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  • Writer's pictureJaap Bosman

Some Rainmakers cause Thunderstorms

Mankind has always had a fascination for ‘Super Humans’. People just like you and me, but with some extraordinary power. The Greek had Heracles, the Baby Boomers had Batman and our children have Harry Potter. What these characters have in common is that on first sight they are just like us, ordinary people. Only if the world is in danger they come out and protect us from evil. Being at the core human, makes them relatable and enables us to fantasize that perhaps we also could be special.

Such mythical creatures are also present in the Legal Industry. Here they are called Rainmakers. At first sight they seem to be just like all the others but when it comes to creating revenue, you can see their Super Powers. Like magnets they seem to be able to attract prestigious clients and big mandates, and that is how they come to the rescue of their firm. Rainmakers have the ability to create reputation and profit out of thin air.

Thanks to this ability Rainmakers have mythical status and are highly sought-after as lateral hires. Typically a lawyer is not outgoing by nature. If asked, most would prefer to work on client files, rather than having to go out and find new clients. Perhaps deep down, they would like to be more confident and sociable, but like the children who fantasize about being Super Humans, they know that they are not. That is why they envy and admire the Rainmakers, as they represent what they would wish they could be.

Rainmakers, sometimes not quite what it seems

Partners whose revenue is in the upper 10% of their firm, are commonly considered Rainmakers. This would suggest that the fact that they have high revenue is predominantly thanks to their amazing reputation and/or acquisition skills. In reality this is not always the case and requires closer examination:

  • Some ‘Rainmakers’ have simply ‘inherited’ a large part of their practice from a partner before them. Unless they cannot live up to the standard, those clients will typically remain loyal. Building one’s practice on a high quality 'inheritance' is much easier than building from scratch. Succeeding a renowned partner will also be a definitive advantage in building a reputation.

  • Some ‘Rainmakers’ just got lucky once on landing a very large mandate, maybe because another lawyer was conflicted. This is especially known to happen in litigation.

  • Some ‘Rainmakers’ go to great lengths to get files put in their name. Sometimes ‘Rainmakers’ claim that they are the Client Partner even if other partners do the actual work. Sometimes ‘Rainmakers’ are tempted to open a second file in the same matter which is then under their name. These ‘Rainmakers’ are very protective as it comes to their Book of Business.

  • Some ‘Rainmakers’ purposely create weak offspring by appointing their ‘helpers’ to partner while expecting them to keep serving in their practice. We know of many instances where ‘Rainmakers’ did never make partners that were better or equally good as themselves.

  • Some ‘Rainmakers’ only allow new partners to be appointed in their practice area on the condition that they will not compete and focus on a different segment of the market.

As you will understand, above are just a few examples to illustrate that not every lawyer who is perceived as being a ‘Rainmaker’ actually possesses the ‘magical skills’ required. Just like a Las Vegas magician is not a sorcerer like Harry Potter.

Fear and the Stockholm Syndrome

Within their firm, Rainmakers have a very special position. That almost invariably includes having an important voice if it comes to the management of the firm. Rainmakers rarely act as Managing Partner, but behind the scenes they want to pull the strings. This as such might seem logical, but it actually does not make sense. The qualities that make a Rainmaker are different from those needed to define the strategy or to manage the firm. So why is it that Rainmakers wield so much influence?

The naked truth is it is all about fear. The other partners feel inclined to accommodate the Rainmakers on all their whims, simply because they are afraid that otherwise the Rainmaker might get upset and might decide to leave the firm. Putting Rainmakers on a pedestal is in a way a form of the Stockholm Syndrome.

In our practice, over time, we have come across examples of Rainmakers that had shown atrocious behavior. Committing fraud, Me-Too, misuse of firm property, it all happens. The partners know about this, but prefer to turn the blind eye. This illustrates the lengths to which partners are prepared to go to keep the Rainmaker on-board. Afraid as they are to lose the revenue, profit contribution and the reputation.

Obviously the majority of Rainmakers is not at all guilty of any ethical or legal misconduct. Still some among this group might be found guilty on bullying other partners or behaving like a dictator during Partner Meetings. Again, the other partners tend to refrain from taking action out of fear of displeasing the Rainmaker, who then might leave. All this to illustrate that the relationship between the firm and the Rainmakers is ultimately ruled by fear. No need to explain that this is an unhealthy situation.

How to mitigate the downside of Rainmakers?

Management guru Tom Peters is probably the most famous consultant McKinsey has ever produced. His influence on the firm was enormous and helped raise McKinsey’s profile beyond its wildest dreams. Yet in 1981 Tom Peters was asked to leave. His contentious departure has been well documented. McKinsey had a rule that The Firm is more important than the individual. When Tom Peters became a 'Prima Donna', McKinsey did not hesitate to ‘kill’ its most celebrated Rainmaker. Turned out that ‘firing’ Tom Peters did not harm the firm, as we all know today. Also Tom Peter has done quite well for himself.

So for law firms, the first step is to recognize the Stockholm Syndrome and to overcome the urge to allow the Rainmaker to behave as a spoiled celebrity. Law firms could learn from McKinsey in recognizing that The Firm is more important than the individual. Don’t be afraid to part with a Rainmaker that is causing Thunderstorms.

Secondly, and perhaps even more important, consciously mange the quality of your partner group. The ability to attract mandates and clients should not be an exception. It is a core requirement for every partner. Law firms are still focusing on legal competencies as it comes to nominating new partners. It should be recognized that commercial and relationship skills are far more important. Lawyers should be trained from the day they start, to develop those skills. When the average quality of the partner group increases, the Rainmakers will gradually disappear, as every partner becomes a Rainmaker. Being a Rainmaker should become the rule, not the exception. Then the creature will lose its mythical status.

This is part of what we advise on for a living. Do not hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss:


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