Meet The Rainmaker - Joan Lukey

by Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
Presented by the Women Rainmakers
August, 2011
Name: Joan Lukey
Firm Name: Ropes & Gray
Practice area: Commercial Litigation, Wongful Death and Personal Injury Cases (including airplane disasters)
Address: Prudential Tower, 800 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02199-3600
Phone: (617) 951-7171
Nominated by: Rachelle J. Canter

Joan is a commercial complex business litigation trial lawyer with 37 years of practice. In addition, she does a small number of high-end wrongful death and personal injury cases, including airplane disasters. She is Past President of the American College of Trial Lawyers. She has a multi-million dollar book of business and a large client base including high-potential start-ups and high-profile celebrities.
Most Successful/Favorite Rainmaking Tip
Develop relationships with attorneys in either geographic or practice areas who can't replicate my practice—i.e. referral relationships.
Biggest Influence on Career/Best Career Advice
A colleague early on suggested that I think of developing my practice like planting an acorn; if done well, the growth is healthy and robust, with many branches springing from the trunk. I've used that metaphor to remind me about starting from a good healthy foundation of nurturing relationships.
Percentage of time devoted to marketing
That's a tough one. It's a very small percentage that's exclusively devoted to marketing (5% for pitches, etc.) but developing relationships that underlie effective marketing and rainmaking permeates everything I do.
Proudest Accomplishment
Having been elected by my peers as the first (and so far the only) woman president of the American College of Trial Lawyers. I was the 60th president, so I was preceded by 59 men.
Knowing what you know now, if you were starting out as a lawyer today, what would you do differently?
I think I would have spent less time early on doing the smaller employment-related cases and more time focusing on complex business litigation. I started out thinking I wanted to be an employment lawyer so I diverted myself for 7 or 8 years, after which my former firm wanted to continue diverting me from the work I was probably better suited to doing and where I eventually practiced.
Tell me about one rainmaking strategy or tactic that you initially thought would work, but it failed. Why did it fail?
I spent a fair amount of time in the middle years of my career (the junior partner phase) speaking on panels and writing articles. In my case, these activities didn't become revenue producers. Unless you are speaking or writing on esoteric areas, it is not a good route for getting referrals from other lawyers.
Tell me about one rainmaking strategy or tactic that you initially thought would fail, but it was a great success. Why was it successful?
My greatest rainmaking successes have related to relationships I've developed with lawyers in other parts of the country. When I started going to the national meetings of the American College of Trial Lawyers, I didn't really think it would generate business. But, over the years as I rose through the ranks and developed relationships with others, I did develop business, even though the referring attorneys had never actually seen me performing in a business context.
What has been your greatest frustration about trying to get new business or new clients?
My greatest frustration 15-20 years ago was the difficulty of getting companies run by men to consider me seriously to handle their major litigation. That's no longer true for me.
If you were mentoring a young woman lawyer, what advice would you give her regarding rainmaking?
My daughter is about to start practice in the fall. The most important advice I can give to any young woman is to develop and maintain all your relationships. You never know whether your friends from high school, college, or any other part of your life may someday be in a position to refer business to you. Social networking makes this much easier today.
Would you say you ever had a mentor that made a genuine difference in how your career turned out? If yes, please describe.
I've had two. One is a woman federal judge in Boston named Rya Zobel. She took an interest in my career early on and appointed me to defend a client in a major white collar commodities fraud case. This pro bono case ended up being tried twice which made a lot of people take notice of me early on in my career.

A second mentor was Michael Mone who was the 50th president of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the last one from Boston before me. I give him a tremendous amount of credit for shepherding me to the point where I was elected president. You need a champion to do this and he was my champion.
Think about when you started out as a lawyer. Now think about the new female lawyers just starting out. What is different now compared to when you started?
There was unquestionably a subtle but pernicious form of gender discrimination when I entered the profession in the mid-70s. I am reading a book, In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate by Nancy Gertner, a great federal judge in Boston. She says in her book that when she started in her practice, four years before I started, she wasn't taken seriously. She was marginalized and sometimes ridiculed. She was trying to break into criminal law which was probably even tougher than civil law.
Words that best describe you?
Driven, high energy, committed, and, I hope, compassionate.
Anything else?
The most important route to a fulfilling and happy career and life is finding the right balance. In the professional context that means work-life balance. Think long and hard about what the right balance is for you personally, not what is right for your mother, your best friend, or your firm. Balance is highly individual. If you don't find it, you won't find happiness or you won't find fulfillment, or you won't find either. There is nothing in my life more important to me than my daughter and that has made me both fulfilled and happy.

My husband and I are celebrating our 35th anniversary and he has been a great support to me. My husband was a brand new partner at my old firm when we met on a case on which I was the junior associate. We married a year and a half later and practiced at the same firm in different practice areas for years. He had a high-powered career as a commercial real estate attorney (not a litigator) and retired early just as our daughter left for college. I've always kidded him that I wish he had retired earlier so that I had a stay at home spouse while she was in high school.
Interview by Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
ABA Women Rainmakers is a national forum enabling women to network and develop business opportunities. By understanding how to develop business, women can exert greater control over their careers and integrate their personal lives successfully with the practice of law. For more information on LPM Women Rainmakers, visit
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