When I qualified (was it really 30 years ago?) I had this impression about how law firms worked. The partnership was made up of different people. There were the technical geniuses – the lawyers who were the equivalent of the rocket scientists at the investment banks. There were the managers who made things work, like meeting the deadlines. Then there were the rainmakers.
These people were special – very special. They were the ones the rest of us watched in awe. They were the ones who went out and impressed the client with their extraordinary interpersonal skills; they dominated their generation and the profession. They had their own profiles in the legal press. More relevantly, they provided the client base the rest of us needed to prosper in a profession growing ever more competitive. We applauded and imagined: could that one day be me?
There may still be people who think this is how the legal profession works. There may even be a tiny handful of these superheroes left. But the better reality is that those days are long gone. The new world of law requires an entirely different approach towards client management and work generation – an approach that’s even more challenging than it was for those old-style rainmakers.
When I became senior partner, the challenge that really kept me awake was: how do you bring the firm to the client? This wasn’t about the financial crisis; it wasn’t about the shift in buying power; it was definitely not about what we all do individually. It was – and still is – about making the whole firm relevant to your client, by creating multiple touch points that make use of what the firm can offer as a whole, across department, across sector and across office.
Within that broad challenge is the much tougher one that all large firms face, particularly those with multiple offices – namely how to foster a genuine culture of collaboration that makes use of the multiple talents available and that together makes the firm increasingly relevant to the clients’ many needs.
Reward is clearly part of the solution, but, as ever, it isn’t the universal panacea for driving the deep changes in behaviour that true cross-firm collaboration requires. The way we behave is far more a part of how we feel about our firms and our role within them – fostering shared values that make it second nature to look for opportunities for colleagues, that provide the glue that cements the world’s best firms.
The new generation of rainmakers are therefore the collaborators. They work together, and in doing so make things happen for others and bring their firm to client relationships. Clients recognise them and value what they do, because it allows the conversation to be more about supporting a broad business need and less about an individual’s personality and practice. It’s perhaps a good thing that these new rainmakers aren’t as visible as their old-school counterparts, since they are far less frightening, but they make a far greater impact on their firm, their colleagues and their clients. And it benefits them too, because such behaviour is easy to recognise and reward.
The challenge for senior and managing partners, and their business development directors, is how to foster and create that essential collaboration. Shared values that really mean something and to which we pay much more than lip service, which truly reflect a firm’s collegiate culture, are an important part of the answer, as, of course, is the sheer dedication and persistence needed to embed such a culture, to ensure it becomes second nature. As we prepare ourselves for (the much predicted) further consolidation in the legal market, this new form of collegiate rainmaking will become more and more essential. Those that get this will survive and thrive.
Colin Passmore is senior partner at Simmons & Simmons
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