Be a Rainmaker: Make Connections Outside Firms, Sloan Advises
Bringing business to your law firm can offer job security and put you on the track to being a partner, said Todd Sloan '72, who spoke Nov. 3 on how young lawyers can learn to be rainmakers for their firms.
"Development of business is directly related to your success at your law firm," said Sloan, who is of counsel with Ross, Dixon & Bell LLP in San Diego. He spoke at the invitation of the SBA Student Alumni Relations Committee.
Sloan said young lawyers must first learn to market themselves in the firm and eventually within and outside the legal profession. Initial impressions at the firm are made by who you are, the quality of your work and your attitude toward it, and your willingness to take on and successfully complete new and challenging assignments, he said.
"What you have to do is convince the other attorneys in the firm that they want to work with you, or that they want you to work on their clients' matters," Sloan said.
Developing expertise in an area of law your firm needs knowledge on — expertise that other lawyers in the firm don't have — may also help build your reputation. "You become the go-to lawyer when these issues develop," he said. "Filling that void will make you a considered asset of the firm."
You can show others your expertise by writing scholarly articles, which "gets your name in lights" in the legal field, he noted. Teaching will also develop your role as an expert and create more contacts. Lawyers should network within the legal profession by attending reunions and keeping in contact with classmates and joining bar associations and their committees. Classmates can be a valuable source of business, especially the further geographically you go from Charlottesville.
When another attorney refers a client to you because they have a conflict of interest, there are two rules to follow, Sloan said: Do a great job for a reasonable fee, and "don't poach the client. If you want to keep a referral from that source, you poach that client, and that water gets dried up real fast."
Sloan told students to develop a marketing plan for being active in the community outside the legal profession; use your interests outside law — coaching a kid's sports team, becoming a museum docent — to network.
"The time demanded by your practice is all-encompassing, but you must make some time to interact with the outside world," Sloan said. "Make sure your firm knows what you're doing. In this area, tooting your own horn never really hurt. You want them to recognize that you are out there marketing."
Sloan said lawyers should like the contacts they are building relationships with, or such contacts become phony and meaningless. Secondly, contacts should either have business or be potential sources of business. But "when dealing with nonlawyers, do not be overly aggressive. You have to lay back and let them bring the issues to you," he said. "And be generous with your time in that regard; to the extent that you can give people a little bit of free advice now, the good will that it will earn you later on will come back significantly in your favor."
He urged students to take advantage of opportunities for public speaking.
"Don't ever, ever turn down a speaking engagement," Sloan said. "It's another method by which you get yourself out into the community; people realize your knowledge, and especially speaking on legal topics in front of laymen, it will cement in their mind your knowledge of the area that you are talking about." Sloan suggested that lawyers also consider writing on their area of expertise for nonlegal publications.
If the firm won't allot you funds for new business development, be creative; take potential clients to roast hot dogs on the beach, or for a bike ride in Central Park.
"Until you become a partner, to the maximum extent possible, you should try to keep a hand in the business of your client which is brought to your firm. And the reason for that is that the law firms always have a tendency to try to institutionalize the client," he said. "You want to maintain the strength of that contact, so that that client is yours and the law firm knows that if you go somewhere, that client may well go with you. That creates a great incentive for your advancement."
But "don't spend all your time chasing new clients," Sloan warned. Eighty percent of business development is spent on new clients, but 80 percent of firm revenues come from old clients. "The care and minding of old clients — clients that come back and bring revenue to your firm — is just as important, maybe even more important, than going out there and looking for new business."
Foremost, lawyers should ensure their marketing plan does not conflict with the firm's plan.
"You can't develop a banking practice if your firm represents the FDIC, the OCC, or the Federal Reserve Board. They are just antithetical."
Sloan, who taught a short course on trade secrets this fall at the Law School, told students to be grateful for the skills the school has imparted upon them.
"This law school has taught you things that other law schools do not. It has taught you collegiality, it has taught you how to be a team player; it positions you well in the marketplace."
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.