A new legal landscape: Rainmaking for young lawyers

  • January 03, 2017
  • Vivene Salmon

Note: This article was originally published by the OBA’s Young Lawyers Division

On May 16, 2016, the Ontario Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD) Central invited Dr. Ruth Corbin of CorbinPartners Inc. and Jason Leung of Leung Law to share their insights on taking proactive steps as a young lawyer to become a rainmaker in your law practice.  The program was developed and chaired by Dana Lue, a young family law lawyer in Toronto and an active member of YLD – Central.

As most young lawyers know only too well, the practice of law has changed drastically over the past several years, and while law has never been what one would call an easy profession to work in, it has become increasingly more challenging. More than ever, there are more lawyers competing for limited roles and new business; clients are increasingly savvy about their legal rights, as more legal information is widely disseminated; firms operate in an increasingly globalized world, one in which legal services typically performed by junior lawyers are increasingly being outsourced to foreign jurisdictions such as India (a jurisdiction where legal work is performed, but no advice is given), firms continue to merge into mega-firms to retain competitive advantage in the global legal landscape – or, in the alternative, survive by becoming highly specialized, or servicing a specific sub-set of the population.

So, how does a young lawyer develop tools to navigate this new legal landscape and become a rainmaker – a lawyer who specifically has developed the capabilities to attract and retain clients and generate income for the firm, and therefore has more political and economic capital in the firm?

First, I would like to share some of my own insights gained in my five years of practice. If your intention is to have longevity in the legal profession, it is advisable to begin as early as possible developing a wide range of personal and professional contacts – and I do not just mean legal contacts. Get to know a wide range of people on a genuine level, don’t think about what they can do for you, think about what you can do for them! Take an active, natural approach in being interested in their life, their business and what they have to say and you would be surprised at how many possibilities and opportunities might open up for you.

Like/love law. If you hate your job, it shows. Naturally, most people like engaging with people that are pleasant – and clients are no different! If something is not working for you in your current role and impinging on your ability to live your life the way you want it, try to change what you are unhappy about. It might not necessarily be a drastic change, and for your own long-term benefit you might even have to stick things out for a period of time, unpleasant though they may be – but don’t give up on doing what you want in the long-term and taking risks, as much as is possible.

Think about what you would want if you needed legal service: how you would like your lawyer to communicate with you, the quality of advice and legal documents, and try to deliver this level of service every time to your own clients.

My last piece of advice – when an opportunity drops in your lap – take it!

Now some advice from the academic expert on the panel, Dr. Ruth Corbin: It is important to understand the thought processes and biases of the lawyers and clients you are engaging with. First impressions count – unfortunately people make assumptions on your competence as a lawyer based on your physical appearance and what you say in the first engagement. So when networking with people, to get past these initial biases try to frame your questions and responses in a way that connects with their world view not your own.  At the end of the conversation, you want to leave them with the impression that you are not only a highly skilled and competent lawyer, but a lawyer they like and can see themselves doing business with. So sell yourself – not your firm.

Last, some tips from our legal practitioner on the panel, Jason Leung: Jason has developed a highly successful solo practice. He suggests that if you are a young lawyer practicing in a large firm, take advantage of the resources at your fingertips. Get to know the firm’s marketing staff and take advantage of their expertise – it might seem obvious, but just like you are a legal expert, they are experts at what they do – marketing and branding a legal firm.

At networking events (got to as many free ones as possible) legal or otherwise, and do not be afraid to speak to new people. It is easy to reconnect with people you already know and feel comfortable with, but by doing so, you are not expanding your network and potential new client base. Remember it is the quality of the networking, not the quantity. Try to connect with your new connects immediately after the event to arrange and in-person meeting. This does take some effort on your part, but is important.

Remember, you do not need to wine-and-dine potential clients at fancy restaurants and sporting events, coffees are just effective. The point is to have a meaningful conversation with your potential client, and that can happen anywhere! Try making a concentrated effort to book coffees with clients or other lawyers every day and arrange weekly lunches. For example, Leung is booked for coffee and lunches one month out.  Leung further advises that during an initial conversation with a new potential client make sure they know what you do, let them know you would love to help them, and that you would appreciate referrals.

Last, volunteer, sit on boards, participate in conferences at least once a year, speak where possible, write articles, engage with social media, and give of your time to others. You would be surprised at the number of meaningful relationships you will form over time and when you least expect, it will offer a plethora of personal and professional benefits.

So there you have it, some practical tips on how to take proactive steps in becoming a rainmaker early on in your career – whether at a firm, or in an in-house role.

Vivene Salmon is Assistant Vice-President, Country Compliance Manager, Global Banking and Markets Compliance at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Co-Chair, OBA Young Lawyers Division - Central