On a misty September afternoon high above the city in Bryan Cave’s new conference center atop One Kansas City Place, two dozen attorneys—
consisting mostly of the region’s more significant rainmakers—convened
to explore client development practices and the future of their industry.
Bryan Cave and Franke Schultz & Mullen sponsored the assembly, the 15th in Ingram’s annual Legal Industry Outlook series. In attendance were many featured “rainmakers” from Ingram’s present and past editions. Among the questions considered was what it takes to become one.
“I think the particular business we have chosen is, more than any other business in America, a people business,” said Perry Brandt,
office managing partner of Bryan Cave. In recruiting new attorneys, said Brandt, “You really have to look for the people skills and take a holistic approach in the person you’re evaluating to see if they have the people and social skills to see if they can succeed in the profession.” Brandt
co-chaired the assembly along with Nikki Cannezzaro, a partner with Franke Schultz & Mullen.
What It Takes
As an introductory question, participants were asked what they looked for in new recruits, especially those just coming out of law school. “What I’m looking for,” said Bill Beck, a partner with Lathrop & Gage, “is people who seem to have some real enthusiasm for what they’re about to start doing for a living and some judgment in the way they talk to people.”
“I look for someone who is going to fit within the culture of our firm,” said John Mullen of Franke Schultz & Mullen. “As a trial lawyer, I like young lawyers who come to me and say, ‘All I want is the opportunity to try cases.’” The one caveat that Mullen offered is that not as many cases are going to trial as in the past.
“What I look for,” said Herb Kohn, a senior partner at Bryan Cave, “and I can usually do this in about the first 30 seconds, which means the rest of the 29 minutes is wasted, but someone I feel good about taking with me to see a client or on their own to see a client.”
Unlike many of his colleagues, Roger Warren, managing partner at Sanders Warren & Russell, interviews everybody his firm hires, secretaries included. He agreed with Kohn that the first two minutes are critical. “There’s sort of an ‘it’ factor that’s hard to describe,” said Warren. Still, Warren added, in addition to being smart, “You have to have some fire in your belly, be prepared to face mean old lawyers and stare ’em down.”
For Dave Fenley, a partner at Husch Blackwell, the most critical asset beyond a good CV and a solid law school was that the candidate be “aggressive.”
Dave Frantze, a partner with Stinson Leonard Street, had another take al-together. “I like to see a hospitality mindset,” said Frantze. “I want somebody who feeds off and is energized by serving someone and receiving feedback from that person that says, ‘You did this right, I appreciate that.’”
John Schultz, a partner with Franke Schultz & Mullen, does much of his firm’s interviewing, as well. He regretted that too many of the lawyers he interviewed were just looking for a job. Schultz much preferred
those with “a burning desire to be a reputable lawyer with a good list of accomplishments.”
“I learned long ago the way to be successful is to hire people smarter than yourself,” said Jim Ash, a partner at Husch Blackwell. “So I hire people that are smarter than me.” Ash looks especially at non-legal work experience. “I really think it’s important for people who know what real life’s about.”
Jim Oliver, managing partner with Foulston Siefkin, made the salient point that, in hiring a new attorney, a firm makes a significant investment. This puts a premium on character, ambition, loyalty, and “the kind of personality you can work with.”
“I know a lot of people in this room,” said Pete Smith in his inimitably precise way, “and what it sounds to me like is, people look for themselves when they get ready to hire.” The chairman of McDowell Rice Smith & Buchanan, Smith also puts an emphasis on how well people write. More than a little skeptical of resumes and writing samples, Smith tests would-be recruits on the spot. “Each sentence must have a subject and a predicate,” said Smith. “And if they have that, the [applicants] are headed in the right direction.”
Perry Brandt asked his colleagues a question that is answered on no known resume: namely, how to predict future rainmakers.
Jeff Simon, managing partner at Husch Blackwell, made the point that
law is essentially a service industry that requires a “service mentality.” The qualities that make young attorneys attractive to the firms that hire them—intensity and desire, among others—make them attractive to clients.
“You have to look at everybody the way they are,” said John Snyder, managing partner of the Kansas City office of Dentons. Some are very good at building relations. Some are so technically sound that people will seek them out. And some will only be a service partner, able and willing enough to do the work, “and you need those people, too.”
“Most rainmakers,” said Rob Adams, a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, “make connections with people. They truly care about the people.” He cited his fellow Shook, Hardy partner, Harvey Kaplan, as an example. “When he meets somebody, especially a client, he will learn everything appropriately to be learned about that person,” said Adams, “and they’ll be friends for life.”
Kaplan was not of the opinion that rainmaking skills could be taught. “People either have it or they don’t have it,” he said. “It’s a people business. It’s making connections. It’s having a little foresight to be kind to people that you’re dealing with in every respect, because you never know where those people are going to end up.”
