This work first appeared in the November 8, 2012 edition of “The Careerist”.
In my 30 years of working with lawyers, I’ve found that they often have misconceptions about business development. Rainmakers are not necessarily savvy or brave. Nor are they wiser than their fellow lawyers. Many successful rainmakers are careful, precise, and even quiet. One need not be gregarious to build or increase a book of business.
No particular personality is required for rainmaking, but lawyers should first make sure that they are going into it with the right attitude. So before you begin, check that you are not falling into these seven attitude traps:
1. It feels rude and maybe arrogant to pitch clients who already have lawyers. You can’t assume that the client’s current lawyer is meeting the client’s needs. She might be, but it’s possible you might have better rapport with the client and the business team. Give the client the chance to choose.
2. I hate selling. Do you believe your legal skills are valuable? Do you believe your legal work helps people in building their business? If you listen well and practice law well, you are not just selling; you are offering a service.
3. It’s too overwhelming. I don’t know where to start. Start with people with whom you have already worked. Have you spoken with them recently? Call and say hello. People like attention. Ask what they have been doing lately. People like to talk about themselves, and conversations evolve.
4. I can’t call and ask for business! You don’t call and ask for business. You call and say, “I’ve been thinking about you.” Ask, “How are you? How is your business?” Share a helpful fact or anecdote. People care when you care. They care more when you help. It is sometimes a numbers game, so call the people you’ve worked with and make a personal impression.
5. I’m afraid they might tell me “no.” Sometimes “no”feels like a personal judgment, but it seldom is in this context. If you were given the time to pitch, you’ve already passed the skills and personality test. Moving on after “no” distinguishes rainmakers from the rest of the pack.
6. I am not a smooth mixer. Rainmaking is not about making small talk or clever conversation. It’s about asking good, pointed questions about people’s business. Decide the kind of client you want to cultivate, and ask thoughtful questions, and show genuine interest.
7. I feel out of place, perhaps even sleazy, offering unsolicited business advice. Good lawyers are part of the client’s business team, so you should be ready to give solid business advice and not just legal counsel. However, lawyers often feel business advice is not their role, so get over that “it’s not my job” feeling. Remember, few outside of your client’s business know as much about their work as you do.