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Three Strategies to Becoming a Legal Rainmaker

By Steve Fretzin – November 17, 2014

When successful attorneys speak about what it takes to “make it rain” in today's legal industry, it pays to listen. I recently interviewed Mike Delrahim, managing partner of Brown, Udell, Pomerantz & Delrahim, LTD, and he clarified how he is able to generate business while also taking extra special care of his clients.

Mike began his legal career closing small real-estate transactions, and this is where he happened on something that allowed him to dramatically grow his practice. At each closing, Mike started asking his clients questions about their business. The answers revealed a myriad of needs that did not necessarily fall under the heading of “real estate.” With this new information in hand, Mike intuitively directed his clients on how he might better serve them, leading to expanded business opportunities.

Posing intelligent, thought-provoking questions to clients was only one step toward Mike becoming a rainmaker. During our conversation, Mike shared a variety of other steps he has taken to become successful in “making it rain.” Here are a few of his strategies and some thoughts of my own.

Strategy No. 1: Questioning to Better Cross-Market
One of the earliest strategies Mike used to develop his book of business was to focus on asking more and deeper questions. Interestingly, the questions he asked were not always directly related to his area of the law. Mike understood that asking broader questions might uncover opportunities typically missed by most attorneys. “You’re likely to get more work out of the person if you ask the right questions,” he explains.

At real-estate closings, Mike would ask about his clients' businesses to possibly uncover opportunities related to employment-contract work or future property-investment needs. These questions became the gold standard for Mike in his efforts to fully serve his clients while at the same time allowing him to drive more business into his practice.

Mike describes his approach at these real-estate closings, which he continues to repeat today, as consultative in the sense that he asks questions that elicit possible needs. Mike never hard sells or pushes because, as he puts it, then “you’re just a door-knocking salesperson and people get turned off by it.” By asking questions related to a client’s overall business, Mike is able to unearth legal needs that have not been properly addressed. This approach allows the client to come up with the idea to handle a particular matter, without Mike having to really sell it.

One of the keys to “rainmaking” is to properly use your law firm’s partners to assist you with areas where you are not as experienced. The ability to let go of control and hand off work to trusted partners is critical to growing one’s book of business. This one strategy alone can make you, as Mike describes it, the “one-stop shop” for your clients. This also allows you to dramatically grow your personal practice, while keeping your clients coming directly to you for everything, not just one particular thing.

Strategy No. 2: Creating the Perception of Being THE Expert in the Room
After you have invested a number of years learning the practice of law, Mike recommends creating the “perception that you are the expert in the room.” While this does not happen overnight, it is important to put yourself out there. In this sense, getting out of the office is the only way to make things happen. Mike suggests:

  • Finding quality networking events. Meeting new people and showing them that you can listen and understand their businesses will give you more insights on how you can help others. This also helps to brand yourself in the community where you work.
  • Writing on subjects to demonstrate your expertise. Even if it’s only one or two articles a year, get going. These articles can help you build a foundation as an expert in your particular area of the law.
  • Using the networks that you’ve built to get on some panels. Getting up on a stage and answering questions can build immediate credibility with your audience and the other panelists. Speak clearly and to the point, and try to use specific examples to illustrate the point you are making.

As mentioned in Strategy No. 1, you can build the perception that you are an expert by asking great questions. The idea of asking questions may seem simple, but actually applying this skill with the people you interact with can be very difficult to achieve. Think about it, when you are asked a legal question, what does your experience or instinct tell you to do? Probably to solve the problem, right? This is a great lesson to learn if you have not already. Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.

Do your best to hold off on solving a problem until you have asked more questions and uncovered a problem compelling enough to solve. Then, when the person you are speaking with believes that you have the solution, ask if he or she would like to visit your office to discuss how you might work together on this matter. This process will further propel prospective clients toward believing that you are an expert worthy of their time.

Strategy No. 3: Taking Your Practice to the Next Level
Many attorneys hit a proverbial wall when attempting to build a practice. Some hit the wall at $500,000 of origination a year and others closer to $1,000,000. No matter the number, Mike has some ideas as to how attorneys can move up from senior associate/ income partner to equity partner.

First, relying on the wisdom of his first mentor, Mike recommends that “if you want to be a partner, act like a partner.”This means taking responsibility for growing your book of business and not making excuses for yourself. We all know it is easier to get absorbed in the work versus putting yourself out there and developing more new business. But, if you want to grow a practice within your firm, it is imperative that you make time and execute on your plan to drive your book upward.

Second, Mike advises that it is important to “delegate the work.” It is impossible to grow your practice when you are doing all of your own work and that of your partners as well. You need to try to use the smartest and hardest-working people around you and delegate. “By delegating the work,” Mike shares, “it frees up your time to be able to sell your services and network with other individuals.”

One might think that giving up the work to others shows weakness to your client—when in reality, the opposite is actually true. When your clients see you directing work toward others, they view you as a leader and “the guy running the show.” Delegating to the right people will go a long way toward cementing long-term relationships. Taking this step to delegate is not easy, but it is necessary if you want to get beyond a particular tipping point.

Finally, Mike counsels that your actions need to demonstrate your commitment to growing your practice if you want support from the leadership within your firm. When you are all talk and no action, the law firm will be less likely to take on the expense of an assistant, paralegal, or associate attorney to help you out. By staying active and bringing in more work, you will gain the eye of your firm and hopefully their support as well.

As you consider Mike Delrahim’s strategies, take some time to think about what you are trying to accomplish in your own practice. What bold actions are you prepared to take to accomplish your goals? In Mike’s case, learning to be a great lawyer was only the beginning. By sharpening his soft skills, he found a path to becoming a “rainmaker” and managing partner. What will you do?

Keywords: litigation, young lawyers, practice, pretrial

Steve Fretzin is with Sales Results, Inc., in Chicago, Illinois.

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