“I completely agree you can’t teach talent,” said Jim Ash. “But what you can do is unlock it. And you can squelch it.” Husch Blackwell, Ash explained, has a direct mentoring program in which senior partners help get new associates involved in the community.
Herb Kohn had a different take. His firm, Bryan Cave, has been offering a voluntary course called “rainmaking” for the past seven years. One part of the instruction is teaching young lawyers to be authentic, to be themselves, even in a legal setting. Another is teaching them to be inquisitive.
Shook, Hardy & Bacon also offers training sessions on rainmaking, much of which is pretty basic, such as making sure one’s bio is up to date or developing a solid elevator speech. “For some people,” said Adams rainmaking “just doesn’t come naturally.” He thinks the training his firm offers has been very helpful.
Perry Brandt wondered just how im-portant it was for young attorneys to involve themselves on charitable boards and other civic activities. He cited Herb Kohn’s axiom that “you never get on a board or some kind of activity unless you’re going to be president.”
As Kohn clarified, this meant that attorneys not join 18 boards. They should just pick one in which they are really interested and work their way to the top.
Jay Selanders, managing partner at Kutak Rock, affirmed that board memberships should be taken seriously. “The folks that [attorneys] interact with see what they do with that board. Are they fully energized, are they working hard, are they doing their job or are they just showing up once a month?” Fellow board members will judge that attorney’s legal capability by his skills and dedication as a board member.
Making the Pitch
John Mullen saw the value in any civic activity that enabled young lawyers to show their commitment to the community and their expertise in a given area. The biggest mistake many young lawyers made, according to Mullen, was that they did not see the need to ask their civic contacts for their business. Mullen added that actually making the pitch can be “most uncomfortable” for young lawyers.”
“That’s the difference between sales and marketing,” said Pete Smith. “People have to have enough confidence in themselves to be able to ask for the business.” The ones who don’t ask will not do well at rainmaking. “Guys that are good salesmen,” said Smith, “are the ones who truly believe that [the client] would be better served and the world would be better served and justice would be better served” if the client hired them.
Herb Kohn was not sure there was any simple formula to closing a deal. He knew some rainmakers who never asked for business. “I think everybody has got to figure out for themselves what works for them,” he said.
Harvey Kaplan agreed there was no simple answer, but he discounted the old and said that clients hire lawyers, not law firms. “I think clients hire lawyers who are with good law firms that give them good support,” said Kaplan.
“The assumption is that we sell ourselves,” elaborated Jim Ash. “Everybody who has a partner has an opportunity to sell that partner and make rain fall on a lot of desks.”
John Snyder argued that associates have to learn their trade before they can effectively sell their services. “I’ve seen associates who try to skip that step,” said Snyder, and the results are rarely good.
Perry Brandt wondered how young lawyers get the experiential base needed to acquire enough confidence to sell their services.
Bryan Cave partner Bob Thompson sees one opportunity in the increase in the number of requests for proposals on legal services. The effect of these, said Thompson, is to turn lawyers into vendors and to heighten the demand for those young attorneys who have more competence than they do contacts. “It is a great equalizer,” added Thompson. “through developing a skill set, showing drive, ambition and initiative, [young attorneys] can be part of
a very important source of revenue for
their respective firms.”
Perry Brandt was curious about the product law schools were turning out. “Are [new attorneys] coming in with the knowledge and experiences you want?” he asked his colleagues.
Recent graduates “probably know more
than we did in terms of legal skills,” said Herb Kohn, “but what drives me nuts is the grammar.” He believes that their ability to speak correctly is less than it has been in the past—and is getting worse.
For Pat Whalen, it was the writing skills that needed to be enhanced. He also saw the need for law schools to work on some of the marketing and presentation skills that go into rainmaking. On the positive side, he has seen some schools take steps in the right direction, Harvard included.
Graduates “don’t have much in the way of practical skills like drafting agreements and negotiating contracts,” said John Granda, “and there’s an awful lot of on-the job training that has to be provided.”
John Snyder believes that law schools are becoming increasingly aware of that shortcoming. “Now they’re really focused on trying to get more practical skills,” he noted. They have also tended to reduce class sizes in the hope that a higher percentage can secure jobs as lawyers.
One trend that Herb Kohn noted is that fewer students are going to law school straight out of college. At his alma mater, the University of Michigan, 73 percent of the students did something else between college and law school.
“The empirical data show that people who have worked a couple of years do better in law school,” said Brandt. He noted the ABA’s recommendation that the third year of law school be converted to practical training almost completely.
When Jeff Simon was in law school almost 30 years ago, the pressure then was “to teach the law in all its glory and all its majesty,” he said. Now, the pressure is to give students more technical skills.
Historically, as Jim Ash pointed out,
law school has been more focused on individual projects than in business schools,
which focus on working teams. “People come out of law school being a lone wolf,” said Ash, “and in today’s world that does not suit them well.”
