Volume 17, Issue 1

What percentage of your partners are rainmakers? If you’re like most professional service firms, the answer is always less than 10%. Just because your entire partnership can’t be rainmakers doesn’t mean your firm should aim for anything less than avibrant and collaborative rainmaking culture if they want to thrive within the “new normal.”

It’s not that there aren’t pockets of excellence within the legal profession. It’s that we need entire wardrobes of excellence to become sustainable. There are few large firms we are aware of that are delivering exceptional value to clients at EVERY level within the firm. During a recent conversation with a client whom I deeply respect and admire it became clear he was searching for answers. What’s needed in most firms is transformation. The sticking point is most firms aren’t willing to admit that they must transform if they going to remain healthy and viable. There is nothing we want more than to transform the AmLaw 500 into client oriented enterprises.

Before 2008 I used to believe firms had a choice about creating a rainmaking culture but not anymore. We have seen massive contraction in the AmLaw 500 ranks since 2008 with more shrinkage expected in the foreseeable future. Is continuing shrinkage inevitable? Yes. Some firms have managed to eke out year over year growth since 2008. I would contend that is only one indicator of sustainability and then only a modest predictor of success.

Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters concluded in their 2014 Report on the State of the Legal Market: “Law firms need to think more carefully and systematically about what is necessary to build sustainable organizations over the long term. That means giving serious thought both to how they provide services to clients and how they can provide opportunities for lawyers that elicit commitment and afford professional satisfaction.”

The 2014 report further states, “With clients increasingly concerned with efficiency, predictability, and cost effectiveness — and less concerned with a firm’s brand or prestige — researchers conclude that firms must rethink and revise the basic organizational, pricing, and service delivery models that have dominated the market for decades. Though such innovations are imperative to remaining competitive in today’s legal market, researchers found that few firms have made meaningful changes to the traditional models.”

What impact would it have on your firm if EVERY lawyer approached EVERY client with the mindset of your top rainmakers? The mindset of the top producers is always “How do I help my clients succeed?” This mindset needs to permeate your entire culture!! This is enlightened self-interest if you think about it. How many of your top 25 clients are on a sustainable path? How about the next 25? If you have a stable of 100 clients and many of them aren’t on a sustainable path due to changing market conditions and structural changes in our economy, they won’t be around in 10 years for you to service. I would contend that helping clients succeed MUST BE CENTRAL to every firm’s strategy for growth. As many of our clients have found out from their work with us, you don’t have to be a rainmaker to be devoted to helping your clients succeed.

Let me make the business case for developing more rainmakers: Even a modest increase in partners with rainmaking skills and a “help my clients succeed” mindset will make your firm much more viable. Aiming for the concrete goal of tripling the ranks of your rainmaking population (30%) is even better. Most firms, if they want to thrive, will need far more than 10% of its partners who operate as rainmakers. How unique and valuable will your firm be to its clients if it tripled the ranks of its rainmakers?

I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of top rainmakers in professional service firms around the world. I’ve noticed something striking about them. They are in even greater demand today than 2008. Why? They know how to deliver value. What makes working with them so much fun has more to do with mindset than behavior. One quick example of the contrast between rainmakers and your average partner. Rainmakers can speak the language of the C Suite comfortably while your average partner is awestruck, tongue-tied or just plain clueless about how to converse with this important demographic. Here’s what I’ve seen during the past five years:

•  Clients are much more demanding than ever before. Firms are responding to this increased demand by offering more work on fixed fees, being forced to bid on work via reverse audit auctions and needing more people in the firm with project management skills. Sounds great until you consider these actions do almost nothing to teach firms how to grow the top line and top line growth is central to sustainability.

•  Clients are hungering for innovation from their professionals but aren’t getting it. At best, firms are grudgingly moving towards addressing increasing client demands.

•  Most partners in professional service firms have huge knowledge gaps about their clients’ businesses.

•  Rainmakers have enjoyed a considerable competitive advantage because of their unique skills and mindset.

•  A rainmaker’s mindset with clients is “help my clients succeed”.

•  Rainmakers understand the C Suite and speak comfortably with this demographic.

Let’s start with the acknowledgement that your firm will never have an entire firm of rainmakers. What I’m suggesting is it needs to teach EVERY LAWYER IN YOUR FIRM HOW RAINMAKERS THINK. Imagine if every lawyer in your firm starts thinking like rainmakers? That one change will transform your culture and grow your TOP LINE. Equally obvious is market conditions are forcing the need for a collaborative rainmaking culture in large professional service firms. As I’ve said to clients for years, those teams of lawyers who work collaboratively are EXTREMELY RARE, but they run circles around their competitors no matter how brilliant the individual rainmakers may be.

Make me the managing partner of any firm around the globe and I’d immediately do three things:

1.  Inform every partner that you intend to put the firm on a sustainable path.

2. Invite suggestions on how to go about cultivating a collaborative rainmaking culture.

3. Set forth clear expectations for relationship metrics for EVERY MEMBER OF THE FIRM

What percentage of your partners are obsessed with helping your clients succeed and deliver value that always exceeds the fee? And know HOW to do just that? I’d welcome your comments or ideas!

Thanks for reading.