How can every attorney learn the rainmaking skills of the few who seem especially able to build relationships that lead to billable work?

During the past 15 years, many law firms have come to Young Isaac to discuss practice development. In almost every case, I hear an attorney say that clients will come to expert practitioners. But the idea that clients come to deserving, talented lawyers is only partially correct. Effective practice development requires at least three elements:

  1. Fundamental professional skills.

    These include intellectual skills, such as legal expertise, and the ability to translate legal challenges and exposure into next steps and solutions. These skills also include baser skills, such as responsiveness and clean, easily-digested writing. These skills might seem mundane, but your current and prospective clients have told me that this is where their current counsel fails them: attorneys’ answers are unnecessarily complicated (magically requiring yet more research and fees to untangle) and phone calls are not returned as quickly as the client desires.

    These skills may be fundamental, but they are not common. They define the minimum competence to practice law, yet they are all too rare. Consider the words of Park National Bank’s David Trautman on the Gravitational Pull of Competence. As clients, we admire your brilliance, but we need to reach and understand you. Fulfill our needs and you will have a competitive advantage.

  2. Direct, applicable experience.
    There is no substitute for having seen the client’s particular challenge before. Clients seek proven methods. Of course, experience is a basic competitive advantage that marketing cannot help you find; you will find it if you seek it. Then marketing can help you amplify your experience so that clients know what you’ve done well.
  3. Relationships skills.
    Here’s what separates the finders from the grinders and minders. Rainmakers know how to build relationships with everyone and anyone. They seem to be natural networkers. But they have told me that their skills and attitude are not genetic, but developed. Rainmakers wake up in the morning and make a conscious decision to invest some of their time, intellect, energy and heart in reaching out and connecting to other humans.

Many lawyers reject this third aspect of practice development, and yet are surprised to discover that they are not originating clients and developing new work from existing clients. Let’s recognize the connection between relationship and rainmaking — this is the competitive advantage that most quickly distinguishes you as a worthy resource.

How can you develop relationships that can support your career? Here are the top seven suggestions:

  1. Get out more.
    Step away from the desk and the lawyers. Find places and devote the time to meet other humans. You could use the fresh air anyway.
  2. Develop an interest in knowing people
    — really knowing who they are as humans, not just as potential client files. Find what’s fascinating about everyone and celebrate that with them.
  3. Reach a list of contacts.
    Use social networking technology (find me on if you wish) or a simple written list. Know who your contacts are and get together with them regularly. This way you will be certain that someone knows you well.
  4. Practice an “elevator speech.”
    You need to be able to readily express a description of who you are, what you do, who appreciates you — in the time it takes an elevator to climb five floors. You’ll know you have it right if the listener says, “Tell me more.” And practice; don’t expect to be able to deliver it well the first time.
  5. Enjoy your current and prospective clients as humans, not just as billable hours.
    Learning is enjoyment. When the current project is completed, ask the client what was learned. Close every file with mutual growth.
  6. Be planful.
    Every Sunday, make a list of those you are going to call to discuss law and life.
  7. Do something.
    Work the plan. Incremental effort yields incremental gain.

For specific tactical and philosophical ideas regarding relationship management, walk over here.

Practicing law is hard. Practice development is relatively easier, if only you make the effort.