Gerry Riskin over at Amazing Firms Amazing Practices Blog. Takes issue with Dr. Witmer's view reported on Larry Bodine's Professional Marketing Blog. Gerry Riskin does not agree with Dr. Witmer who concludes that the "grinders and drones lack the essential personality elements to develop new business, you cannot change their personalities, and they may be unable to change themselves." What Dr. Witmer is essentially saying is that many associates and some partners simply don't have the skills to develop new business and become rain makers. Gerry takes issue with the use of the word "drones" in describing those members of a firm who don't make it rain. Gerry doubts the conclusion that lawyers can't be trained to become rain makers when provided the appropriate skill set.
I would take Gerry's thought one step further. Making it rain takes time, energy and commitment which have nothing to do with billing hours and driving the immediate need for revenue. I would suggest that many big firms are set up to discourage large numbers of attorneys from making it rain. After all, if large law firms allowed everyone to meet potential clients for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and spend the time with those clients that is necessary in order to land their business, there would be no one back at the office billing hours. Large law firms are structured in part around the different roles that make the business go. Many (but not all) of the top rain makers of a firm simply don't spend as much time billing hours day to day. Those rain makers need the so called worker bees to bill the clients they bring through the door. The issue is not that the worker bees can't make it rain (although certainly some do not have the social skills necessary to accomplish that goal). The issue is that they are not provided the resources and tool sets, or the time, to do so. Nor are they encouraged to do so. In some instances they are effectively precluded from doing so (I should know seeing as I worked in at least two such firms).
My point is that large firms should re-think their business model so that each lawyer has a healthy balance and incentive to be both a worker bee and a rain maker. After all, that is what independent practitioners do every day. It makes us more well rounded. It provides us time doing that great legal work that we all went to law school to do. It also stimulates our social need to get out in the world and mix with business men and individuals who need legal services. A law firm which cultivated its entire legal staff to be independent practitioners in the context of big firm practice would be an interesting experiment.
I also agree with Gerry that lawyers can be trained to become rain makers. It is not a natural skill set for many people. Law firms do little if anything to help worker bee partners and associates to do anything but be worker bees. Necessity breeds invention. Independent practitioners are forced to go out and drive business. Most do so, and obtain the skill set they need to accomplish their goal, a few do not and their firms fail. One of the great things about the blogesphere is that there are awesome websites like Gerry Riskin's and Larry Bowdine's to help practitioners such as myself understand the in's and out's of marketing and inspire us to hit the streets and drive new business.