How not to act like a rainmaker

Are rainmakers born or made?

As law firms certainly would like to manufacture more partners of the business-generating variety, there has been significant study on the psychological makeup, personality traits and even birth order of rainmakers. (Fun fact: There is no statistically significant difference in the rate of only children rainmakers vs. only children service partners.)

Dr. Larry Richard’s study of lawyer personality traits found that rainmakers had higher ego drive, ego strength and empathy; they were more assertive and significantly less cautious (and less perfectionist) than service partners.

Meanwhile, Lawyer Metrics’ research, The Rainmaking Study, explored not just personality traits, but also the behaviors that were more likely to result in business development success. While as human beings we cannot necessarily reinvent our personalities, we can adjust our behaviors. For lawyers who aspire to rainmaking status, it is helpful to study these patterns – and to understand what rainmakers don’t do.

Seven behaviors to avoid if you want to build a significant book of business:

Stick to legalese. One major difference between rainmakers and service partners: Rainmakers provide practical business advice, while many service partners can get stuck in the comfort zone of theory – often providing thorough legal analysis without ever giving a clear answer to “So what do we do?”

Rainmakers recognize that legal acumen is table stakes. What makes them indispensable to clients is their true knowledge of the business – and their willingness to take a stand and say “This is the best path forward.”

Network with big crowds. Rainmakers favor quality over quantity; they eschew crowded Chamber of Commerce events in favor of one-on-one interactions. They focus their business development time on cultivating relationships through meals and shared experiences (baseball games, concerts). They get creative and they get personal: Rainmakers know that while making a client happy is good, making a client’s kid/spouse/family happy is exponentially better.

Suck up to the bosses; ignore the “little people.” Rainmakers understand that everyone they encounter is a potential source for new business. Working with clients, they treat support staff as warmly as they do the general counsel. This is a part of rainmakers’ vision – they possess a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of organizations and networks. They see the current matter not as an end unto itself, but as a link to the next matter.

Stay in your lane. Rainmakers strive to be the first and only phone call when problems arise. They do not identify themselves necessarily as environmental or employment or toxic tort lawyers; instead, they see themselves as problem solvers. When these problems are outside their area of expertise (for example, a client’s kid gets arrested), they may impose on their colleagues. At its best, this trait makes them valuable and trusted advisors; at its worst, it puts them in a mafioso position.

Hoard work; do it all yourself. Rainmakers succeed not just by delegation but also through empowerment. The Rainmaking Study reported rainmakers build loyal teams by “trusting people to take on increasing responsibilities, listening to their views, and encouraging them to act on their own.” It’s worth noting, though, that rainmakers want to be leading the team, not just serving on it. While service partners generally outscore rainmakers for “teamwork,” a lawyer who scores highly in “motivating others” is 45 percent more likely to be a rainmaker.

Rainmakers understand their highest and best use is relationship development; they report 40 percent more client development hours than service partners. As such, they identify and empower solid associates, administrative staff and service providers to perform supporting roles.

Play it safe. Compared to partners who test as cautious, risk-takers are 39 percent more likely to be rainmakers. This (ideally) does not manifest as a lackadaisical approach to the law, but instead to a willingness to put themselves out there, to ask for business, to be told no, to ask again. “Rainmakers demonstrate a far greater willingness than service partners to go back to a potential client who has rejected earlier overtures and try again,” the study reports.

Get motivated by comp or status. Rainmakers and service partners share a common work ethic, according to The Rainmaking Study. Where they differ is in motivation: While service partners may be driven to develop business to meet external expectations (for advancement or compensation, for example), rainmakers are driven to develop business because they cannot bear being beholden to anyone else. A rainmaker must control her own destiny.

This may stem from some fascinating findings in the study. Rainmakers often come from less-privileged backgrounds than service partners, which may be a motivating factor in the hustle. Rainmakers are four times as likely to have paid for college mostly or fully themselves; rainmakers are less than half as likely to have graduated from a currently ranked top 10 law school or undergraduate university or both.

Your personality may be fixed, but think of the activities that may spark a little rainmaking. Get to know the business – and speak the language of business, not law professors. Invest in one-on-one time with your clients and prospects. Cultivate a network that’s deep and broad. Solve problems (even those outside your practice area). Lead with empowerment. Ask for the work.

Most of all, get excited by the idea of business development not for comp or status, but business development to shape the kind of career that excites you – the opportunity to work on your terms, whether that’s a type of matter, a type of client or a certain schedule. Get excited, then hustle.

It’s estimated that fewer than 10 percent of lawyers are rainmakers. A rainmaker in training likes those odds.