Emerging from the Shadows: Segueing from Service Partner to Rainmaker – Published: Bloomberg Law

By: Sharon Berman
Published: Bloomberg Law

Rainmaking is not a requirement for success as a lawyer; however, it is a requirement if you want to build a business or be your own respected and valued business entity within a firm.

Many attorneys have built fruitful careers as “service partners,” deeply competent partners who actually do the work their colleagues generate. These attorneys might communicate with clients regularly and play a role in keeping them happy, but generally they are not relied on to bring in clients. Service partners are told that, while it would be appreciated if they got the firm new clients, they should focus more on performing the labor other partners create than developing business.

But even when business development isn’t included in your partner job description, there are reasons why it should be included in your own professional toolbox. First, in these hard economic times, everybody’s job description is getting longer. There are service partners who historically had been directed not to worry about generating revenue, but who are now being pressured to start developing business or face the consequence. Other attorneys – male and female – are seeing a glass ceiling at their firm and realizing that the only way to transcend it is through professional self-transformation. Finally, in the worst-case scenario of a dissolution, a merger or a cutback where a service partner has to find a new position, they would have no book of business and no experience creating one. In this market, the hard reality is, a service partner is a vulnerable partner.

Standing in the Shadows

Often, the service partner has been nurtured and matured in the shadow of one or two rainmaking partners who are the recognized names in their practice area. These frontline partners have invested the time and effort to create the visibility and credibility that keeps their phones ringing. They may write, speak at conferences, blog, and have climbed the leadership ladder in key industry and professional organizations, something the service partner probably hasn’t done – at least not with the same drive. Because of this, he or she is relegated to functioning in the shade of the major players, accompanying them to business development venues, such as conferences, but usually identified as someone who supports the luminaries rather than someone who shines on their own.

Attorneys seeking to segue from service partner to “sales” partner face at least two significant challenges. First, the service-partner role is comfortable, and therefore hard to leave – especially when it makes others’ lives easier to maintain the status quo. Second, there’s the challenge of becoming a rainmaker without stepping on the current rainmaker’s toes; however, unless you venture into a new practice area, you’ll remain in the background. You have to find a way to forge a new path. So, how do you emerge from the shadows?

The transition from service partner to rainmaker can, and has, been made. There is no doubt that those who are driven to build business can do so, but it demands commitment and, as important, perseverance. If you don’t truly want to develop business, you won’t, but desire is only part of the battle. You also can’t be daunted by potential first failures or closed doors.

Expanding Your Role and Your Comfort Zone

To expand your role, you’ll not only have to extend yourself and step out of your comfort zone, you’ll also have to do a lot of the work outside the office. Others at your firm might support your efforts, but completing the client work that continues to satisfy clients while making the rainmakers, the firm and you look good is still the priority.

Start by approaching the rainmakers to get their buy-in and support. Explain that as much as you appreciate how generous they have been in supporting you (worth saying whether they’ve actually been supportive or just given it lip service), you want to emulate them as rainmakers, but in your own way, and explain your plan. Assure them that it won’t affect your work, level of client service, etc., and that you will work within the firm’s framework, obtain approvals and not be a maverick.

You can give yourself an edge by playing to your strengths. This entire process calls on you to move into areas that are initially uncomfortable. You can minimize this discomfort by leveraging what you are good at. Those before you may have made their name by speaking at industry conferences, but if public speaking does not attract you, you’ll want to consider other avenues. Consider other vehicles such as blogging or writing articles instead, or get involved in an organization that is related to the kind of business you wish to cultivate. Focus on your own business development bent.

Tapping Untapped Opportunity

Identify the gaps that make for your opportunity. No matter how good the business development partners are , they can’t be everywhere at once with the same signal strength. Consider the business development conversations you’ve been part of with them, the ones with musings such as “We should really go after…” The “fill in the blank” could be an industry, organization, marketing a specialty area within your practice, etc. You’ve probably had your own ideas as to what areas offer opportunity wondering Why haven’t we done “a,” “b,” or “c”? What ideas does this give you as to where you can forge your own path? It could be that there’s an opportunity for you to become a name—or at least your firm’s name—in a specific industry or untapped organization with potential.

