The right rainmaker

In today’s competitive legal environment, ‘buying in’ talent and the client portfolio which goes with it can seem very attractive.  Law firms are sometimes dazzled by experienced professionals with guaranteed fees, a recognised ability to win work and build great client relationships.  These ‘rainmakers’ seem to be the answer to many a law firm’s growth plans.

Working with law firms over the last 15 years, we have seen this work very well.  The rainmaker concerned has literally hit the ground running.  They have brought with them great clients and great fees.  Over time, these firms have been able to draw on the rainmaker’s invaluable experience to develop others’ success in the firm.

There are a small number of cases, however, where this isn’t the case.  Sometimes in being successful, headhunted and paid handsomely to join a competitor, the rainmaker can sometimes display certain undesirable behaviours.  In time, these can become disruptive and work detrimentally to the firm’s business growth plans.

Prima donna rainmakers
The ‘prima donna’ tendencies that these small number of rainmakers display can be very damaging to the recruiting firm.  Without proper leadership, the relationship between the firm and this type of rainmaker becomes strained.

On the firm’s part, these individuals seem difficult to manage as they challenge the firm’s way of doing things. Many in the firm find them irritating, intimidating and lacking subtlety in communication.  They are viewed as self-centred and too independent to work in teams. From the rainmaker’s perspective, they just want to concentrate on being highly talented individuals, loved by their clients from whom they generate significant profitable fees.

This clash of values can be costly.  In fact one law firm we’ve worked with estimated un-budgeted recruitment costs in excess of £1m over two years due to the high attrition rates caused by one particular prima donna.  Staff turnover was so high because no one wanted to work with him.

Aligning values
And yet this situation can be avoided.  It does, however, require good leadership to ‘humanise’ the prima donna tendencies and make the rainmaker’s integration in the firm a harmonious one.

Bringing in rainmaker expertise is similar to making an acquisition.  Acquisitions often risk a clash of cultures and values. Just like a corporate acquisition, rainmaker recruitment and integration has to be handled carefully.

The long-term success of a law firm depends on aligning the stars of the business with its aims, vision, objectives and values. As true business stars, the best rainmakers are excellent performers in the context of the firm’s values. Rather than seeing their significant client portfolio as their own personal asset, they view its strength in relation to the firm overall.  Rainmakers with prima donna tendencies can be helped to adopt this view.  They can also be helped by the firm’s support structure, its systems and its other stars to be even more successful for the greater good of the firm.

A successful integration
In order to create a harmonious rainmaker integration, a law firm has to be clear of its values and the type of firm it is or wants to be.  These should be translated into stated acceptable behaviours. This creates a series of benchmarks against which performance can be measured. Often these values can be tested for during the recruitment process. Where there is such an obvious clash, some firms do seriously think twice about recruiting a particular rainmaker.  Just like any relationship, they realise that expecting the other party to make significant personality changes is likely to fail.

Those firms who successfully integrate rainmakers with prima donna tendencies, do so by defining what values and behaviours are acceptable (and what are not) from day one.  They make considerable effort to induct the rainmaker into the firm in a way that focuses on the vision they are endeavouring to achieve.

Successful integration depends on the respect that the rainmaker has for their leader.  It is therefore vital that whoever leads or manages them is seen to be a role model.  To earn respect they have to set a good example and be seen to be trying to do their best for the rainmaker and the firm.  They will also have the ability to communicate in a persuasive and influencing style rather than command and control. Respect too comes from playing to the rainmaker’s strengths.  This means supporting them to be even better at what they do, rewarding them in a way that they would like to be rewarded and resisting giving them added responsibilities that detract from what they are good at.

Changing unacceptable behaviours
Changing unacceptable behaviours starts with a focus on the rainmaker’s positive capabilities.  Communicate the value that the individual brings to the firm and put some credit in their emotional bank account.  Then explain the problem using specific examples (backed by evidence). The rainmaker should be clear that a problem exists that has to be dealt with.  This is not a case of agreeing to disagree.

The next step is to outline your concerns and worries about consequences for the business and the need for behaviours to change. Here it is best to stick to those behaviours that are having a negative effect within the firm. Do, however, emphasise that you have theirs and the firm’s best interests at heart.

Above all encourage and then listen to your rainmaker’s response. They will respect you more if you can demonstrate that you have understood their point of view.  You will also gain a stronger footing from which to discuss the reasons for their behaviour and explore  how more acceptable behaviours will benefit them and the firm.

Then seek their ideas about how to deal with the problem.  This may involve offering coaching and support.  It will certainly require you agreeing a way forward along with a review process. Whatever you and the firm promise, it needs to be delivered and quickly.

Motivating rainmakers
From our experience, if a rainmaker believes that management’s motives are genuine and there is concern about them and the business, they tend to respond positively. We have worked with many such rainmakers who genuinely didn’t realise the effect their behaviour was having. Rainmakers with prima donna tendencies are not malicious.  They genuinely want to be successful and well-regarded and they want to work in the best firm.

Motivating these individuals comes from understanding what personally interests them and then focusing on their strengths that will support of the firm’s overall goals.   These rainmakers tend to buy into a goal when they feel that a ‘what’s in it for me’ factor applies to them, such as:

  1. I believe in what the business is trying to achieve
  2. I have respect for you (the leader) and want to help
  3. I stand to make financial gain from this
  4. I will experience a personal challenge in undertaking this
  5. I will be able to support my colleagues
  6. I will be able to support and help my team (subordinates)
  7. It will help me improve on my past performance and become more successful

Knowing which factor is attractive to your rainmaker enables you to communicate in a way that engages them and de-activates any prima donna tendencies. Some firms and leaders treat fee-earners as if they share one common motivation.  This isn’t the case and often is at the heart of rainmaker resistance.

With the right support structure and understanding of the real expectations of them, rainmakers can integrate very successfully within a firm.  They can focus on the greater good of the firm and work brilliantly to achieve its goals.  If it suits their capabilities and motivations, they can also be developed to coach others to become stars in the firm’s future growth.


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