Making it rain money

Jim Middlemiss
I am a dominant, driven individual who likes to act independently and is reasonably extroverted, according to the McQuaig Institute of Executive Development Ltd. Among my traits, I am an assertive, goal-oriented individual, who is ambitious, works best under deadline, finds pressure exhilarating, and seeks variety in a job.

McQuaig uses psychometric testing, in the form of a word survey, to assess individuals being recruited and helps managers understand employee traits so they can build a career path for them and manage them. My profile stacks up well up with those traits exhibited by sales people, less so compared to typical lawyers. (McQuaig identified many other traits, some not so flattering, so we will stick to those mentioned above, and for my editor, the 20-page report provided suggestions on how to draw out the best in me in the workplace, including a do and don’t list.)

Ian Cameron, managing director at McQuaig, said top sales people exhibit four traits. They are dominant, sociable, independent, and driven. Interestingly, he said, “the profile of a successful sales person in any other industry is almost the exact opposite” of a lawyer’s profile. Lawyers tend to score more highly on things like analytical traits and compliance, than social and independent. “It’s no wonder there are not many rainmakers” in the legal profession, he opined.

We don’t think of sales people when we talk about lawyers. But isn’t selling legal services one of the primary functions? Yes, lawyers interact with clients and help them solve problems, but it’s the service lawyers offer that is cornerstone to that problem-solving. A lawyer might be the best problem-solver in the world, but if he or she can’t sell those solutions to clients, then it’s talent wasted.

Every lawyer in some capacity needs to be a rainmaker, a person capable of generating business, preferably from external clients. (Even if selling your services internally to other lawyers at the firm or executives if you are in-house, you need to convince them you have the chops for a task.)

Take the demise of Heenan Blaikie. It’s a great example of a firm that needed more rainmaking. When partners voted to dissolve, it was reported in The Financial Post the firm earned $222 million in 2013 and had profits of $75 million, which looks good on paper. However, with a partnership base of roughly 170 near its end, that works out to per partner profit of about $441,000, which some managing partners have suggested is low for the market. Worse, income per partner dropped 15 per cent year-over-year, which explains why many lawyers — likely key business generators — found it attractive to practise elsewhere. They’d keep more of their hard-earned dollars.

So what does it take to be a rainmaker? Lawyer Metrics, a U.S. consulting firm, compared the personality and behaviour traits of 300 rainmakers and client service partners at top American law firms using lawyer performance and personality assessment data and interviews.

Using two different assessment tools — Achievement Motivation Inventory and the Management Development Questionnaire — it found four key traits that set rainmakers apart from client service partners. (Not every rainmaker exhibited all four traits.) The two leading indicators were engagement and dominance, said Evan Parker-Stephen, co-author of the study. “Rainmakers really love what they do.”

Rainmakers are highly engaged and place a high priority on work, they are uncomfortable with nothing to do and tend to fall into the workaholic category. Dominance refers to the rainmakers’ ability to exercise power and influence over others. They have an internal drive, look beyond the matter at hand with an eye to the next opportunity, and work to understand their clients’ business and personal problems. Their focus is on building personal relationships and solving practical legal problems, rather than abstract ones. “Rainmakers are results-oriented. They are interested in servicing their clients effectively,” said Parker-Stephen. They also scored highly when it came to flexibility.

The third indicator involved teamwork and motivation. Rainmakers believe in teamwork, delegating, and motivating others, except their view of the team isn’t simply other members of the law firm. Rather, it centres on the client and the resources needed to solve the problem in a pragmatic way. They take a holistic view of the client, rather than focusing on isolated legal issues. They are also strong communicators, like to develop people, and are achievement oriented.

A fourth distinguishing feature is their appetite for risk. Rainmakers have a greater aptitude for risk and for questioning the status quo, similar to sales people. Though it should be noted that lawyers scored lower in risk taking than other professionals.

So if you want your law firm to avoid pulling a Heenan Blaikie, scrap your current hiring practices and start recruiting more lawyers who test like sales people.

Jim Middlemiss is a principal at You can follow him on Twitter @JimMiddlemiss and he can be reached at [email protected]

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