Thursday, October 22, 2009

Associates Fear Rainmaking? WSJ Ponders Question

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article entitled "Do Law Firm Associates Fear Rainmaking?" That's an intriguing question. As the article suggests, law schools don't train law students how to get clients. If they are lucky, new minted lawyers will join a firm which will train them to get bankrutpcy clients or some other clients.

Enjoy the following article:

"It's not every day that a Thomas Friedman column in the NYT mentions lawyers and law firms. But it did today.

In talking about the challenges facing U.S. workers - and why the educational system that produces them needs a big upgrade - Friedman breaks into a discussion of the types of workers that are succeeding in today's challenging marketplace. He writes:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn't there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

We don't know if Freidman's totally right on this point - we're not sure that hiring partners went through rosters of associates and put checkmarks next to those who lacked “the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work.” We suspect it was much more haphazard and scattershot than that at many firms. Still, the general point strikes us as correct: that those law-firm lawyers who can bring in the biz - in addition to doing the work handed them - are those who are going to thrive, regardless of the economic situation.

But that's not what BigLaw lawyers are trained to do, is it? We daresay not. In fact, we're inclined to agree with a recent column out in the UK's Legal Week, which goes so far as to say that associates “fear” the prospect of having to make rain.

Writes author Alex Novarese:

On one hand, associates want early access to clients; indeed, they resent law firms that don't give them that access. But the idea of bringing in clients doesn't seem to be one that drives young lawyers, at least those at large commercial law firms. In some cases an ambivalence about partnership appears to be strongly connected with the belief that the role comes with an expectation of rainmaking prowess. A considerable number of aspiring lawyers fear they'll hit five years . . . bump up to senior associate and then find themselves unequipped for a world in which they must hunt what they eat.

What explains this ambivalence? Continues Navarese:

I guess this is part of the institutionalism of young lawyers. At the best firms, they are the top performers in academic institutions, before moving on to well-established providers of vocational education and then into corporate law firms - which are themselves highly structured institutions. Little wonder these young workers are not programmed for a world of risk. Such sentiments are also a reminder that - for all the talk of law firms becoming businesses, the mindset of lawyers remains, to a considerable extent, that of a profession.

So what about rainmaking - or “client development” in the more antiseptic law-firm parlance - is so risky? We're not entirely sure. But here's a thought: Bringing in business - at least in its rawest form - involves a bit of gladhanding and salesmanship, which, yes, isn't always going to work. So the risk is that such efforts will fail, something that lots of lawyers just don't have the stomach for."
Warmest Regards,

Bob Schaller

Your Bankruptcy Advisor Blog
By: Attorney Robert Schaller (Bob's bio) of the Schaller Law Firm

Bob is a member of the National Bankruptcy College Attorney Network, American Bankruptcy Institute and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

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