Practice Makes Perfect in the Art of Rainmaking

Q&A interview of Marianne Trost and published in the Record Reporter, August 8, 2014

We caught up with Marianne Trost, who will be one of the speakers at the ALA Expo on August 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center, to ask her a few questions about her upcoming presentation. Here’s what she had to say:

You have been coaching and training attorneys in the “business” of the practice of law for over 20 years. What is it that makes business development so important?

As much as law is a noble profession, private practice is a for-profit business. Without revenue, law firms cannot survive.

I have worked with some of the most talented lawyers in the profession, including some in AmLaw 100 firms that none of us expected to see dissolve. Those attorneys found themselves vulnerable because their firms went under. Firms close their doors not for lack of talent or experience or reputation or credentials, but for lack of revenue. 

Business development, as in the art of building and maintaining and growing a healthy client base, is critical to sustainability in private practice. 

You will be speaking on the “Art of Rainmaking.” What are some of the takeaways attendees can expect? 

Whenever I speak, I like to provide practical tips, inspiration and real life examples. I am hopeful each attendee will walk away from the Expo with new ideas and the inspiration to put those ideas into practice. When I do a breakout session, I ask each participant to commit to doing at least 2-3 things they learned that day. If there are 90 people in the room, then that’s at least 180-270 action items that will be going back to firms to create greater success in business development. 

What topics will you be covering in your breakout session? 

This year’s audience is expected to be a mix of law firm administrators, attorneys, law students, and other legal professionals. My goal is to address business development in a way that resonates with all of them. I’ll be covering the art of rainmaking, staying in touch with contacts, collaborating for greater opportunity and techniques that law firms can use to encourage business development. I’ll also be doing some hands-on exercises around crafting an elevator pitch and stating accomplishments, which are skills that every legal professional can find useful. 

You have been working with attorneys on business development for over 20 years. What is the biggest change you have seen? 

There have been several big changes. I would say the biggest change in business development is that 20 years ago there were a select few attorneys in a firm who were “rainmakers” and who brought in most of the work for the firm. The responsibility for generating new work and keeping the other attorneys in the firm busy rested primarily with them. 

Today, there are still those select rainmakers, but firms don’t rely solely on them for the generation of new work. Rather, today almost all attorneys are expected to “make rain” or contribute to business development in some way. 

What is something firms can be doing to better support their attorneys’ efforts in business development? 

I believe putting a financial incentive in place for business development is key. A firm’s origination credit policy sets the stage (or not!) for healthy engagement on all levels. When firms have an origination policy that incentivizes collaboration, shared credit, teamwork, and cross marketing, they invariably get more attorney “buy-in.” Goodwill only goes so far. At some point, the question “Why should I spend my non-billable time doing this? What’s in it for me?” needs to be answered. 

What do you think is the greatest challenge for attorneys when it comes to succeeding in business development? 

The one I hear the most as a coach is “time.” Finding time for achieving billable hour targets and finding time for non-billable business development activities is not easy. Add on top of that, time for other priorities and living life, and it is difficult. 

In my workshops I teach time-saving techniques and ways to maximize effort. Sometimes just focusing on working smarter, not harder, can make a positive impact. Being strategic, maximizing opportunities, and reducing the number of “random acts of business development” can save significant time and money. 

If there were one piece of advice you could give, what would it be? 

Start now. It’s never “too late” and there’s never a “perfect time” to get started on business development. So, you just need to start wherever you are in your career or wherever your firm is in its evolution. 

Take stock in your existing clients, do quality legal work for them, expand your contacts, follow up regularly, learn about their needs, offer to fill those needs, and repeat the formula. It’s all about relationships. If you need help asking for the business, find it. If you need help maximizing your time, reach out to get it. Or, attend the ALA Expo, write down two to three things you learn, and get started that way

Marianne Trost is the Women Lawyers Coach. She is a nationally recognized coach, trainer, author and speaker. Her mission is to provide women lawyers with practical tips, guidance, inspiration and support to grow their own books of business and advance in their careers.