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Well Said!

More Rainmaking Advice for New Associates: Earning Partner Preference

By Mike O'Horo

My last post, “Advice to New Associates on Becoming a Rainmaker,” 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 a long-ago mentor would say, “You ask, you get.”

Step One: Adjust Your Attitude

The gist of the first step is to get your mindset right in five ways. Then, choose an industry to invest yourself in and begin positioning yourself. If you haven’t made that adjustment, do it first. Otherwise, none of what follows will do you any good.

If you have done it, then you’re already paying close attention to the news in the industry you’ve chosen as your focus. 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 your firm a lot more than you generate. That’s expected, but it doesn’t mean that in the interim you can’t deliver a different form of value. You want to 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 — 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 focus only on the work in front of them, and blithely ignore changes and developments that will define their 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

Nearly all firm partners are busy. That limits the 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 partners.

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 her to approach her client and stimulate a discussion — thus separating herself from lawyers who don’t.

For example, let’s say you’ve been assigned to the firm’s banking group. For years, much of law firms’ work in this arena 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 answers might surprise you. One way to get insight is to examine the intersection of major macroeconomic factors and your client’s industry.

Driverless Vehicles? Banks? What?

earning partner preference exampleDo you see an article about autonomous vehicles (AVs) and ignore it, deeming it irrelevant to your banking clients or practice, or 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.

You’ve probably seen article titles like “Driverless Cars: The Most Disruptive Technology of Our Time.” You’d probably be surprised to learn that it was published in International Banker magazine.

You might 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 as a “financial revolution,” can a banking lawyer really afford to ignore it?

Carve a Path to Choice Assignments

You’re early enough in your career that you don’t yet have any business development 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 attention to, but that may prove to be the missing dots that deliver an “a-ha!” moment. Those are the moments that, when shared with partners, distinguish you from your peers. Such moments form the beginning of a basis for partners to favor you with choice assignments and mentor attention.

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Mike O’Horo Mike O'Horo

Known as “The Coach” throughout his long career, Mike O’Horo was a giant among his peers in legal marketing and business development. He trained more than 7,000 lawyers, simplifying powerful sales processes by which they generated $1.5 billion in new business. A serial innovator, earlier he developed RainmakerVT, a virtual BD training tool, and the sales training program ResultsPath. He wrote his column, “Well Said!,” on sales and business development truths for lawyers. Mike passed away in February 2022.

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