On a recent flight for vacation, Dechert associate Connie Merriett sat between her child and her husband and hammered out an article for a new quarterly IP newsletter that her firm is launching next month. The sixth-year grabs any opportunity she can squeeze in to market her skills and build contacts. Even her child's T-ball is fair game, she said, as an opportunity to meet working mothers.
On top of the 2,150 hours she billed last year, Merriett says she puts roughly 20 hours a month -- mostly during evenings and weekends -- into developing business. It's what she feels she has to do to get ahead in a world where "the book" doesn't just land in a young lawyer's hands.
"The model of big clients being handed down to you is dissipating," she said. "I just haven't seen it."
To be sure, firms approach associates' business development differently: Some reward the efforts, others the quantifiable successes.
Law firm consultant Jim Durham, a former chief marketing officer at Ropes & Gray, said that associates need to understand what's important to their firm.
"Some firms want to maintain and grow existing clients, some want to grow into new markets," he said, "and some, frankly, don't care -- they have enough rainmakers, so they need good service partners."
At Liner Yankelevitz Sunshine & Regenstreif, a Los Angeles-based firm where Stuart Liner, co-founding and managing partner, says everyone is expected to make an effort to bring in business, the freedom to build your own practice is a pitch to new recruits.
"The lifeblood of us is new business," Liner said. "Only about 10 of us bring in most of the work. You've got to constantly be trying to figure out who will be the next person who brings in business."
Associates are encouraged to wine and dine potential clients with the help of an unlimited expense account. And they're given an incentive: 15 percent of any fees from work they bring in, according to Liner.
But bringing in new work is not a requirement to make partner, he added.
"We are realistic," Liner said. "We don't expect everybody to bring in business."
Nicholas Movaghar, a business litigation associate, has been mining since his second year at Liner Yankelevitz.
In the first couple of years, the firm focused on developing his legal skills. Now, as a fourth-year, he is building a network of contacts with the help of firm partners.
Liner said he is happy to teach associates how to work through their Rolodex -- but they really have to want it. "I spend a lot of time training [associates] who really do want to do more than pay lip service to marketing," he said. "The reality is that a very small percentage is willing to spend the time it takes to do it on a daily or monthly or weekly basis."
Liner advised Movaghar in wooing a large rental car company (because Movaghar is still working on the relationship, he doesn't want to name them). Movaghar said the fact he had an uncle who was a fairly large franchisee of the company got his foot in the door, but he wasn't sure how to go about developing the contacts that would lead to business.
"I'd frequently talk to Stuart, and he encouraged me to not necessarily go after the business with every call but to try to develop a friendship." Movaghar got to know an attorney working in the general counsel's office on a personal level, sending an e-mail or putting out a call on birthdays and holidays. As they grew closer, Movaghar said, the in-house counsel started to ask more questions about his law firm, and Movaghar was able to describe successes in recent cases.
After a little more than a year, the attorney gave Movaghar a small matter involving alleged underground contamination. His firm, eventually, got conflicted out, but it would have been the first matter Movaghar had brought in, and the shine of the catch was there.
"It was a very, very good feeling," Movaghar said, "because it's a large client that usually has set law firms they go to, and he was willing to give me an opportunity based on our firm's accomplishments and the relationship that I had built with him."
Asked why more associates don't go after marketing with similar enthusiasm, Movaghar noted that it's easy to fall into complacency. "When you work at a law firm, you make pretty good money, and the job is pretty demanding," he said. "But when you do that, it's very easy to get complacent and get happy and satisfied just doing that. 'Always try to reinvent yourself,' that's a term that Stuart uses."
San Francisco recruiter Andrea Hunolt of Major, Lindsey & Africa said she knows associates who start at the third or fourth year. "They have to," she said. "The time it takes to get a client -- it's a long sales cycle."
IT'S ALL ABOUT INCENTIVES
Allison Young, a sixth-year associate at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, started building her contacts right after law school when she worked with startup tech companies through a fellowship she did with the University of Maryland.
Then at a previous law firm, Young said, she networked on her own time and on her own dime. "I was not encouraged," she said. "I would pay to go to conferences myself. I paid to register at business development events."
Mintz Levin is the opposite, Young said, explaining that the firm pays for association memberships and reimburses for events.
Robert Taylor, managing partner of the 500-lawyer firm's Palo Alto, Calif., office, counts two energetic associates there who've been "tremendously successful" in their marketing efforts.
"Like every other aspect of being a successful lawyer, the better you do it, the more you are noticed, the more likely you'll be given first-line responsibility for dealing with clients," Taylor said.
When he started practicing law, he added, associates were not expected to develop business or client relations -- "most firms affirmatively discouraged that." But, he added, "No firm in today's world that wants to survive can afford to do that."
At Dechert, the IP group's marketing committee has recently been focusing more on getting associates involved in marketing earlier in their careers, said Chris Scott Graham, managing partner of Dechert's Mountain View, Calif., office.
"Marketing is not a requirement to make partner or be employed at the firm. But ... if I'm going to say I won't be involved in marketing, I better really shine in other areas," Graham said.
Dechert's Merriett has approached her business development through a number of avenues: She's the chair-elect of the American Bar Association's Law and Technology Committee, for example, and a member of Hastings College of the Law's alumni board of governors.
She doesn't yet have a book of business, but says she hopes she's on the cusp of one.
"I may or may not ever get a client out of my volunteer work," she said. "But I'm laying the ground work now, because it's extremely difficult as a 10th- or 12th-year attorney to start networking -- by then it may be too late."