The New York Times reported on March 15, 2012 in an article entitled Lean Times for Dewey & LeBoeuf by Peter Lattman that “Many big law firms have jettisoned traditional notions of partnership in favor of a star system, legal experts say. This free-agent market for top performers has changed the corporate law landscape, both financially and culturally.”
“We’re in an environment where many law firms are paying big dollars and guarantees to buy talent with large books of business,” said Alisa F. Levin, a legal recruiter at Greene-Levin-Snyder.” At Dewey & LeBoeuf ”Nineteen of its 300 partners have left Dewey since January, including heads of major practice areas.” reports Lattman.
“At many large law firms, including Dewey, the compensation system has become a two-tiered structure where the highest-paid partners can make more than 12 times as much as the lowest-paid ones. On the high end are Dewey’s so-called rainmakers.”
Some firms have established remuneration structures based on performance. Others, like Dewey, are adopting a more performance based compensation structure, while other firms have stayed with a structure based more on partner parity.
With the legal profession likely moving toward more performance based partner remuneration structures – and not less – those interested in advancing into the higher ranks of AM Law 100 partnership – or those who may wish to exit those structures altogether to establish their own firms – ought as a result of these market changes - to establish and maintain an independent business development program that will follow them wherever they go.
Establish a personal and portable business development plan
Any lawyer can establish a personal and portable business development operation – so as to begin to develop the client base sufficient to become a high earner in any firm – as well as to be in a position to take that business to another firm if need be. Personal and portable means just that: Developing a business development operation that is yours and yours alone and that will stay with you wherever you go.
This type of business development plan for an individual lawyer will significantly expand career earnings and flexibility. If a partner is earning a substantial salary and wishes to enter the rainmaker world cited in the NY Times article – that partner can certainly afford to establish a personal business development operation. In fact that partner should do so – to become a higher earner as well as to maintain the maximum flexibility to move from one firm to another with one’s clients.
Also consider working together as a practice group or as a small group of practitioners to limit your costs - while building business for this group - while remaining a portable group. It’s good for your existing firm, good for you, and good for your colleagues – as new business is being brought in for yourself, for whatever firm you may be associated with, and for the colleagues you work with that benefit from that growing client base.
Build a portable book of business
Focus on direct prospecting among new potential clients, developing a pipeline of new potential clients, and close those prospects as new clients (this is the single most important initiative a lawyer should focus on to develop a book of business sufficient to be the rainmaker cited in the NY Times article above).
Build and cultivate referral relationships locally, regionally, nationally and internationally among like-minded business development-focused law firms, other professional services providers and business referrers.
Develop a robust and active social media presence, the most important of which – is blogging personally.
Achieve Rainmaker status
By following the steps I’ve outlined above as well as in previous blogposts Three Foundations for Building your Corporate Law Practice an A Basic Business Development Checklist for Lawyers and Law Firms - any lawyer can increase their earnings, solidify their position within a firm, establish a portable book of business and create greater career and earnings security for the future.
At a time of great uncertainty about the future of the legal profession – where some experts have predicted the potential for continued failure of more law firms, it is more important than ever for an individual practitioner to build a portable book of business to protect his or her future.
Move forward toward security
The most important step for any individual lawyer to protect his or her career is to make the decision to begin building a portable book of business.