Rainmaker or Service Partner? Who Should Reign Supreme at the Firm?

Rainmaker or Service Partner? Who Should Reign Supreme at the Firm? 2

AbovetheLaw published this article from Bruce Stachenfeld is the managing partner of Duval & Stachenfeld LLP, which is an approximately 70-lawyer law firm based in midtown Manhattan. The firm is known as “The Pure Play in Real Estate Law” because all of its practice areas are focused around real estate. With over 50 full-time real estate lawyers, the firm is one of the largest real estate law practices in New York City.Bruce-Stachenfeld-headshot

Come on this is easy. It’s the rainmaker. Without the rain, the service partner has nothing at all to do!

What? Are you kidding? Without a high-quality service partner, a rainmaker is like the dog that caught the bus. Now that he brought in the matter, what is he going to do with it?!

This is one of the eternal refrains that I don’t actually hear as managing partner (because often no one wants to voice this type of view out loud), but I know it is on peoples’ minds. I have thought about this extensively, spoken to various managing partners at other firms over the years and, of course, run my own firm for over seventeen years, and I have the following perspective that I think is useful.

To cut to the chase, rainmaker and service partner are yin and yang. Either without the other is of only moderate use. However, both together and working harmoniously, are by far the most valuable. Let me start the analysis simplistically and then delve a little deeper. Looked at very simply, there are times when one is more important than the other, and vice versa. For example:

In the years 2006 and 2007, rainmakers were a dime a dozen in the real estate legal world. There was simply too much legal work to handle. Rainmakers who made rain weren’t strutting around; instead, they were doing everything they could to cajole overworked service partners into doing the work. A headhunter calling our firm with a lateral partner “with business” wasn’t really that interesting. We wanted people who were great lawyers who could “run deals”!

Things changed — just a teensy bit — in 2008 and 2009. At this point in time, anyone who could make even a drop of rain was in incredible demand. Service partners were sitting around literally begging for work!

So, I think it is pretty obvious that at different times in the market the relative importance of service or rain swings back and forth.

My belief is that a well-run law firm should value rainmaking and servicing roughly equally. There should be a recognition that sometimes one becomes more valuable than the other but in the long run they truly are yin and yang and of about equal value. Indeed, overvaluing one over the other leads to trouble.

If rainmakers are undervalued, they tend to leave and take the rain with them, which is no good. Also, I admit this is relatively subjective; however, my sense is that firms that value rainmaking too highly become unpleasant fiefdoms with the rainmakers effectively competing with each other for credit and the field of service partners almost becoming like serfs in a feudal system.

On the other hand, if service partners are undervalued, they tend to leave and try to take the rain that the rainmakers made with them and become rainmakers at other law firms. Indeed, that is the way many rainmakers become rainmakers in the first place.

The holy grail really is a true partnership between the rainmaker and the service partner. This is a synergy that clients love and promotes internal harmony.

So to conclude, I believe that the most potent combination in the legal world is a partner with an incredible talent for bringing in work teaming up with a partner with an incredible talent for servicing the client. This creates an unstoppable force as it permits the rainmaker the time to keep making rain (and get better and better at it), and it permits the servicing partner the time to do great work without the distraction of making the rain (and get better and better at doing the work exceptionally well).

However, I rarely find these combinations. I think the reason is that sometimes there is an implied disrespect by one for the contribution of the other. Indeed, see what I wrote at the beginning of this piece, which is inherently a disrespectful way of one partner describing what another partner does.

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