How to Add Value to Your Firm: The Art of Rainmaking

Too many small firm and solo lawyers believe they are not natural marketers. The reality is that there is no one personality type that makes a successful rainmaker.

But marketing does require far more planning than the typical "random acts of golf and lunch" that ultimately have unimpressive payoffs. A marketing plan requires identifying the people most likely to hire you for the work you want to do, communicating with them to let them know who you are, and then developing close relationships with these people to help them achieve their goals.

For solo lawyers the idea of marketing is often daunting because there are so many potential clients, so little time to reach them and so many options for pursuing them. To address this problem, marketing must be approached practically by creating a profile of your ideal client and developing a strategy for this target, not everyone. You must define the location, demographics, occupation, financials and other characteristics of clients who will give you the work you want.

Asking the questions

Effective rainmakers find out not only what clients or potential clients need, but also what they want. That requires finding out how clients best receive information and then providing it to them in a way they find useful. Successful rainmakers communicate in a way that builds loyalty and collaboration over time by putting the emphasis on the client and not on the lawyer.

Rainmakers take a customer-service approach to dealing with prospects, just like a successful shop or restaurant takes with its customers. They make clients feel like part of the team, seek out their opinions and ask them what they want to accomplish.

Rainmakers never put prospective clients on the defensive. They follow a win-win communications strategy that does not use the style of questioning required when taking a deposition or structuring a contract.

Having been trained to ask questions, I have often been told by my wife to stop interrogating her; all I wanted to find out was information, but to her, I am interrogating and putting her on the defensive. Lawyers must change that approach when interacting with prospective clients. It's a conversation between two friends, nothing more.

The better prospects feel when talking to a lawyer, the more positive they are and the more they will seek out the lawyer's services.

A rainmaker's key attributes are empathy and rapport, expressed by using a lawyer's skill to ask a hypothetical business client questions like:

  • What's the biggest project you have going on now?
  • What kind of a year has it been so far?
  • Are you concerned about recent product liability litigation trends?
  • What do you think would give you the most help in dealing with employees or customers?
  • What do you want your organization to look like in one year, two years or five years?
  • Will you be offering new products or services in the next year?
  • There is only one way to get this kind of information: personal, face-to-face meetings. Social networking on the Internet is effective, but personal contact is the differentiating factor that gets a lawyer noticed.

Meeting prospects

An excellent example of how to do this is attending a trade show.

There is no better way to establish effective marketing relationships with prospective clients than by establishing a presence at industry trade shows and association meetings. By properly researching and targeting attendance, a lawyer can meet more prospects in one day than might otherwise be possible in months. And physically being present at these meetings of potential clients demonstrates knowledge of their business, understanding of their concerns and seriousness about offering solutions.

Rainmakers use this kind of contact to begin an ongoing process of contact with clients or prospects to develop and expand a working relationship outside of the lawyer's own services. The lawyer doesn't have to maintain an exhibit booth, but merely a presence at the event, mingling with people on the exhibit floor and at the show's events. Aside from meeting and greeting people, you will also learn about the industry.

Don't confuse this kind of marketing with the ethically questionable "cold call." ABA Rule 7.3 prohibits "in-person, live telephone or real-time electronic contact [to] solicit professional employment from a prospective client" when the solicitation involves "coercion, duress or harassment," or when "a significant motive ... is the lawyer's pecuniary gain."

In targeted marketing through visits to trade association meetings and conversation with prospective clients, you are creating a bond and demonstrating that you provide value. That means an investment in time and expense - but it also means your marketing is more likely to bear fruit.

The goal is not a series of "sales calls" on the prospect, but the development of a broader relationship in which you demonstrate the ways you can meet the prospect's needs. How you present yourself in terms of showing attention to and empathy with the prospect can be crucial to the information you elicit, the impression you leave - and the business you generate.

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