Summer Associate Programs
Perry Brandt raised the issue of summer programs and asked whether firms were still using them as a way of attracting young attorneys.
The idea, John Snyder believes, is coming back into vogue. For a while, especially when the economy was in gridlock, firms were inclined to recruit experienced young lawyers from other firms, but with an improved economy, law firms are recruiting again from law schools.
Sanders Warren & Russell started a formal summer clerk program four years ago. That enabled them, said Roger Warren, to recruit talent that in the past might have gone to the larger law firms that had scaled back on hiring. “We thought it was great idea then and we’re still doing it,” said Warren.
Polsinelli has smaller classes than it used to have, said practice chair Pat Woolley, and the firm had eliminated some of the “summer-camp feel.” Now, summer interns get a better feel of what it is like to be a first-year associate. “It’s a better quality program,” said Woolley, “and you can better ferret out talent.”
Husch Blackwell has a strong first-year program, so many of its hires come in as new associates. “I’m sure we’re all seeing the consequences in the legal market,” said Jeff Simon. As Simon noted, 52 percent of law grads got a job in law in 2013. “That gives us a lot to pick from,” said Simon.
Summer clerkships have another advantage. As Jim Ash observed, “They have been a great way for us to build our diversity. We all are challenged in Kansas City with that issue.” He argued that if a firm can get a young person to come to Kansas City from the coast or from Chicago or from Atlanta, it gives the firm the opportunity to sell the summer associate on the virtues of Kansas City.
As Jay Selanders noted, “diversity,” which had largely a racial and ethnic focus, “has become a bigger word.” The recruitment of female attorneys has become the core of the movement, but diversity initiatives now include gays, lesbians, veterans, and more. “We get that inquiry through clients all the time: How many veterans do you have, how many single moms do you have? It continues to expand,” said Selanders, “and we will accommodate that because that’s what our clients want.”
“A lot of the clients, we have to sell ourselves to,” attested John Schulz, “one of the first questions they ask is what’s the diversity of your partnership? What’s the diversity of your firm? How many of your partners are women, how many are men?”
“It certainly is a process,” said Bob Thompson of the diversity issue. All major firms have made the commitment to provide more opportunity across the board. “We’ve done a better job of recruiting people in,” he said, but we need to improve seeing them succeed after we get them in.”
The composition of the day’s assembly, said Pete Brown, a partner at Lathrop & Gage, confirmed Thompson’s point. “Look at this room. It is 13 or so years after we did the first one of these,” said Brown, “and it looks the same, except some of us are older, and we’ve got some young guys in now.”
In the past, in fact, when Ingram’s assembled a group of managing partners, the magazine was blamed for the fact that the group met no known definition of diversity. The question was raised as to how to expand the pool of likely candidates.
“There’s a difference between the pool that comes in and those that rise through the ranks,” said Jeff Simon. Nationwide, there is a dramatic falling off between young attorneys who fall into the “diverse” category and those that rise to the rank of managing partner and equity partner. To address the shortfall, Husch Blackwell has a one-
on-one mentoring program for promis-
As Pete Brown noted, the business world is aggressively trying to identify women with the capacity to become CEOs or CFOs and putting them on the operational track to accomplish that. “If we’re ever going to wind up with a lot of women in here, which I think we will 10 years from now, or 15 or 20 years,” said Brown, “we’ll have to do the same thing.”
“We have to make those changes,” affirmed Pat Woolley. He noted that many women take time off or go part-time for the sake of their families and then come back. “That’s where it’s contingent upon us to make sure those folks have the same career opportunities once they return full-time,” said Woolley.
From her own experience, Nikki Cannezzaro confirmed that “the whole work-life balance is a struggle for everyone that’s wanting to have a family and wanting to have children.” To succeed, it takes an effort on the part of lawyer to surround herself with the appropriate services and support to maintain a law practice. But it also requires flexibility from the firm. All that said, Cannezzaro added, “I have to recognize that while the firm is flexible, the bottom dollar is important too.”
Several attorneys in attendance made the point that many women leave the corporate environment for in-house counsel positions at corporations. “That helps shrink the pool of potential folks who are around the table,” said John Snyder, “because I think they find great opportunity in-house.”
Not all who have made the switch are satisfied. Some in John Granda’s acquaintance have discovered that “the grass isn’t always as green as they thought it was going to be.” Corporate law jobs, in fact, may offer more flexibility than in-house ones. One of the women with whom Granda spoke told him, “You guys aren’t doing a good enough job marketing. You have to sell the flexibility you really can convey.” Granda agreed.
Nikki Cannezzaro, who has chaired the diversity section of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, thinks there may be too much emphasis placed on the concept of diversity. For her, the real issues are retention and equality.
“It is more along the lines of recognizing the talent within your diverse pool and nurturing that talent and taking it up that way.”