By: David Wolfskehl
Republished from the New Jersey Law Journal
Ensure the future of your firm by training, mentoring and supporting your junior partners
A critical leadership function in every law firm is training and mentoring junior partners as rainmakers. When junior partners are not prepared to become rainmakers, the economic impact on a firm is significant. According to Jason L. Sobel, a recently named partner of Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster, not providing access to the proper training would amount to “not maximizing my long-term value.” A key role for any leadership team is to prepare the firm for the future. That role must include preparing the next generation of partners to step up and become effective rainmakers to ensure the firm’s future.
Too often leaders in law firms do not understand that business development is a marathon, not a sprint. Business development is a growth process. The seeds must be planted. What typically follows is a period of nurturing the seeds — watering, tending the soil, fertilizing — until they grow to maturity. Only then can you harvest the fruit. Business development programs require time to grow to fruition
Leaders control the budget. That budget often goes solely to marketing because it is something that they can outsource — something that they can feel. However, law is still people buying people. Marketing can help create opportunities, but someone still needs to close the deal. I believe leaders should create a business development budget that includes dollars for both marketing and business development training and support. Having only a marketing budget is like playing basketball with one hand tied behind your back — you can do it but it makes it much more difficult.
Many firms send their junior partners out into the market without training, expecting them to be successful rainmakers nevertheless. In many firms the only training received is informal mentoring or shadowing — which is never a priority to anyone, and is rarely effective. This “just do it” strategy is rarely effective and rarely maximizes the value of the junior partner. Two of the major issues with the “just do it” strategy are that:
(1) Some members of the team could be successful if given the right training. However, when they try it on their own, they are uncomfortable and ineffective, leading them to label themselves non- rainmakers.
(2) Those who will continue to try might become successful, but they are inefficient with their time. In addition to wasting their time, they are taken away from primary billable legal work that could generate valuable revenue. In the economics of most firms, junior partners are too valuable to be engaged in any activity at which they are ineffective.
Leadership in any law firm involves maximizing the assets you have in your organization. If you are not training the young team, you are not maximizing those assets. A popular formula for sales success is attitude times strategy times skills times activities (At x St x Sk x Ac). Most firms focus on activities, typically through their marketing department. They lack any strategy at the partner level and offer no skills training. This is not a recipe for success.
The leadership in your firm must help young/junior partners become rainmakers.
There are six important steps in the process.
First, it is very difficult to be effective as a rainmaker as a generalist. Therefore, one of the first things junior partners must do is to decide how they want people to describe them. What specialties or microniches do they serve? What are their specialized areas of expertise? Although this appears simple, so many (even senior) attorneys commoditize themselves in the first 30 seconds of meeting a new prospect or referral source by saying only that they are lawyers.
Second, they must then identify the people and organizations where there are people who care about those niches. Who are the other professionals who care about those niches? What trade organizations are devoted to the people interested in those niches? Typically, I recommend a “micro- niche development” plan that allows someone to think strategically about what they want to accomplish in their business development journey.
Third, junior partners must understand that networking is very important. Regardless of the popularity of social media networking sites, successful professional networking is still a face-to-face activity. Both the firm’s leaders and junior partners must recognize that networking requires investment of significant time outside the office and in addition to billable hours. Leadership must insist upon networking and support the need of junior partners to be out in the market. Leadership must support the junior partner in carving out time for networking and business development.
Fourth, the leadership team is responsible for providing or outsourcing appropriate training in key selling strategies for junior partners. This training is not a one-day course. The training needs to be ongoing because junior partners are doing something that is very difficult. One-day training courses with no followup and no accountability are not a good use of resources. The first step of training is often a sales assessment that will give you insights into your team and identify areas to emphasize during training. Remember that business development is a marathon, not a sprint.
Fifth, leaders of the firm must hold people (particularly the junior partners) accountable. In the beginning, younger partners should be accountable for the activities, lunches, events attended, articles written, etc., not the outcomes. Remember, business development is about planting seeds and helping them grow. Initially, the junior partners will be planting seeds. For this, they should be accountable. Leaders need to recognize that it takes time for new seeds to grow and develop into business tomorrow. They cannot be accountable immediately for outcomes that require time to develop.
Sixth, one highly effective strategy junior partners can use to build business for tomorrow is to create networking groups with other people working in their niches. These should not be other attorneys, but insurance agents, CPAs, real estate professionals, financial planners, etc. The groups should meet regularly to discuss the needs of their niches, how they can refer clients to one another, and work together to build business for each other. Over time, they can help each other build their careers together.
If the leadership team of a law firm is committed to preparing the next generation of rainmakers and leaders for the firm, they will provide the necessary training, mentoring and support for junior partners. By following the six key steps outlined above, your firm should be well along the way to producing tomorrow’s rainmakers and ensure the future of the firm into the next generation.
About David Wolfskehl
David Wolfskehl is a lifelong entrepreneur and author of The Micro Niche Method, which helps organizations be more effective at sales and growth strategies.
Reprinted with permission from the DECEMBER 17, 2012 edition of New Jersey Law Journal. © 2012 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. 210 N.J.L.J. 947 NEW JERSEY LAW JOURNAL, DECEMBER 17, 2012
You can view the original version of this article on the New Jersey Law Journal’s website (subscription required.)