Whats Your Definition of a Rainmaker? Bullshitter?

Posted by Douglas Sorocco at November 24, 2005 12:02 PM

Bullshit-Negation_in-color_small-SignI really hope that the young associate who writes the BigLaw Associate is real and not some pseudo-writing experiment like Anonymous Lawyer.  The posts over at BigLaw crack me up and hopefully offer some unintentional glimpses into some biglaw practices.

For example, BigLaw’s newest post is entitled “A New Plan” and is the most recent in a series of angst ridden posts dealing with whether he/she/it/they should leave the biglaw firm where they are currently employed.

The whole post is interesting for the fact that he/she/it/they have finally succombed to the fact that they will never leave biglaw and he/she/it/they are justifying the reason for not leaving (although, look back a few posts for what I believe are the real reasons – money, awe from peers, and “biglaw prestige”)

What I found most striking in the post is this statement regarding the senior attorney she is assigned to:

… I have come to the conclusion that perhaps my problem is not the Firm, but Senior (and myself to a large extent). We have a totally dysfunctional working relationship. Senior is a rainmaker and knows how to keep his clients happy; not so much with quality work (although he is undeniably VERY smart), as with backslapping, belly laughing locker room humour.

What? Say again? Hello?


I don’t think my definition of rainmaker would/should/could be modified with the statement “not so much [because] of quality work”… I wonder if their clients feel the same way.

Where I come from (all at once … “Oooooooook – la – homa, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain….” [MP3]), modifying the term rainmaker in such a manner results in that person simply being a bullshitter – someone with a good handshake but nothing of any worth to the client.

Is this the definition of rainmaker that biglaw is teaching its associates and, if so, is it any wonder why clients are demanding change in how legal services are to be delivered?  What happened to client service, attention to detail, quality work and delivery of innovative, helpful and useful counsel?  

If this is the trend – maybe instead of Chief Marketing Officers at biglaw, they should just hire Chief Bullshitters.  It would certainly be easier for recruiters to find them — you don’t really need any particular qualifications and if it is big enough of a trend, some enterprising CLE provider will start teaching “Chief Bullshitter Bootcamps” for the forward thinking law office.

I really hope BigLaw Associate is for real… it bodes well for us “little guys”, I think.

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Anonymous Says:

November 28, 2005 12:37 PM

Based on my Biglaw experience, "rainmaker" = "profit center", whether the work is done well or poorly.

Douglas Sorocco Says:

November 28, 2005 12:42 PM

... and therein lies the rub. Isn't the point of being in a "profession" to provide "quality" rather than to be a profit center, first and foremost?

Rich Bouma Says:

November 28, 2005 05:13 PM

In my experience, the overall package a client is trying to buy includes a sense of connectedness with their lawyer.

Put more generally, the package a client wants to get includes not only the lawyer's time, expertise, attention, but also the lawyer's intangible ability to make the client feel like he or she has placed a troubling legal problem in the hands of a professional who will do a good job of resolving it.

We used to refer to that last intangible quality as the lawyer's ability to "inspire confidence."

So I would say (and I don't think you disagree) that a satisfactory relationship between lawyer and client requires technical expertise and attentiveness, but it also requires some degree of interpersonal skill.

As you say, the mere ability to gladhand a client is not enough, at least over time, to sustain a good working relationship. But still, it's an important skill in opening the door.

Douglas Sorocco Says:

November 28, 2005 08:40 PM

Thanks for the comments Rich - I would agree with you that the "inspire confidence" part of the equation does play a part - probably more so than I led on in the initial post and follow-up comment.

What bothered me more was that this young associate was labeling someone a "rainmaker" and at the same time commenting about the fact that it wasn't because of quality work. It is true that the best lawyers may never have a client while the worst lawyers have all the clients - personality does play a role in the relationship.

It is my guess, however, that as the pressure grows on GCs and corporate legal groups in the coming years to decrease costs, the lawyers who provide quality over "glad handing" will be those who will be looked to as the "rainmakers".

Thanks again for the comment.

Rich Bouma Says:

November 29, 2005 02:08 PM

Your point about inside counsel is a good one, Doug.

As I think about this a little more, it makes sense to distinguish general counsel as a special type of client. My earlier comments were addressing an individual client who has an important personal issue that needs to be handled, not the corporation with inside counsel.

For the general counsel hiring outside counsel to handle an important matter, personal relationship is probably not as critical as a prospective outside counsel's general reputation for competence. The inside counsel needs to hire someone who is competent and who is also a "safe choice" to handle a difficult problem, that is, a choice who is going to look defensible to the CEO and the board after the fact, even if something goes wrong with how an important matter gets handled.

Again, as you point out, mere gladhanding ability is not going to be sufficient.

SouthernAtty Says:

November 29, 2005 03:20 PM

I am one of those rainmakers. Truly. I bring in dollar wise seven figures yearly to my firm. Sometimes it is closer to $2M sometimes closer to $5M.

I'm in my 40's, tallish, good presence. Organized. I have honestly -- 3 cell phones. Clients (new and old) love what I do. I respond. My letters are well done. I keep my promises. Got that? "Keep my promises."

I have seen associates who don't get that. They work late in the night, pride themselves on grades, looking at the end game, but still don't understand what I do.

As long as there are associates like the writer, there will be guys like me making 3, 4, 5 or 6 times what they do.

BigLaw Associate Says:

November 29, 2005 11:35 PM

I'm happy to see that you enjoy my blog Mr. Sorocco. I am real, and so is my angst.

I am not sure what point you are trying to make. I did not say that Senior does bad work. The point is simply that it is not the quality of his work that makes him a rainmaker; rather, it is his people skill and (much of the time) the quality of MY work. Of course he directs, reviews and filters my work. My work never reaches his clients unless it is up to his standards. The other point I was making was that his superior skills with clients do not translate into skills with associates.

You're way off on something else too: I will leave eventually.

Please get off your high horse and read before you comment.

Douglas Sorocco Says:

November 30, 2005 08:22 AM

Dear BigLaw Associate -

I am thrilled to learn you are real, knowing so makes your posts that more important and insightful to anyone interested in what goes on in BigLaw.

While I have, at times, been accused of being on my high horse, I think you might want to reread my post. I did read your entire blog and my comments were directed at several of your entries (follow the links). I guess we will have to agree to disagree - you certainly know what you intended and I certainly know what I "got" from your writings.

Good luck with your "angst" - when and if you decide to leave BigLaw, I will be among the first to welcome you to the "other side".

Evan Says:

November 30, 2005 12:22 PM

As my lawyer friends and I like to say, in every successful firm there are finders, grinders, and minders. Finders can be hugely important even if they don't do any grinding at all. Is that wrong? I'm not sure. You might be right that the model might change, but on the other hand, it's based on some very basic truths about what makes us human--most of us are huge fans of backslapping and bull-shitting. If that's what it takes to get clients or referring lawyers to notice you (and it often is, I think, based on my experience in both large and small firms), I'm not against it.

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