Many a firm hasn’t fully tapped opportunity online. Perhaps this is where you can take the lead, such as in social media. Take LinkedIn, for example. You can start by making sure your LinkedIn profile is 100% complete. If your firm is like many others, most of your lawyers will have a scanty LinkedIn profile, if that. Is someone from the firm regularly participating in the questions and answers in your practice area? If there’s no discussion group in an area of your expertise, you can start one and be a catalyst for keeping the discussion going.

The beauty of social media, whether it’s LinkedIn, blogging or other vehicles, is that you can work it without leaving your desk; however, the idea is to use social media to open doors to relationships or create the familiarity that makes other marketing avenues easier to pursue. You have to come out from behind your laptop.

Take a look at the marketplace, and do some research in terms of legal industry forecasts. What specialty areas within your practice do you see an increasing need for? Think about the work you’ve done. Has there been a particular area that’s interested you more than others? Can you build more of a practice around it?

Think about the areas that have been considered but discounted by your rainmakers. Which of these offer opportunity if someone were to pursue them with dedication? What area might your practice get business from now that could be grown if someone were to focus on it? Maybe, for example, building referrals from attorneys who don’t do what you do.

Making Rain Takes Time

Make a timeline for yourself. Rainmaking happens at a pace closer to that of a slow-rolling summer thunderstorm than a fast-gliding spring shower, and to expect otherwise is to put unfair pressure on yourself. So be realistic: Give yourself a several years to attain your ultimate goal, but set intermediate targets. Bringing in even a relatively small amount of business will bolster your confidence and give you a sense of control over your career.

Some interim steps might include just being able to introduce the current rainmakers to prospects generated by your business development efforts. Perhaps you have an interested prospect, but you don’t feel you can land this client on your strengths alone. If bringing in another partner will ensure landing the prospect, then do it. It may not be where you want to be rainmaking-wise, but it will demonstrate the progress you’re making to your management and to yourself.

A Support System and Other Important Tools

Build a support network. This network may include a professional business development coach who knows how to navigate professional service marketing, a rainmaker whom you respect and who is willing to mentor you, or an attorney who has achieved the transition you are attempting. Having players like these on your team as advisors and “cheerleaders” can raise your probability of success.

A support network can also help you make a game plan. Consider what kind of business you want to bring in. Identify your clients and where they are. Find potential referral sources. In addition, take the time to educate yourself about the business development process, strategy and tactics. Take a seminar, listen to webinars and find blogs you can regularly follow.

Make sure you have the right marketing tools. Do you have a succinct value statement regarding what value clients perceive from your work. It’s likely your rainmaking leaders have never put one together. Do you have a database of contacts that you can regularly communicate with, alerting them to your blog posts, sending your article, etc.? These elements are the foundation of any marketing plan.

Consider how to package yourself within the firm’s brand. You may want to have a one-sheet describing your firm and your practice area but with your bio and headshot. Revisit your biography on your firm’s website because it may need pumping up, for example, updating representative examples of your work.

Outward Bound

Think hard about how you can create business for others and what introductions you can make. You may not know 20 CEOs or general counsel at a Fortune 500 company, but you may know attorneys in one practice area who are natural referral sources for attorneys or other professionals in another. Being the first to get the ball rolling is a great way to make it come back to you.

If you’re concerned you don’t have the personality of a rainmaker, don’t be. Think about the attorneys you know who bring in business: Your preconception of what a rainmaker is like is probably much more gregarious than the genuine article. That’s because developing business isn’t about being a social butterfly—it’s about listening, asking questions, communicating to potential clients that you care about their needs, etc. Work on developing those skills, and you will be going a long way toward making rain.

Generating business is more than generating leads. It’s about generating trust. When you reflect on the rainmakers you know, most likely they engender trust. As a burgeoning business developer wanting to create your own spotlight, realize that you have to be very, very good at what you do. You have to know your stuff cold. Prospective clients do not believe that they are taking a chance on the firm’s known entities, but they see it as taking a leap of faith with you.

The effort to become a rainmaking partner can at times feel Sisyphean—except it has its rewards. Having your own book of business means being less dependent on your partners, more likely to get career opportunities (including receiving interest from other firms) and less dispensable to your firm come hard times. Exerting control over your professional life makes that life more interesting and, well, more fun.

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