By Patricia K. Gillette

Picture this scenario.

You go to a pitch. You are clearly one of the experts in the country on the subject of the pitch. You have a team that is especially well-oiled and has incredible depth. Your fee structure is competitive with peer firms. Your record on diversity and client service is sterling. The pitch goes really well.

Your competition is the other expert in the country on the subject of the pitch. They too have put a great team in place – with similar depth and expertise. They too have a competitive fee proposal and they too have been ranked highly by all the right places on diversity issues.

So, how does a client decide which firm will get the job?

That is what I was wondering one day sitting at a meeting listening to people go on and on about the tactics of rainmaking – writing articles, giving speeches, building your reputation, being strategic about lunches and dinners and social events with the right clients. And this question jumped into my mind: if developing business is this easy, why isn’t everyone a rainmaker?

I thought the answer was obvious: everyone isn’t a rainmaker because rainmaking is more than tactics. Rainmakers have something extra, something that differentiates them from the rest of the pack. There is a word for it, but lawyers don’t like it. Rainmakers are really good at sales.

Now I know that the word “sales” or “selling” connotes to many images of car dealers, infomercials, QVC, whatever. But in fact, that is what rainmaking is all about. That is what we do to get clients – we sell our services; we sell our reputations; we sell our brand. And, as distasteful as that may be to some people, the people who are the most successful at rainmaking are the people who have the characteristics of, well, sales people.

While I was convinced I was right, I had no data to support it. And we know how lawyers like data.  So I contacted my friend and one of the founders of Lawyer Metrics, William Henderson of Indiana Law. He and his team agreed to research whether personal characteristics differentiate rainmakers from other lawyers.

We formed an Advisory Board, headed by me and composed of leaders from major law firms across the country. We gave the Lawyer Metrics team some guidance, and then, after two years, 300 behaviorial interviews, the administration of psychological tests to 86 rainmakers and client service partners, Lawyer Metrics published a report confirming that rainmakers do, in fact, have different personality traits from other lawyers.

The report looked at two categories of lawyers: rainmakers and client service partners. Generally, rainmakers were defined as those with at least $4 million in business. Client service partners are highly valued by the firm for their expertise, but – for the most part – do not have a sizeable book of business.

The research revealed that rainmakers tend to score higher and report consistently in interviews on the following traits or characteristics:

  • Engagement: which is a desire to be regularly engaged in an activity- usually work related;
  • Dominance: which is a tendency to exercise power and influence over others.
  • Motivating others
  • Risk taking

The research also confirmed that there is no difference in the characteristics of male and female rainmakers – they share the same traits.

Engagement and Dominance are the two personality characteristics most commonly found in rainmakers, and they are the most predictive of success as a rainmaker. These people can maintain a high level of activity for prolonged periods of time. They are uncomfortable when they don’t have enough to do. Some might say they are workaholics. Others might say they have a lot of energy. The point is, these people thrive on being busy. And they integrate the various parts of their busy lives – personal, pleasure, and business.

As a result, rainmakers know and understand the business of their clients, but they also are interested in their clients as people. Rainmakers connect their personal lives with business opportunities – many times without realizing it. Not necessarily to “make the sale,” but because they truly enjoy interacting with people – who then turn into clients.

Most rainmakers also excel as problem solvers. They grab the initiative and take ownership of client problems. When asked why they went to law school, they often answer that they enjoy business challenges. That is their focus.

The dominance of rainmakers also makes them decisive. They can see the big picture. This is in contrast to client service partners who are more detail-oriented, and tend to focus on the intellectual challenges of practicing law. In fact, a person scoring high on eagerness to learn or learning orientation is less likely to be a rainmaker and more likely to be a client service partner. Why? Because some client service partners will get stuck on a legal concept or stuck on the “rules,” which prevents them from coming up with a business solution. Rainmakers rarely fall into that trap.

Rainmakers are also motivated to team with their clients. By doing so, they are perceived as always putting the client’s interest first. Rainmakers are also able to motivate the members of their internal teams, because they are good at delegating and empowering the people who work with them. They give credit where credit is due and they trust their team members to take on increased responsibilities, listening to their input, encouraging them to act on their own

And finally, there is the risk-taking factor. This is a willingness to question established methods; to challenge the rules; and to be creative and flexible.  They are confident of their abilities, so they will take risks by being out-of-the box thinkers. And, rainmakers are not deterred by rejection. So, when rainmakers are told “no” they hear it as “not now.”

The study also evaluated the backgrounds of people who are successful rainmakers. The results raise questions about many traditional notions of what makes a lawyer successful. For example, going to one of the top law schools is not necessarily predictive of success as a rainmaker; people from blue-collar families tend to be better rainmakers than those from privileged backgrounds.

What does this all mean? Are rainmakers born or bred? The answer is complicated. But this study gives all lawyers information that they should consider if they want to become rainmakers. The tactics of business development only get you so far. It is the ability to form trusted advisor relationships that turns a good business developer in to a great one. And those are the people who make it rain.


About the Author

Patricia GillettePatricia K. Gillette (@Pat_Gillette) is a partner with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliff LLP(@Orrick) in San Francisco.