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You passed the bar, and got your first job. Congratulations. Now it’s time to start becoming a rainmaker.

“Whoa,” you say. “Slow down, Coach. Become a rainmaker? First, I have to become a real lawyer. You know, one whose work clients will actually pay for.”

Calm down, young lawyer. I didn’t say “Become a rainmaker today.” I said, “start becoming” one. As Lao Tzu, the Daoist philosopher, said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

How long does it take?

The problem with becoming a rainmaker is that we don’t know if the journey is 1000 miles, 100 miles, or more, or less. It turns out that nobody knows how long it takes law firm associates to develop business development skills.

Go ahead, Google it. I did, and got nada. I tried a number of search strings. I looked at more than 20 pages of search results and read dozens of individual entries and got absolutely no answers even remotely relevant to the question. Oh, there was a flood of advice about the why, what, and how, but nothing about “how long.”

Next, I sought corporate trainers’ wisdom about the length of the skill-development cycle, thinking I could project from that some guesstimate about law firm associates’ cycle.

My results? (Drumroll) Zip. Zilch. Again, pages and pages of why/what/how, but no “how long.” From this, I conclude that either:

  1. Nobody knows
  2. They know, but aren’t telling, or the conversation is so far underground that Google can’t find it (and they’re pretty good at finding things)

Anything that anyone knows, they’ll have written about, which means it exists somewhere on the Internet, so I’m going with “a” above.

If we know that you’ll need to generate business in some concrete way four, six, or eight years into your career, but we don’t know how long it takes you to become capable, the only rational answer to the “when to begin” question is “now.” The only part of Lao Tzu’s wisdom available to us is the “one step” part.

Step One is to adjust your attitude and get your mindset right in these ways:

  • Business development isn’t a someday/maybe thing. This isn’t 1995. There’s no more eight- or nine-year honeymoon where you only practice law, then ease into BD gradually. Resolve to embrace BD as an integral part of your job from Day One. Yes, there are practical limitations in terms of what you can do now and how much of it, but it’s not “zero.”
  • Unbundle your monolithic concept of BD. It’s much more than direct sales, just as litigation is much more than the first-chair trial lawyer. In both disciplines, there’s a lot of background to absorb, foundation to learn, and there are many valued contributions to make along the way. Start that now.
  • Be business-curious so you can make yourself business-savvy. If you don’t understand how businesses operate, what kind of challenges they face, how they make decisions, and make a profit, you have no chance to be relevant to anyone. If you’re not relevant, nobody has any reason to pay attention to you.
  • Choose an industry to invest in. Ask your firm’s CFO which 3-5 industries, combined, are responsible for the largest chunk of your firm’s revenue. Investigate each one to ascertain whether they’re in growth mode, flat, or declining. Look online for sources (like PwC’s MoneyTree) that monitor venture-capital investment to see whether that industry is attracting investment or not. If people won’t invest their money there, why would you invest your time there? To the degree that you’re able to, avoid declining industries. There’s no opportunity there until someone disrupts them. If there’s more than one growth industry, pick the one that interests you the most. You’re going to live with them.

By choosing an industry that your firm is already invested in, you’ll automatically align yourself with influential partners. Now, you have to deliver something valuable to them, that makes them more valuable to clients and prospects. The key is relevance.

  • Monitor the industry. Set up Google alerts, e.g., “autonomous vehicles,” or “connected medical devices,” and review them daily. You’re trying to familiarize yourself with the emerging problems, challenges, and opportunities that reflect the conversation that’s already occurring inside client- or prospect companies, and that drive demand for high-value legal services. Alert appropriate partners so they can contact clients and prospects, and insert themselves into these conversations. Over time, you’ll become an industry expert, which will enable you to participate in the physical- or electronic industry conversation yourself, independent of partners. Eventually, you’ll have associated yourself with the industry and an important problem. That’s called “positioning.”

Mike O'Horo

Acquiring and mastering business development skill is a three-part mission: Education, Training, and Coaching. Each produces a different outcome, and should be accomplished using different tools at appropriate cost.

  • Education produces understanding, awareness, context, but no skills. Like law school. The Dezurve content library lets you accomplish this easily, conveniently, and at trivial cost.
  • Training is the actual doing. It produces practical skills available to you when you need them in the real world. RainmakerVT online simulations and video courses let you learn and make your mistakes privately in our virtual world, at modest cost.
  • Coaching produces tangible success by guiding you to apply successfully the skills you learned.

Click on the links to learn more about each component. Contact me to discuss your situation and options.