no work to do. And when that happens, they just move on to the next situation.

You just cannot put up silly impediments to a successful relationship and expect a rainmaker to succeed, or to stick around. When financial incentives favor doing work and practically punish someone who spends their time trying to bring in work, it creates an untenable, toxic situation and one that I escaped almost immediately upon seeing the handwriting on the wall.

What this means is simple: A firm structure that places an assigned attorney in charge of the file and does not sufficiently reward rainmaking creates a scenario where a rainmaker becomes quickly overworked, under-paid and constantly frustrated. Being at the mercy of unengaged attorneys who often think of themselves as too busy to market is a recipe for failure, and must be guarded against by firms who want to attract and keep rainmakers.

Image Source: Deposit Photos
Author: andrewde
Image ID: 653335114 


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Join the Discussion

4 comments so far. Add my comment.

  • [Avatar for Anon3]
    March 29, 2024 07:40 pm

    I think this division of attorneys between “rainmakers” and “workers” is kind of simplistic, as I’ve met very partners in biglaw that don’t market themselves.

    What I *have* seen, however, is that the partner who brings the clients in is not always the partner that is the best at the logistics of maintaining the relationship long term. I have met a subset of attorneys that are brilliant at setting overall strategy and offering flashes of insight–but rely overmuch on those skills and are not as skilled in doing the regular, scheduled follow up in adjusting to the client’s needs and being aware of what the client is doing that are required for clients to feel comfortable with their attorneys.

    In short, I think the division of attorneys into “rainmakers” and “workers” elides the more significant distinction in short- and long-term relationship management skills that different attorneys have.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    March 29, 2024 12:31 pm

    Alas, tis true.

  • [Avatar for IP Nerd]
    IP Nerd
    March 29, 2024 05:20 am

    Rainmakers and working attorneys collaborating to not just service an account but creating a vision on constantly bringing fresh work could be the difference between “just enough” and “more than enough” revenue to fuel growth in the operation.

    Clients with intellectual property needs have specific needs and desire often concerns outside mere legalities. Offer a full service menu is often the difference in today’s competitive online and digital environments.

  • [Avatar for Pro Say]
    Pro Say
    March 28, 2024 04:50 pm

    The foundational fact that few — in any field or profession — want to hear, have to admit, or have to deal with is this:

    That each and every one of us; me, you, everyone — regardless of the product/s we sell and / or the service/s we provide — are first and foremost in the marketing business.

    A business which — done correctly — does not have to be (and most assuredly should not be) distasteful, embarrassing, or unprofessional.

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