• Jaap Bosman

Perhaps your rainmaker is not a rainmaker



I remember back in 2003 being in the United States and sitting at a dinner table next to the main guest of the evening, which was a man in his mid-forties. This man was the author of a book with the title ‘Rainmaking made Simple’. I still have a personalized and signed copy somewhere in my library. Our conversation of that evening to be honest, I do not recall. What I do recall is feeling somewhat overwhelmed by a man who claimed he could turn every lawyer into a rainmaker. Obviously I had not actually read his book at the time.


"Rainmakers are the unicorns in a harras of horses"


In the legal industry, rainmakers are the stuff that legends are made of. Rainmakers are if you may, the unicorns among a harras of horses. In a law firm partnership, the rainmakers are the partners who create the most revenue compared to the others. The partner who is considered a rainmaker in one firm, could be considered just an average partner in another firm, depending on the average REP in that firm. This highlights that rainmaker is very much a relative nomination, rather than an absolute condition. One can only get the label ‘rainmaker’ by comparison.


This simple fact already debunks the myth that rainmakers have the magical ability to create business out of thin air. Rainmakers cannot actually make it rain. Still it is their assumed super-skills that give them their status within their firm and commands respect from the partners who are aware that they themselves do not have the ability to make it rain.


"The rainmaker in one firm, could be just average in the next"


Let’s dissect the rainmaker a bit more. The reality is that the majority of rainmakers once inherited a great practice from a partner before them. They did not start from scratch with an empty book of business like many young partners have to do these days. The predecessors, often also the mentors, of today’s rainmakers built a practice back in the days when the legal industry showed double digit growth. When they retired they left all of their business to their protegee. Many of these former protegees are considered today’s rainmakers. Except that they did not build their own fortunes, but started out with a sizable inheritance. Oddly enough, many rainmakers have forgotten about their received legacy and over time started to believe that it is all down to their unparalleled abilities. Perhaps not.


A second category of rainmakers is those who once landed an extraordinary big mandate that brought them a lot of revenue over several years. This most commonly happens in litigation. I know several examples of partners who did not have a remarkable practice, but one day landed a litigation that became very big and continued over several years. The revenue from the litigation gives these partners clout in their firm and the matter itself helps raise their profile in the market. The fact that they perhaps got the matter only because other lawyers in the market were conflicted is typically not remembered.


"many rainmakers simply inherited a large book of business"


Now that we have established that rainmaking is not an absolute condition and could be heavily depending on preexisting conditions or sheer luck, it is time to drop the ‘unicorn’ myth. Partners we consider rainmakers are not fundamentally different from the partners that are just seen as average partners. Debunking the myth is important because as long as rainmakers keep their mythical status, other partners will keep thinking that for them, being mere mortals, growing their practice substantially is unattainable. It is not.


One of the issues is that being seen as a rainmaker comes with attractive perks. Typically rainmakers are considered the opinion leaders, which as such is based on a peculiar misconception that having more revenue in one’s name automatically implies having a superior strategic vision or better management skills. This frequently leads to situations where the rainmaker gets his way, while following the ideas of another partner would actually have been smarter and have produced better results. So putting rainmakers in powerful positions, just because they bring in most revenue could actually harm the performance of the firm as a whole.


"being a rainmaker comes with attractive perks"


As a rainmaker, being in this very special, powerful and respected position could become very addictive. As a consequence some rainmakers will do everything they can to defend that position. You don’t want to know the number of rainmakers I have seen that purposely create weak offspring, fearing that if they promote strong lawyers, this young lawyer could over time become better then they are. “The rainmaker is dead, long live the rainmaker”, well you would certainly want to avoid that, wouldn’t you? This is yet another perspective from which a rainmaker could actually be a liability for the overall performance of the firm.


This article is by no means intends to chastise or attack the rainmakers. What I want to highlight is that principally rainmakers are not different from other partners in any meaningful way. This implies that also rainmakers should not be treated differently and that there is no reason to consider the opinions from rainmakers more valuable than the opinions of other partners. Due to the nature of the practice, most rainmakers can be found in Finance, M&A and other types of large transactions, or in Litigation. It is near impossible, regardless your qualities and skills, to become a rainmaker in a full service firm as an Employment partner. The files simply are not large enough.

In a well-functioning partnership the voice of all partners should be equally heard and be taken seriously. Partnerships that want to be successful, should put in place a program from the first day a trainee joins the law firm, until the day of retirement, through which all lawyers are permanently and structurally trained on the 7 core skills above. Only lawyers who have a score of 8 out of 10 or more on all of the 7 aspects should be admitted in the partnership. In a strong partnership every partner should be a rainmaker in his or her own way.

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