After three years of law school and two long, grueling months spent studying for the bar, it never occurred to me that much of my future in “BigLaw” would hinge on one, not-so-simple concept: business development. In every firm, a select few lawyers—unicorns—garner the coveted designation of “rainmakers.” These are heroes in all legal folklore, the people who bring business into the firm and keep young associates billing hours. Ironically, during my summer clerkships, my success was inextricably linked to my work product and to my ability to maintain a smile after eight hours in the office and another three spent at an extended happy hour. No one ever mentioned that in addition to those things, my viability in the legal field would also revolve around my ability to convince people to hire me… again and again. From the moment that I began my practice, an “unstated” rule has been “go make friends now so that later you can bring in business… and make partner,” or at least that’s how it sounds in my head. Truth be told, firm veterans smooth it out a little more, putting the emphasis on the net worth of your network, building and sustaining relationships, and maintaining a level of visible involvement within your community. In theory, all those things sound great, but in reality, I had (and possibly still have) no idea how to make them happen… until I asked. The crux of what I discovered can be distilled into the following six points.
First, determine what you want your personal brand to look like by tailoring your digital footprint. In an era in which there is a Wiki page dedicated to almost everything, young lawyers would be remiss to ignore the effect that their digital identities will ultimately and undoubtedly have on their business identities. Start by Googling yourself. Get an idea of the first impression that potential clients will have of you. If clients have to make split-second, expensive decisions based on only the first page of your Google results, the LinkedIn profile that you haven’t updated since undergrad, or outdated firm biographies, are you really going to bring in their business? Consult with your marketing coordinators and get their input on how best to edit your bio to reflect the niche, valuable experience that you now have. Change the pro-file picture on your LinkedIn account to a recent, recognizable—not to mention professional—photo, and in all areas, remember to highlight your strengths. If you start the process of selling yourself before you actually interact with clients, the chances that you will gain their business are higher.
Second, decide which organizations will help develop your brand and provide you with the opportunity to net-work with like-minded professionals (and future clients). You should also consider your interest in, and opportunities for, serving in leadership and volunteer positions. Don’t be a seat filler; there are already enough people doing that. Choose a few organizations—civic, trade, and professional—that you feel connected to, that align with your legal and career interests, and that will provide you with meaningful growth. Specifically, trade organizations provide an opportunity to bond and interact with business leaders who may eventually need legal services. By virtue of the connections made at those trade events or meetings, your name could potentially end up in the hat for future work. It costs you virtually nothing to build a connection now that could later repay you handsomely.
Third, be both generous and miserly with your time. As a young lawyer, if you position yourself strategically, you will find that many opportunities fall into your lap. By virtue of joining professional and trade organizations, you may find that you have opportunities to speak or write to help plan annual events. Say “yes” when you can, and become comfortable saying “no” when you cannot. As part of your image, you want to be available and willing to contribute; however, those attributes should never come at the sacrifice of quality. Under-promise and over-deliver; your future, successful self will thank you. Current clients, future clients, and law firm colleagues are more likely to give you work and continue giving you work if you consistently meet and exceed expectations.
Fourth, do not be afraid to introduce your (future) self. Closed mouths don’t get fed. Tell the partners that you work for, and those that you don’t, as well as other associates, what you are currently working on and the types of matters that you hope to work on in the future. By taking a moment to keep those around you apprised, you make it more likely that someone will think of you for work and that those introductory matters will allow room for you to build your own client relationships. Also, in the organizations that you join, become a member of subgroups that align with your future interests, and find mentors wherever and whenever you can.
Fifth, maintain your current network and relationships. Simply by suffering through four years of undergrad and another three years of law school, you have created a net-work of friends, fellow alumni, professors, and other acquaintances. Don’t unfriend your entire law school class after graduation. Send that LinkedIn request and keep track of what your colleagues are doing. Not everyone will remain in law firms. Some will go in-house for large companies, and others will assume non-legal executive positions with prospective clients. Maintain genuine connections with those people and you could potentially have work sent your way. Even with your peers who are still working in law firms, or those from undergrad who took non-legal paths, take a moment to send an email, direct message, or text once a year just to touch base.
Sixth, be proactive. Take ownership of your work and the “files” that you’re working on. It is far easier to just do the research and write the memo than it is to sit with the facts of the case and deter-mine how best to help your client, or better, the level of service that you would want if you were the client instead. Ask the partner how you can make his or her life easier, and if you get the chance, ask the client the same. If something interests you, write the article first, and find a home for it later. If the organization that covers the niche field that you want to break into is seeking speaking proposals, submit one. Ask to attend that extra seminar or CLE related to the case that you’re working on. The worst that anyone can tell you is “no.” Hand your business card to the person that you meet and spend five minutes talking to in the Starbucks line. For that matter, hand your business cards to your friends, their friends, church members, and small business owners that you know. You never know where your card may end up, or who may become a decision maker at a company positioned to send business to you down the road. Do not wait for opportunities to come to you, but rather, seek them out on your own. Make your own luck. Narrate your own success.
Now, I am certainly not the expert on “making it rain.” Truthfully, I have yet to master the art of making it drizzle, even a little bit. This article, though, is a reflection of my commitment, my enthusiasm, and my absolute fear (in the best sense of the word) of beginning the process of build-ing my own little black book of business. Regardless, from my experience thus far, by taking a few moments here and there to follow the steps outlined above, I have already gained the ability to shape my practice, and in time, my business devel-opment. #IWillMakeItRain… Eventually #SoWillYou.
Republished with permission. This article first appeared in the February 2018 issue of DRI’s Raising the Bar.