I am talking about the mistake that I and almost every attorney who graduates from law school or leaves an existing firm to start their own practice makes.
Simply put, they are focused on the wrong things.
I say things (plural) because first they are focused top intently on their surroundings and, second, they are focused on the intricacies of their practice area. The former is frivolous. The latter is necessary but it really misses the point.
Two things bring this subject to mind. First, I was communicating with an attorney recently who was concerned with how to keep up with the little work she was receiving, while also fretting about her lack of earnings. I informed her that her focus on work product over feverishly networking was all wrong.
Second, was this article in DealB%k concerning the fact that more law firms are raiding competitors to poach their rainmakers. In short, these are the lawyers that stand out and warrant the big paychecks.
Both reminded me of a conversation (a friendly argument really) in the lawyers lounge at the Bowie County Courthouse in New Boston, Texas in the late 1980s. The conversation was relevant then and it is still relevant today. To pass the time while a bunch of us attorneys waited on the judge to complete the regular docket, the lawyers at the table were arguing as to who made the most money and had the best quality of life -- litigation attorneys or transactional attorneys. The argument got more animated and then Jim Coleman, the named partner of Carrington Coleman, a prestigious firm in Dallas, simply stated that both sides were wrong. He stated the attorneys that make the most money and have the best quality of life are the rainmakers. They can always find the best litigation attorneys and transactional attorneys to do the work.
Put simply, smart, obnoxious attorneys are a dime a dozen. Smart, charming, extroverted attorneys who build relationships easily are in very short supply. Which do you want to be?
The question of how can you be a rainmaker right out of law school misses the point as well. The question is what is your focus as you move forward. Is it in typing pleadings and making jury argument, or in finding clients and developing a book of business (a slew of referral sources you can count on)?
Can you do this without worrying about your work product?
No, but the question is when you get out of bed every day, what is your desire? To go draft pleadings or contracts, or to network? It is true if your work product is not great, you will have a hard time keeping clients, but if you have clients you should not have any problem finding quality lawyers which you can guide through the work product issue.
It is easier to network if you limit yourself to a niche area, and then work it dependably and boldly. It is just easier to dominate a market and make it your own. Notice that most of the rainmakers being recruited in the article are from specific practice areas.
What I think you will learn very quickly is that were there are a lot of attorneys, there is very little competition in this regard. Although most attorneys are very hard working, very few are able to dedicate themselves to this task.
Most attorneys desire success, but most are not focused enough to go get it no matter what the level of desire. Desire and drive are two different things. If you wish to be a success, you desire to be a rainmaker.