What makes a good rainmaker, and does gender matter? (Law Society Gazette/In business blog)

Click here to see the article on the Law Society Gazette web site.

I would like to expand that definition to define 'successful' as providing profitable employment for a number of employees within the business – they make business rain for their colleagues. To me, someone who generates sufficient business just to keep themselves comfortable is not a rainmaker.

This is an issue that taxes many firms: how do you help a good solicitor become a rainmaker? On the other side of the coin, ambitious solicitors are wondering about how to progress and make partnership.

Is it a question of skills or attitude? Nature or nurture? Of course, there is an element of both.

A recent study in the US looked into 'predictors of high origination' – the key factors that indicate success in new business development – which I thought that I would consider in the next few articles. In most cases the success factors could apply to men as well as women and I hope might stimulate some interesting debate on this blog.

The study is the Women Attorneys Business Development Study, carried out by Harry Keshet PhD, former research director of the Legal Sales and Service Organisation's women’s business development study. A copy of the survey can be downloaded here

The fact that the US even has an organisation focused on legal sales demonstrates how far ahead of us they are in their thinking on business development – I rarely hear the word 'sales' used in the context of business development here.

The first predictor identified in the study I want to consider is time spent. The research concludes: 'The more time spent pursuing new business, the more new business is generated. Spending 15 hours or more each month doing business development activities is a significant predictor of high origination.'

This struck a chord, as 'lack of time' is the most commonly cited excuse for not having completed a business development task that has been assigned.

The successful rainmakers I know simply make that time. Often they sacrifice their personal time and I frequently receive emails late at night or over the weekend from go-ahead managing partners, partners and ambitious solicitors who pride themselves on keeping up the momentum of activity in their business development programme.

Fifteen hours is a sizeable amount of time in the month and it may seem daunting to try and meet that level of activity, if you are not already doing so. However, if you break it down it is manageable – an average of around an hour per day. I would be interested to hear from readers how they view that figure and how easy they think it is to achieve?

To make time, you need to schedule it ahead in your diary. It may be that you have to move the appointment at the last minute, but it is more likely to happen if your build it into your programme. One of our clients sets aside one morning each week – another has two two-hour slots in his diary every week.

So is gender an influence in terms of the 'time' factor?

In theory, prior to the arrival of children, there should be no difference in time available. However, at this stage in most solicitors’ careers, the focus is on developing their expertise and credentials and there may not be many opportunities or the budget available in a firm to support business development activities.

Finding any spare time during those early child-rearing years is difficult. In fact, time almost becomes one of life’s most valuable commodities as you try to balance everything. Many women return to work part-time, and it can be difficult to fit in business development activities.

It is easy to see how women can fall behind in terms of building up a client following, because they've had less time to invest in developing relationships and building a profile at a key stage in their careers.

However, the fact is that there are very few good rainmakers of either gender. So I would say that it is never too late to start, and consistently investing time in the right business development activities will bear fruit.

Of course, 'time' is not the only factor. My own time permitting, we will look at a 'systematic approach' in my next blog.

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