My earlier post, Advice to New Associates on Becoming a Rainmaker attracted a lot of attention and prompted a number of responses along the lines of, “Step One was helpful but, you don’t really think you can get away without giving us the next step, do you?”
OK, as one of my long-ago mentors would say, “You ask, you get.”
To refresh your memory, read the first post, but the gist of Step One is to adjust your attitude and get your mindset right in five ways. If you haven’t made that adjustment, do it first. Otherwise, none of what follows will do you any good.
If you have, then you’re already paying close attention to the news in the industry you’ve chosen as your focus, and you now find yourself with a pretty good understanding of what’s happening, and what emerging issues will drive future demand. For now, focus your lens on your primary market: firm partners.
Step Two: Earn partner preference, create internal demand
In the years it takes before your lawyering skills develop to where you can produce work product that clients will pay for, you cost a lot more than you generate, and your firm is operating at a loss. That’s expected, but it doesn’t mean that in the interim you can’t deliver a different form of value, and earn the attention of the partners who will decide which assignments go to which associates, and which ones they’ll devote time and attention to mentoring.
Unless you have a visionary practice group leader or partners, the group probably wrestles with problems typical of a mature practice, e.g., downward price pressure, more work being brought in-house, greater difficulty getting access to senior managers and counsel, and uncertainty about the future. That’s because too many lawyers typically focus only on the work in front of them, and blithely ignore changes and developments that will define the client’s future -- and their own.
This is a big complaint from clients -- that outside counsel don’t understand their business, lack industry context, don’t appreciate their evolving challenges, and as a result rarely approach clients proactively with fresh thinking. As one GC put it, “I need practical advice about how something impacts my business.” How can you deliver that if you don’t understand the business?
Differentiate the partner, differentiate yourself
With exceptions, all partners are busy. That limits the frequency and time they can devote to following industry publications, news, blogs, and other sources. When you’re not immersed in it, it’s hard to accumulate enough disparate dots to connect them and develop insight or predictive capability. Yet, this is what clients want. The solution? You do it for them.
Don’t wait to be asked, and don’t announce that you’re going to do it
Just do it. The first word a partner hears from you on the topic should be some useful insight or deductive conclusion that will allow a partner to approach her client and stimulate a discussion, thus separating herself from lawyers who don’t.
As an example, let’s say you’ve been assigned to the firm’s Banking group. Much of law firms’ work for years has been recurring litigation, and papering various transactions. This work has been around a long time, to the point that much of the risk -- and pricing power -- has been removed.
But, what do banks’ futures look like? What issues must they prepare for? The answer might surprise you. One way to answer that is to examine the intersection of major macroeconomic factors and your client’s industry.
Driverless vehicles? Banks? What?
Do you see an article about autonomous vehicles (AVs) and ignore it, deeming it irrelevant to your banking clients or practice, or the the exclusive province of large corporations, not of law firms?
You might be thinking, “Data security risks. That’s a big issue for banks.” Very good. But what do cars -- autonomous or otherwise -- have to do with that? Along the path to full driverless autonomy, cars are getting smarter in every way, and this trend is accelerating.
“The most disruptive technology of our time"
You’ve probably seen article titles like Driverless cars: the most disruptive technology of our time. If you ignored it because AVs, while interesting, aren’t relevant to your practice or clients, you’d probably be surprised to learn that it was published in International Banker.
Would you be equally surprised to see Four ways the connected car will change banking published in The American Banker, telling you that “The revolution in automotive technology and mobility services will be a financial revolution as well. From frictionless payments to improved underwriting models, connected cars will rewrite the rules for how and where banks interact with their customers and change the way people manage and spend their money”?
When the conservative voice of conservative bankers describes an emerging form of innovation a “financial revolution,” can a banking lawyer really afford to ignore it?
You’re early enough in your career that you don’t yet have any BD habits. Begin today to form good ones. Strive for greater intellectual curiosity. It will drive you to explore topics that you might not otherwise pay any attention to, but that may prove to be the missing dots that deliver an “Aha!” moment that, when shared with partners, distinguishes you from your peers, and forms the beginning of a basis for partners to favor you with choice assignments and mentor attention.