A stylish approach to rainmaking

Publication: Law Practice Quarterly

(Volume 1, Issue 3)

June 2000

Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.

Is there anything new to say about rainmaking?  My training as a psychologist, and data from psychological studies, say there is. Many rainmaking seminars and approaches emphasize the acquisition of basic skills for selling effectively. These valuable strategies are critical to effective rainmaking, but they are only part of the picture.  Successful marketing depends on assessing a client's interpersonal and legal needs more than it does on selling a service.

In plain English this means understanding not just what a prospective client needs in terms of legal services, but most important, what the prospect needs in terms of style and approach.  Is the prospect a "just the facts" person who wants information from you in bullet form (verbally or in writing), the shorter the meeting, the better.  Or is he or she interested in socializing with you to ensure you are comfortable with each other socially as a way to evaluate doing business together?

The style you adopt in your dealings with a prospect -- including the type and amount of information you provide and the type of relationship you build in order for them to buy -- are examples of the variables that affect the successful outcome of a business development effort.  Effective marketing is not just selling services.

Left to our own devices, each of us will revert to our comfort zone, continuing to rely on whatever business development strategy suits our own style, but not necessarily those of our prospects.  Jack provides a good example.  He was a very intellectual, shy guy, a partner in a mid-sized firm who was technically sharp and relied on by other members of his practice, and the whole firm, actually, for answers to tough legal questions. 

Technical expertise was his specialty, business development was not.  The firm eventually referred him to me when his marketing efforts had not produced the desired revenues for several successive years.   Jack figured that I could help him find another firm more appreciative of his diligent efforts to make speeches to trade associations and to write articles.  Instead, we looked first at how he could be more effective in tailoring his business development efforts to the needs of prospective clients. 

How to do this?  First, look for some clues in the initial contacts with a prospect.  The directness of communication and the relative emphasis on the task or the relationship are two important variables in style.  Is the prospect a person who prefers phone contacts or email, or is face to face communication preferred?  Are conversations confined to the task at hand or do they include personal information?  Does the prospect speak rapidly and look for quick answers or speak more slowly and want more time and information to reach a decision?

Dave was a hard-charging associate from a major law firm, the kind of go-getter every firm wants.  A smart, can-do kind of guy.  But his style bombed with several likely prospects from an industry in which he had done a lot of work.  Word filtered back that people were turned off by his abrasiveness and impatience.  He pushed for quick decisions, and when he pushed, prospects pushed back with "no".

A style that is generally seen as a strength can be a liability with some prospects.  Mary was a very personable lawyer, highly intelligent, and able to communicate with those less intelligent without making them feel stupid.  She was adept at meeting people and establishing rapport.  Those interpersonal skills, along with her formidable technical skills, made her a star in her class of associates at a prominent law firm.  However, she foundered in a number of critical business development situations.  She was so intent on building rapport that she overlooked the prospects" needs for information first, rapport later.  Meetings were cut short, calls were unanswered, promising prospects withered.

Marketing training is an important foundation for effective rainmaking.  Impressive academic and employment credentials are another. However, the days of credentials alone ensuring business are long gone. For most of us, those days never existed.   I have worked with many lawyers who, despite all these factors going for them, have had trouble  generating business in a booming but competitive marketplace.

How can you compete for business in this market?  One simple way to start is with that revered teacher, Lucy, of I Love Lucy fame. Remember the famous episode where Lucy mirrors every gesture and expression of a clown?  I can't recall what dilemma she was in and why she was pretending to be a mirror image.  However, emulating prospects is one way to learn their style.  If someone speaks in bullets, respond in bullets.  If they talk about statistics, talk back in statistics. 

Before meeting, you can pick up many cues about style on the phone, and can prepare for your meeting appropriately.  In a sense, it is an extension of the important central principle of active listening: listen carefully and paraphrase what you have heard back to the speaker, checking to confirm that you have understood them correctly.  This is useful to clarify understanding and to reinforce rapport.

If you want to give your people-reading skills a boost, there are tools out there and training to help you.  One example is the Birkman Method, which is an empirically-based, specialized tool for attorney business development that enables attorneys to understand their own style, and the style of prospects, using a simple four-part grid.   This information can help you understand your natural emphasis in rainmaking.  Are you a schmoozer or a teacher?  Are you more comfortable with five-minute overviews or lots of written documentation?  You can also learn how to read your client's style and adjust your approach accordingly.

As in so many things in life, aside from some sweat pants and t-shirts, one size rarely fits all.  To make the most of your rainmaking activities, putting time into tailoring your style and approach to the needs of your prospective clients, can boost your effectiveness. 

Copyright Notice:
This article originally appeared in the June 2000  issue of Law Practice Quarterly  (Volume 1, Issue 3), a publication of the American Bar Association.
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association .