The most valuable players
You can tell who the firms value by looking who gets special treatment when the economy takes a turn for the worse
The law firm world is kind of a roller coaster. A year ago, everyone was hiring like crazy, but now there are reports of layoffs everywhere. Not rainmakers though. Partners who can bring in business are getting paid even more money, and firms are finding ways to bend over backwards to accommodate them. Today I’ll be writing about the value of business development, how to think about building your own platform, and why it’s important to run towards “the frontier” if you want to become a rainmaker yourself.
I’ve been publishing this free newsletter for over a year now, and could use your support. If you enjoy my writing, please let me know by sharing a testimonial! I can then share it with advertisers who are considering sponsoring this newsletter.If you’re really feeling generous, you can also “pledge your support” (financially) here. Thank you! You all rock.
Who’s the real MVP?
Lately I’ve been spending a bit of time putting together my thoughts on a few different data points on what’s been happening in the legal world. Especially since it seems like there’s a discrepancy between how some lawyers are treated. Here are my initial thoughts:
1. Bringing in clients is a recession proof skill.
Law firm layoffs continue while rainmakers are getting more and more money. If you have a unique skillset that attracts clients or have a portable book of business, you’re golden. Otherwise you’ll be subject to the whims of management, as detailed in this American Lawyer article “Is the Talent War Over?” which depend on where the economic winds are blowing. Getting a big signing bonus when the market was hot doesn’t mean you have job security when the market slows down.
It says a lot that there is always demand for rainmakers, no matter what’s happening in the labor market. When I was practicing, I never understood why we were all told to follow a set of rules, like making zero mistakes, and preparing excessively for everything—while certain partners got away with ignoring those rules. Looking back, it’s because those partners were key to bringing in business to the firm. The same dynamic took place when I first got into startups, where the sales reps got paid a lot for seeming to do very little work at all.
Having the ability to bring in business requires risk, skill, and accountability. It’s not enough to just “work hard and do a good job.” You have to produce results. For many lawyers who rely on churning out lots of billable hours as a security blanket about how well they’re doing at work, it can be a scary experience. It’s hard. So if you can bring in clients, you’ll be generously rewarded.
2. You can become a rainmaker, but you have to choose your organization carefully.
Given the value of sales, how do you develop this ability? There are many ways to do this, so don’t expect a formula. Having said that, you’ll likely need some type of platform. Which is another way of saying personal brand, network, connections, or community. Building a platform isn’t easy. Especially if you’ve got to do it on top of your day job. As Logan Ide said in this LinkedIn comment, “the trick is how to transition to bringing in clients while billing 1,800; 2,000 or 2,200 hours / year. It's hard.”
I struggled with this as a legal tech salesperson early on in my career. I’d just become a father and couldn’t travel to conferences or attend happy hours because of my childcare responsibilities. So I started building my platform online, on LinkedIn. I could engage with the community and make a name for myself while posting and commenting at all hours of the day (or night) and without having to leave my house. It was fantastic.
I was fortunate that my employer was supportive of my online efforts. Not all organizations are. A recent article from the American Lawyer called A Very Fast Way For A Young Attorney To Destroy Their Career sheds some light on this. Generally I have found that smaller firms and companies are more open to you networking and growing your personal brand online. Large firms, on the other hand, have more restrictive policies because they have more to lose than to gain from your social media activity. When choosing job opportunities, don’t just look at salary, look at where it’s easier to develop connections and relationships.
3. If you want to make a name for yourself, run towards the frontier.
That's where things are changing quickly. I’ve written a lot about this before, but if you follow the conventional path, it’s likely going to be extremely crowded and you’ll struggle to set yourself apart. But if you plant your flag somewhere new, there will be fewer competitors and it’ll be relatively easy to stand out. Incidentally that’s what I did with legal tech, short-form video, and humor. It was weird and risky when I first started doing it back in 2019/2020, but that’s what helped me become memorable 2-3 years later.
That’s why I spend so much time in this newsletter writing about the “cutting edge” of technology and the business of law. Part of it is to process my own thoughts on where the frontier is, and part of it is to share my insights with all of you. For example, I’ve been focused heavily on AI lately (here, and on Twitter) because it’s all the rage across the business world right now. I’m very curious about how the legal world is reacting to it.
I’ll share more below in the latest news section, but essentially I see established law firms viewing it as a threat to their business model, which is based on the billable hour. They seem hesitant to pass on cost savings of technology to their clients. I don’t know what the opportunity is, specifically--but there’s definitely room to do something unique here.
This week one of the UK’s “magic circle” firms, Allen & Overy, announced a firmwide deployment of Harvey AI. As I noted on Twitter, two interesting tidbits came out of some of the reporting on this topic. First, an Allen & Overy spokesperson explained that adoption of this tech would not result in cost savings to client or reductions in billable hours; and second, one competitor firm’s CTO reacted to the adoption of AI as a threat to law firms in general.
A law firm that sued former associates for failing to hit billable hour targets prevailed in court, according to the American Lawyer. There’s a lot to say about this crazy story but you can check out some of the comments from the Twitter community here.
Your boy made it to CBSNews online! I shared my comments about social media algorithms and how I built my audience online, in an article about the upcoming Supreme Court case about Section 230. In it, I share how being an early adopter on LinkedIn and Tik Tok enabled me to build an audience in my niche (legal) quickly.
Enjoy this article?
Then please forward it on to someone who might find it interesting! If you’re new around here, and don’t know what my newsletter is all about, check out Welcome New Readers.
Sign up for my newsletter here:
If you’re interested in advertising or sponsoring, let me know! This newsletter has nearly 4,000 subscribers and a 50% to 60% open rate.
I was reminded again about jobs with accountability vs. those without, when I read Carta CEO Henry Ward’s article “Why Executives Leave.” Specifically, this: “Most employees evaluate their manager on how good a boss they are. As they should. But I don’t. Nor should I. Just like I shouldn’t evaluate them on how hard they work. It is a given. And similarly the board doesn’t evaluate me on whether I’m a good manager. It is a given in order to get the results I need from the company. Instead I evaluate executives on their strategic value to the organization. That is difficult for most employees to evaluate because they have limited visibility across the organization. They can see things in their department very well. But it is harder to look across departments. That’s why employees feel betrayed when an executive leaves. They think “Henry! Why would you get rid of my manager who is such a great boss?? That’s so wrong!” It is also why executives often feel they are being unfairly evaluated. Most of them succeeded in their earlier careers by being a good boss. That is how most junior and middle managers are evaluated. But then the rules changed on them. They become evaluated on much more than being a good manager.
As I noted on LinkedIn, those who have unique skills and knowledge are often those most in demand. You want to become someone who is indispensable. That can come from being at the forefront of things like technology or novel areas of law. Your third point does a good job of illustrating this.
Awesome work, Alex! Really enjoy your poignant, cutting edge news letters on the development of the legal field. Please keep it up!