City chiefs: unless you’re a rainmaker, you’re not doing your job as a partner

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By Legal Futures

23 May 2011


Closing the deal: rainmakers are more valuable than ever

Every partner in a law firm is now expected to be a “rainmaker”, yet those who show the most talent for winning clients can be a disruptive influence, a panel of senior commercial lawyers has concluded.

Partners from law firms including Hogan Lovells, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), Weil Gotshal & Manges and Sprecher Grier Halberstam, agreed that rainmakers who can “close the deal” are more valuable than ever.

On the platform at Netlaw Media’s Key strategies for law firms 2011 conference in London last week, Hogan Lovells’ co-chairman, John Young, said: “Unless you’re a rainmaker you’re not doing your job as a partner, irrespective of what firm you’re in.”

But Tamara Box, BLP’s head of international structured finance, said not every partner had the necessary skillset. She explained: “Some lawyers will be natural rainmakers and that’s a lucky thing to be; some will work very hard at it and develop and grow those skills. Some will struggle.”

Sprecher managing partner Emma Shipp added: “There are some people who have that extra drive, extra focus. In reality some people are born with that drive and some aren’t.”

Mark Soundy, a corporate partner at Weil Gotshal’s London office, said: “Winning the business is only part of it. You’ve got to execute and you’ve got to win that second bit of business. Because if you drop the ball, that’s almost more disastrous than never winning the business in the first place.”

Celebrity road traffic lawyer Nick Freeman, who heads Freeman & Co in Manchester and has famously acted for David Beckham and other top names in football, said the key to winning new business was to view every client as “a rainmaking opportunity”.

However, Mr Soundy warned that some of the best rainmakers were a disruptive influence and that over-dependence on them represented a risk to the firm.

He said: “We’ve had some spectacular failures with rainmakers. The problem is if they go, the clients go as well. You can have a number rainmakers pouring rain into your office for a few years. Suddenly, before you know it, they’ve gone… and left nothing.”

He added: “By definition they are not people you can control. The very most you can try to achieve is an alignment of interest.”

Mr Young disagreed that rainmakers were “necessarily anarchic individuals”, but agreed it was always possible that “some people with enormous egos” would begin to “behave contrary to the firm’s own values”. In such cases, “sometimes the balance is tipped and the benefit this person is bringing is outweighed by the harm”.

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