Rainmaking Recommendation #241: Relationships Matter

“Calling the legal industry “relationship based” is cliché, but that’s because it’s true.”

So begins a recent article by Nathan Cemenska, JD, MBA entitled, Comment: Is the legal industry about personal relationships or B2B relationships?  We’re about to find out.  In it, the author discusses that the legal industry has been trying to evolve from an “A2A” (Attorney to Attorney) model to a more “B2B” direction.  It is an approach that focuses on the law firm rather than the individual Rainmakers.  He also asks, “Who will win this war?”

And with all due respect for the arguments he makes in favor of a B2B approach, I will always believe that relationships will always “win this war.” 

Bob Berg, famous for his quote: “All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”  

Relationships matter.  Period. Full Stop.

Does that mean that if you have a great relationship with a prospective client you will always win the work?  Not necessarily.  If you and another lawyer, who also has a relationship with the prospective client, are up for the same work and your firm charges more, then you may not get the job. But the opposite is also true; if you have no relationship, or they do not know you, you will not get the work either.

The relationships you build matter.  Until algorithms and artificial intelligence are used to determine the best law firm for the job without the intercession of human beings, the relationship and personality of the attorney will be the determining factor.

And while creating relationships may seem to be a laborious project, it is something that you should actively be working on daily. 

While we are still primarily house-bound, you should be scheduling meetings to get to know your contacts on a virtual basis. You would be surprised at:

  1. How easy making an appointment to get to know someone better is; and
  2. How easy it is to create a relationship in a virtual meeting. 

Here’s the real secret to getting an appointment to start creating that relationship: 


What is the worst thing they can say?  Even if it is no, it may not mean no – it may mean not now.  And so, you continue to position yourself as the go-to-authority to that person and then try again in the future. 

We, as humans, hate being rejected.  It is actually a biological need that stems from the Paleolithic times when you needed others to survive. The thing you have to understand is that they are not rejecting you.  They don’t know you.  And notoriously risk-averse lawyers will either not try (for fear of being rejected) or give up after the first no.  Unless you have actually done something to piss the prospective client off, it is never about you.  It is about them. 

At that point, you have to do more due diligence to see what makes them tick. What keeps them up at night both professionally and personally?  And you have to find a way to help them.  It doesn’t have to be on a professional/legal basis.  If you know or can find out when their birthday is, you can donate their name to their favorite charity.  If you know it’s their anniversary with their significant other, offer a referral to a great restaurant, or send them a bottle of wine.

However, if you do know what is keeping them up at night in their profession, then find a way to help them with that as well – even before they hire you.

Listen, a relationship is built on mutuality, give and take.  But, that doesn’t mean it is always 50-50. Sometimes, you will have to put more effort into starting the relationship and getting to know that person before they will start trusting you and then referring you or giving you new work.

Yes, the legal industry is “relationship based.”  And you wouldn’t want it any other way. 

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