Biglaw business development 7 tips from top rainmakers above the law quick chicken marinade for grilling

In a challenging environment for large law firms, where overall demand for biglaw legal services is flat or declining, business development matters more than ever. Last week, I shared with you five business-development insights from chief marketing officers, courtesy of all star business development for lawyers (2018), a superb program recently hosted by the practising law institute (PLI) and organized by deborah brightman farone and katherine D’urso (former CMO of cravath and current chief client development officer at wilmerhale, respectively).

One of the cmos on the panel stressed the importance of getting buy-in from lawyers for marketing efforts — and lamented the fact that some cmos can’t get no respect from the lawyers at their firms.General counsel this CMO recounted a conversation he had with a senior partner at a prior firm, who told him, “I don’t even know why you’re here; I built my entire career without you.”


It’s an unfortunate reality that, thanks to what ron friedmann has aptly labeled the “biglaw caste system,” practicing lawyers often feel they have nothing to learn from other professionals at their firms, like cmos. But these lawyers should respect and follow advice from fellow lawyers — especially if those lawyers are some of biglaw’s biggest and best rainmakers, right?

The final panel at the PLI program, “hitting home runs: the rainmakers speak,” featured just that — a panel of partners who have generated millions of dollars in business for their firms, year after year:

brad karp

• candace K. Beinecke, senior partner and former chair of hughes hubbard & reed (where she became the first woman to lead a major new york law firm, in 1999);

• ralph C. Ferrara, partner at proskauer and securities lawyer extraordinaire (former general counsel of the securities and exchange commission); and

The panel, expertly moderated by brad karp, felt like a delightful dinner party conversation — lively, entertaining, and marked at times by disagreement. I distilled the discussion down to seven key points.

As karp noted at the outset, business development is an art and not a science — and so, just like a great artist, a great rainmaker will have her own distinctive style.Brad karp

Take candace beinecke. As she once told the new york times (and reiterated at the panel), “don’t wear someone else’s clothes if they don’t fit. I tried on several when I was starting out. I looked at big, brash, bullying types and tried yelling and screaming…. I had no idea what I was doing.”

“I love people and thinking about their issues,” beinecke said. “clients know I go to bed in the evening and wake up in the morning thinking about their problems.”

Over the years, beinecke’s satisfied clients have garnered her so many more clients. Happy clients can be excellent ambassadors for you and your firm — so don’t be afraid to enlist their help in your business-development efforts, she said.Business development

Adam emmerich echoed these sentiments: “happy clients remember and tell their friends. Conversely, the worst thing to have is an unhappy client.”

First, you need to figure out who is “the client.” nowadays, thanks to what former GE general counsel ben W. Heineman jr. Has identified as the inside counsel revolution (affiliate link), the general counsel is a more powerful figure than ever at many companies — and this GC will often intermediate the relationship between C-suite executives and outside counsel (as opposed to outside counsel having a direct relationship with the CEO, which used to be much more common).

Brad karp shared a cautionary tale. After his firm won a huge victory for a client, an excited partner shared the good news directly with the CEO and board of directors — who then notified the general counsel of the win.Business development the GC was presumably not thrilled with this chain of communication — and did not retain the firm for future matters.

Second, you need to manage expectations. For example, don’t make the common mistake of overpromising during a pitch, in an effort to land the business; the client will be especially unhappy when you don’t achieve the promised result. As karp put it, “better to lose a pitch than to win a pitch on false pretenses.”

The need to manage expectations continues into the client relationship. Candace beinecke described a situation where her firm, at around the same time, (a) lost an $8 million litigation and (b) won motions in a class-action case that reduced the company’s potential exposure from $4 billion to $100 million.Adam emmerich taken together, those were great results — but the problem was that the head of the business unit inside the client on the $8 million case didn’t feel that he had been warned adequately about the chance of the loss.

What keeps clients happy? Yes, they want great results — wins in litigation, successful transactions on the corporate side — but the lawyer-client relationship involves so much more.

“I’ll help my clients with anything,” beinecke said. This might involve helping a general counsel find a certain medical specialist, or helping the CEO’s kid into a selective school. She recalled handling one such request for a client and having an associate complain to her, “this isn’t legal advice!” her response, delivered from the other side of her partner’s desk: “this is why I’m here — and how you could get here.”

business development

The panelists had an interesting disagreement on whether the lawyer should see herself as the client’s “friend.” adam emmerich took the “no” position, emphasizing the importance of results: “you’re not their friend, you’re their lawyer.” (this might not be shocking coming from a partner at wachtell lipton, which probably has more one-off clients than a typical biglaw firm — e.G., a company hiring wachtell as it sells itself out of existence.)

Jeff klein of weil disagreed: “I do think clients want to like their lawyers.” toward that end, he spends significant time bonding with his clients — even if it means “going to sporting events for teams I don’t like.”

(for the record, adam emmerich is all in favor of lawyer-client friendships.Business development as he pointed out, being someone’s lawyer “means having their back and getting the job done, whatever the obstacles, whatever is required. You’re there to be of service. And succeeding in that -– particularly in the tough, important matters that we all strive to be a part of — will surely result in a friend for life.”)

