Rainmakers share the secrets of their success

By Leigh Jones | The National Law Journal | July 11, 2012

Want to be a big rainmaker at a top firm? Then you’d better plan on devoting about 700 hours — the equivalent of about 90 workdays — each year to developing business.

So said Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner Michael Flynn, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer who, along with other attorneys skilled at pulling in legal business, on Tuesday divulged strategies for wooing clients. Speaking to about 100 partners, associates and business developers gathered in Costa Mesa, Calif., Flynn said he spends a sizeable portion of time each day to packing the business pipeline.

“It has to be as important as what you’re billing,” he said.

The presentation was part of the Legal Marketing Association Southern California Chapter’s fourth annual rainmaking panel. Also speaking were John Hurlbut, a litigation partner at Rutan & Tucker in Costa Mesa; Lei Lei Wang Ekvall, a bankruptcy partner at Weiland, Golden, Smiley, Wang Ekvall & Strok, also in Costa Mesa; and Christie Hind, a partner at Cypress LLP in Los Angeles.

Hind agreed that devoting plenty of time to rainmaking is important, but added that “authenticity” in trying to build relationships with potential clients is key. “If it feels cheesy and slick, it is,” she said.

Law firms increasingly are investing in business development. A 2011 survey by Zeughauser Group, a law firm consultancy, found that the nation’s largest 200 law firms employed about 22 percent more business development personnel than in 2007.

Winning over clients is a three-phase process, Wang Ekvall said. A new associate is the “grinder” — “really learning the legal work,” she said. The second phase requires the “binder,” the senior associate or junior partner who has formed a bond with the client — who turns to that attorney, as opposed to a top partner, for routine matters. The third player is the “finder,” the partner who brings in new business.

One of the most effective strategies, Hurlbut said, is to “get under the wing of a truly great lawyer.” That way, he said, young attorneys learn the skills necessary to build credibility and relationships with clients. Hurlbut has practiced at the firm since 1964.

Matthew Reinert, a summer associate at Rutan & Tucker who attended the discussion, acknowleged that developing business is not on the minds of most budding lawyers. Reinert will begin his third year in the fall at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law. “It takes so much time to learn the profession as opposed to developing clients,” he said.

Contact Leigh Jones at ljones@alm.com.

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