Have you ever caught yourself thinking: “Oh, he’s a natural. You either have it or you don’t.” when it comes to rainmaking for lawyers? Even if you haven’t, I’m sure you have overheard a colleague say it if you’ve been in the business for a while.
I know I have. Remarks where “natural” referred to someone’s ability to develop business for a law firm – rainmaking. In the minds of those who don’t have the skills yet, lawyers were either “natural rainmakers” or they were not. No critical thinking required.
Think about it: Would you call a really successful attorney a “natural lawyer”? As if a rookie right out of law school could just naturally try cases or lead complex transactions. Sounds ridiculous, right? Of course you know that it takes practice, experience, and hard work to become a lawyer who has honed their skills for long enough to be able to do that.
There are of course fields where natural talent can help you along. Mozart must have had some in-born talent to create his first compositions at five years old, but that still wouldn’t have mattered without a whole lot of practice.
Capability is earned
Such natural “talent” is not enough to become a true professional in any field. In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Galdwell states that it requires around 10,000 hours of “focused practice, coaching and feedback” to master anything.
If we divide this number by the average 2000+ hours an attorney works in a year, low and behold it would seem that it takes around five years to become a capable lawyer.
“Rainmaking” after all is nothing but another way of saying “selling”. A regular salesperson learns, practices, trains and gains experience just like a lawyer. To become successful at selling your law skills you do not need to become a salesperson, but hopefully you can see that nobody can just expect to be born with sales or “rainmaking” skills.
Transitioning out of the Seller’s Market
Historically, lawyers didn’t have to care about becoming good at rainmaking either. We have decades behind us of process explosion, deregulation, and a litigation boom creating what could be called the “golden years” of profitability for law firms.
Economics teaches us that when you have higher demand than perceived supply, you are in a seller’s market. During this golden age, “rainmakers” were able to coast along favorable market conditions. Conditions that we can’t expect to just spontaneously reappear in today’s market.
In a seller’s market, one needs to merely show up consistently and accept orders. In a buyer’s market, one has to do the hard work of actually developing the skills necessary to convince buyers to provide orders.
Showing up is still an essential part, but it’s far from sufficient these days. A lawyer who knows something about the sales process will easily surpass anyone who thinks that it is. That is what will reveal the true rainmakers.
Differentiation to Gain the Edge
Due to a change of the nature of “demand”, the market is also shifting in another way. The top-tier legal stars who have the rare ability to solve high-stakes and high-value problems reliably see a narrowing of demand at this top-end. It’s become a tiny slice of the legal market.
Instead the future now belongs to the attorney who can establish a differentiated market position.
Just consider the top consulting firms in the country. Deloutte, PWC, KPMG, E&Y, … what really differentiates one from the other? What can one do that the other can’t? Their service offerings are not what determines competitive success. It is their marketing and sales strategies.
If you still believe the “natural rainmaker” myth, you deny even the possibility that these skills can be learned. You allow yourself to give in to simple fear-based thinking. If you’re not a “natural”, well then you can’t be expected to develop business. You don’t have to face potential rejection and frustration at not being able to close a client. You can comfortably leave that to those “naturals”.
Studies consistently show that the personalities of lawyers are up to 80% on the introverted spectrum, heavily uncomfortable with rejection. So the 20% who are “naturally” more resilient in the face of rejection can easily be interpreted as the “naturals” who should take care of business development.
However in a buyer’s market, simple tenacity is now far from sufficient. Instead what rises above all else are disciplined decision-management skills. Techniques that can not only be learned by any attorney, but that are also even better suited to more introverted personality types.
Rainmaking in a “Buyer’s Market”
The head of Citi’s law firm group, Dan DiPietro, is widely quoted of late:
- Demand for legal service, especially for full-price US law firms, is trending downward,
- Billing rates are trending downward,
- Cost-reduction strategies are exhausted and not repeatable, and
- Firms and lawyers that succeed going forward will do so at the expense of their competitors.
All of these indicators point towards this shift from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market being structural and permanent. We are in a mature business category. This is the new status quo, and we can’t count on a “golden age” to return any time soon.
Add to that an increase in technology solutions replacing routinized legal work, legal process outsourcing, and in-house legal counsel handling the work that was on the open market before, and we’re in a business environment that urgently needs to let go of outdated ideas about business development.
Accept that times and rules have changed, and invest in revenue-generators to learn how to go with the times and update their sales mentality to fit the modern legal market.
An outdated “pitch” mentality now turns off buyers more than it attracts them. Ironically, the introverted personalities of many lawyers now become an asset as the Buyer’s Market needs a more subtle approach to “sales”.
Rainmaking for lawyers is a skill that needs to be honed and not something “natural” one is born with. Sign up for our introductory courses to get started!