Ralph ferrara seemed to come down closer to adam emmerich’s side of the “lawyer/friend” debate. In ferrara’s view, “the world has changed — and relationships don’t mean as much as they did 25 years ago.”

Instead, business development is more transactional. According to ferrara, “clients want to know — what’s the last case you had just like mine, and what was the result?”

brad karp

How are ferrara and his colleagues at proskauer responding to this new reality? They are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and using AI-driven tools and techniques to alert them to financial, economic, and other conditions within a company that could give rise to litigation. This allows them to proactively reach out to companies and offer their services — even before any lawsuit has been filed.

Why do clients today have a more transactional mindset? As noted by adam emmerich, it’s not necessarily a decline in personal loyalty; instead, it flows from several long-term trends, including more lateral movement of partners within biglaw, more lateral movement of in-house lawyers, and changes in the nature of what corporate legal departments do.General counsel

These trends create opportunities as well as challenges, according to emmerich and karp. For example, if a general counsel you’ve done great work for moves to a new company, then you might be tapped for business by that GC. In this environment, it’s no longer the case that the GC will send all of the company’s business to a single firm that has historically served as outside counsel.

Candace beinecke told the story of how her firm successfully landed a new client. The client had a new general counsel, and this GC scheduled “meet and greets” with several firms he was thinking about retaining. Beinecke and some of her hughes hubbard colleagues met with the prospective client, had a wonderful meeting, and later learned that the client would be hiring them.Business development

Good rainmakers should constantly be asking clients what their firms did right (and wrong), and beinecke did that here. The client said he was impressed by the collegiality and teamwork that the hughes hubbard lawyers displayed during the initial meeting. In contrast, for the team from one unsuccessful firm, a single senior partner did almost all of the talking — and kept interrupting his colleagues whenever they tried to enter the discussion.

Firm culture and compensation systems can enhance — or stymie — teamwork. The panelists from firms with lockstep (or fairly close to lockstep) compensation schemes emphasized how under their systems, partners have strong incentives to work together, help each other, and cross-refer work.General counsel

In contrast, firms with more “eat what you kill” comp systems will often see partners hoarding clients and fighting with each other for “origination credit.” at these firms, quipped karp, “there are elbow sharpeners on every floor.” ferrara responded that if bounties are to be paid, they should be paid to partners who introduce their clients to the practices of others in their firm. Reward the gracious, not the pernicious.

Another key aspect of teamwork is grooming future team leaders — in other words, mentorship. The panelists gave shout-outs to several of their mentors, including such prominent figures as ira millstein, for jeff klein, and judge simon rifkind and arthur liman, for brad karp. (judge rifkind gave karp this invaluable piece of advice: “use the word ‘we’ when talking to your client — it makes clients feel that their problems are your problems.”)

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Mentorship must be organic and not forced, according to karp. He mentors junior colleagues by including them in as many client interactions as possible, modeling good behavior during those meetings and calls, and explaining why he did what he did afterwards.

Ralph ferrara offered a refreshingly candid take on mentoring. Mentoring isn’t about heart-to-heart conversations over long lunches; instead, it’s about “telling your people that they need to develop a core competency, become an expert in some area of law, and display their talents in the media — by publishing, publishing, publishing.”

In this day and age, when a general counsel is staffing her matters, she seeks expertise and results.Brad karp relationships matter, but maybe not quite as much as they once did.

This was one of the most interesting (and surprising) takeaways from a panel on business development. Sometimes the best thing for a rainmaker to do is to turn down work.

Yes, you want to help your clients with as many of their legal problems as possible. And yes, you want to cross-refer work to your colleagues, generating more business for your firm and expanding the overall client relationship.

Jeff klein recalled pitching a colleague to a client for a high-stakes matter involving the foreign corrupt practices act (FCPA), a statute with notoriously large exposure for companies. The client said to him, “you say you’re sure this person can handle my case.General counsel are you $20 million sure?”

“clients appreciate it when you tell them that they would be better off with another firm for a certain type of case,” brad karp said. “the credibility you gain from saying that is often worth more than the value of the matter you just declined.”

“I loved law school,” adam emmerich said. “I haven’t had three happier years since.” (this led jeff klein to quip, “I went to the wrong law school.” for the record, emmerich went to U. Chicago and klein went to columbia.)

“but life is not law school,” emmerich continued. “law school involves getting a task, doing it well, getting the next task, and doing it well. But the real world is about so much more — relationships, character, and thinking about things from another person’s perspective.”

brad karp

David lat is editor at large and founding editor of above the law, as well as the author of supreme ambitions: A novel. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor in newark, new jersey; a litigation associate at wachtell, lipton, rosen & katz; and a law clerk to judge diarmuid F. O’scannlain of the U.S. Court of appeals for the ninth circuit. You can connect with david on twitter (@davidlat), linkedin, and facebook, and you can reach him by email at dlat@abovethelaw.Com.