Law firms that thrive take care of their rainmakers. And too many firms act as if compensation is the only issue that matters in this context. In the last decade originating partners (i.e., the partner that is primarily responsible for bringing in a client or who have the primary responsibility for maintaining the client relationship) are on average being paid more than they used to. But as a consultant to law firms I have seen firsthand that some managing partners and executive committees don’t fully recognize the kind of institutional support that rainmakers need beyond compensation issues.
There are two recurring ways in which law firms fail to adequately support rainmakers. The first relates to ensuring that the firm has the systems and resources to serve the clients that the rainmaker attracts to the firm. I’ve spoken with rainmakers who are reluctant to bring in more work or approach significant potential clients with whom they have contacts because they are concerned that their firm wouldn’t serve those clients adequately. In extreme cases, the rainmaker has said that they feel that some of their partner-level colleagues are incompetent or that there is a substantial risk of malpractice if they brought some kinds of work to the firm.
The second and more common complaint is that the firm repeatedly fails to address a recurring complaint made by the rainmaker. At one firm the complaint might be that the firm continues to impose the same administrative requirements on the rainmaker as it does on partners who have no or a much smaller book of business. At another firm, the complaint might be that the firm’s website is inadequate or that the quality of the support staff is sub-standard. The specific complaint varies from firm to firm and can vary over time, but the underlying sentiment is the same. Too many rainmakers feel that they aren’t being heard and the firm isn’t acting on their concerns.
As partners spend more time at a firm, it’s natural that they want to have more of say as to what happens at the firm. They don’t expect the firm will do everything they want. That’s not the nature of a partnership. But rainmakers, even young ones, are increasingly demanding a seat at the managerial table. And a good portion of the partner movement between law firms that we see today is driven by the fact that rainmakers don’t feel heard at their present firm. Moreover, interviewing with other firms is a flattering process in which rainmakers have an opportunity to voice their views and ask questions about a range of issues relating to the future direction of the firm with which they are interviewing. The interview process often gives the rainmaker the kind of feedback and encouragement that they may not experience at their current firm.
In today’s competitive legal landscape, a firm’s success and even continued existence can depend on the ability of the managing partner and the firm’s executive committee to keep rainmakers happy. The repeated departure of rainmakers can cause a death spiral from which the firm cannot recover. This shouldn’t be news to anyone who cares about the future of law firms and the legal services industry. Nonetheless a distressingly large number of firms do a poor job of caring for, feeding, and nurturing their key rainmaking partners.