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Best Practice Tips: Becoming a Rainmaker as an Associate

Asked and Answered

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. I am an associate attorney in a 10-attorney firm in Atlanta. The firm represents mid-size to small businesses. There are six partners and four associates in the firm. I joined the firm after graduating from law school two years ago. All of my work is given to me by the partners and since joining the firm, I have not brought in any clients. When I joined the firm, I was told not to worry about bringing in clients – the firm has plenty of work. I am paid a salary and a bonus if my billable hours are at a certain level. There appears to be no desire by the partners for me to spend time developing clients. I have talked with my peers in other law firms who tell me that this is short-sighted, and that developing clients is a major factor in their firms for associates to be considered for partnership. I would appreciate your thoughts on what I should be doing and what direction I should take.

A. I agree with your peers. Whether or not it is encouraged by your firm’s partners, developing “rainmaking” skills is important and will be a major career success factor if you remain in the private practice of law. While your partners hired you to primary be a “worker bee” and work on their matters, down the road it will become more important for you to develop business. It takes time to develop “rainmaking” skills and a network of contacts, so the sooner you start the better.

Despite many of the marketing initiatives undertaken by law firms, a majority of the business that comes to many law firms is through personal and professional referrals. The more people you know, the more opportunities you will get. The value of your network is worth more than the sum of its parts, and that value grows over time and with the size of your network.

Lawyers who consistently find a modest amount of time for client development and invest it wisely will have a much easier time later in their careers when they must bring in business to get promoted than those who wait.

One of the problems that many law firms are facing today is not enough business and not enough rainmakers. Don’t wait for your partners to encourage you or to be compensated or otherwise rewarded. Invest your time in developing your network of contacts even if it requires dedicating some personal time and consider it an investment in your career and future.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on September 27, 2017 by Sara Anderson
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