How to Identify, Hire, and Develop Star Rainmakers

How to Identify, Hire, and Develop Star Rainmakers

The skills that make a great rainmaker are not necessarily the same skills that make a great law firm associate. In the first few years, associates are valued for traits similar to those that brought success in law school—the ability to learn quickly and produce massive quantities of quality work. Suddenly, a few years later during partnership consideration, they are evaluated on totally different criteria. At that point, client development skills become all-important. Therefore, hiring lawyers who make great associates may mean a dearth of potential rainmakers down the line. They key is identifying those with rainmaking in their DNA, as well as those who can be groomed—and then nurture them.


The Lawyer Brain

Rainmakers have something extra that differentiates them from the rest of the pack—they excel at sales. Successful rainmakers sell their services, their reputations, and their firm’s brand. According to Dr. Larry Richard, former trial lawyer and consulting psychologist and principal of LawyerBrain LLC, only about 20% of lawyers are natural born marketers; approximately 20% never will be comfortable with anything resembling sales and may even be uncomfortable in client relationship interactions; and the 60% in between can be taught skills and approaches that will increase their effectiveness at growing business, deepening relationships, and attracting new clients.

Personality is a key factor in business development. Richards’ research shows that lawyers are very different from the general population in six of 18 personality traits while no other profession has more than two deviations from the norm. More importantly for rainmaking purposes, lawyers differ dramatically from marketers. Lawyers are analytical, detached, introverted, and reflective; in contrast, marketers are creative, enthusiastic, extroverted, and interactive. “The good news”, Richards says, “is that lawyers are a quick study—you don't have to do a lot to teach them.”

Richards’ findings also indicate that there are several key traits in which rainmakers have much higher scores than non-rainmaking lawyers: they are ego driven, resilient, and empathetic. Rainmakers also typically score higher on sociability, risk-taking, self-confidence, and assertiveness than non-rainmakers.


Lawyer Metrics Rainmaker Study

Richards’ findings were echoed in the two-year Lawyer Metrics Rainmaker Study, concluded in late 2013, which revealed that rainmakers tend to score higher on the following traits or characteristics:

  • Engagement: which is a desire to be regularly engaged in an activity, usually work related;
  • Dominance: which is a tendency to exercise power and influence over others;
  • Motivating others; and
  • Risk taking.

The Lawyer Metrics study, under an Advisory Board of law firm leaders and corporate counsel nationwide, employed qualitative and quantitative methods to identify the personality traits and management behaviors that distinguish rainmakers from other (client service) partners. Generally, rainmakers were defined as those with at least $4 million in business. Client service partners were highly valued by the firm for their expertise, but, in most cases, did not have a sizeable book of business. The investigators conducted 300 behaviorial interviews and administered psychological tests to 86 rainmakers and client service partners to understand these lawyers’ backgrounds, work styles, motivations, and client development behaviors. The results confirmed that rainmakers do, in fact, have different personality traits from other lawyers. Interestingly, the study showed no difference in the characteristics of male and female rainmakers.

The study identified engagement and dominance as the most predictive traits of rainmakers. Rainmakers thrive on engagement—being busy and interacting with people, connecting their personal lives with business opportunities. They were proactive in providing value and anticipating their clients’ big picture business and personal needs, not just counselors addressing isolated legal issues. Rainmakers were not necessarily extroverted, but they were people-focused, intuitive, and capable of understanding others’ emotions. They expressed a passion not only for the joy of solving difficult problems, but also for their role in the client relationship itself.

Rainmakers differed from client service partners by what drove them to work hard and develop their own clients, and even what drew them to practice law. They were internally—rather than externally—motivated, finding their engagement fun and challenging, and a source personal satisfaction. On the other hand, client service partners were more externally motivated. They were detail-oriented and tended to focus on the rules and intellectual challenges of practicing law rather than coming up with a practical business solution.

Successful rainmakers also scored high in dominance, wielding power and influence over others. They took initiative on projects and assumed leadership roles. They were good motivators, but viewed teamwork primarily as partnering with their clients rather than with their colleagues. As a result, they were perceived as always putting the client’s interest first. Rainmakers also motivated the members of their internal teams, because they were good at delegating and empowering the people who worked with them.

Rainmakers were risk-takers, willing to question established methods, challenge the rules, and be creative and flexible. They were confident in their abilities, so took risks with out-of-the box thinking. And, rejection did not deter them. To a rainmaker, “no” only meant “not now”.

The study also revealed some surprising biographical factors that might lead law firms to reconsider their traditional lawyer hiring criteria. The results showed that rainmakers typically received less family financial help to pay for college than did non-rainmakers. They were approximately four times more likely to have paid for college themselves or mostly themselves, through work, scholarships, or loans. They were more likely to have parents working in blue-collar or non-professional jobs. And—elite firms take note—they were less than half as likely to have graduated from a top ten law school, undergraduate college, or both.


The Upshot

Evidence suggests that Rainmakers differ from other law firm lawyers in ways that can be recognized even before the lawyer has built a track record of client development, and many of the rainmaking abilities identified through these studies can be developed. Therefore, hiring committees can devise interview questions to elicit evidence of these traits, performance reviews can evaluate these behaviors, professional development departments can establish training programs to bolster these competencies, and compensation schemes can reward both lawyers’ efforts to enhance rainmaking skills as well as—like they do now—the results.

By clearly identifying these traits and behaviors, these studies provide a roadmap for law firms seeking to identify, hire, and nurture Rainmakers. But, will managing lawyers and hiring partners be willing to give up their traditional notions of what makes a successful rainmaker—and follow it?



Lawyer Brain

Lawyer Metrics Rainmaker Study


Valerie Fontaine
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