If you’re a new associate in a law firm, consider yourself exceptionally lucky. As the Huffington Post reported last year: “Within nine months of graduating, only 55 percent of the class of 2011 law students had full-time jobs that required a law degree and lasted more than a year, according to data from the American Bar Association, cited by the Wall Street Journal.” And things are likely going to get worse before they get better.
Highly regarded UK-based legal futurist Richard Susskind recently published a new book entitled Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future, in which he “predicts fundamental and irreversible changes in the world of law. What Susskind sees is eye-opening-a legal world of virtual courts, Internet-based global legal businesses, online document production, commoditized service, legal process outsourcing, and web-based simulated practice. Legal markets will be liberalized, with new jobs for lawyers and new employers too.” as Legal Informatics Blog recently outlined.
While the long term future may be bright, the short to medium term climate for new lawyers (as well as partners, as Jayne Navarre, Executive Director of LawGravity LLC, recently wrote about) will see more disruption, less opportunity and therefore more job and career uncertainty as a result of enormous structural changes taking place in the legal services sector. It is, therefore, imperative for any new lawyer to embrace those tools which may assist him or her to survive the current legal services climate — and thrive in the one of the future.
What can new lawyers do to build a brighter future?
Carolyn Elefant, an attorney in Washington, DC and noted blogger on trends in the legal services sector (in particular those relating to solo practitioners), recently lamented the lack of digital economy preparedness most young lawyers have when seeking to enter the workforce. I agree with Ms Elefant about newly minted lawyers digital preparedness, however there are many more skills you need to acquire to ultimately become a senior rainmaker in a law firm.
First and foremost, you must have a passion for your work (as Warren Buffett recommends), a passion to become a rainmaker, and the determination to devote most of your life (that includes evenings and weekends) to reaching that pinnacle. I’ve worked with a large number of senior rainmaking partners and sat with them while we’ve met with prime ministers and CEO’s from around the world – in an effort to win their business. Here’s a step-by-step guide for what you should do, beginning with the most basic initiatives to the most sophisticated – that will start you on a path to becoming a rainmaker, if you truly wish to be one:
- Establish a LinkedIn profile.
- Join LinkedIn groups where referral sources and potential clients are members. Become active in those groups.
- Consider joining Twitter if you are prepared to remain active on that platform.
- Here’s a compendium of resources on Linkedin and Twitter by LexBlog CEO, Kevin O’Keefe.
Advanced social media
- Establish a blog and write about topics of importance to your ideal potential clients.
- Distribute that content across relevant social media platforms.
- Seek relentlessly to become a thought leader in your speciality. Dan Harris, Seattle-based lawyer and author of China Law Blog, is someone to emulate.
- Network among groups where your ideal potential clients are.
- Make tailored presentations to groups of ideal potential clients (a customer relationship management (CRM) system should be used to identify ideal attendees).
- For business oriented legal practices, network among those professionals who are complimentary to your practice, eg investment bankers, accountants, and others. Develop reciprocal referral relationships with those professionals.
Advanced – Think like a rainmaker
- Rainmakers tenaciously seek to find opportunities for their clients. They think like investment bankers and corporate CEO’s. You need to do the same to become a rainmaker.
- Identify commercial opportunities for ideal potential clients where those commercial opportunities also will generate revenue for your practice.
- Contact those prospective clients whom you have an opportunity to assist achieve their commercial goals. Arrange one-on-one meetings or phone calls to discuss how you can help.
- You can get to the CEO. Don’t believe anyone who tells you you can’t.
- This effort involves patience, tenacity and a pronounced ability to suffer setback.
- Remember that there are many ideal potential clients outside your jurisdiction who may be seeking to enter or expand into the US. Global economic trade, (despite the recent downturn) is growing, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – and will continue to do so in your lifetime. Don’t miss this opportunity.
- Consider making yourself a gateway to your market via blogging and other active social media engagement.
- Establishing referral relationships with overseas lawyers and other professional services providers.
- Engage in consistent, determined, direct prospecting among ideal potential clients in key overseas markets.
- These examples apply to practitioners anywhere in the world.
Seize the Day
If you wish to be a rainmaker and possess a passion for it, through very hard work and dedication – you stand a good chance of becoming one. It may not be in a large AmLaw 100 law firm, but it could be in a medium-sized firm or as a solo-practitioner. Whatever path you choose, you can achieve rainmaker status in the legal services sector in the future (irrespective of how challenging it is today) if you do what’s necessary to survive now and thrive later.