How to become a rainmaker

Posted: 11/06/2015

Patricia Gillette

Patricia Gillette at Women in the Legal Profession — How to be Successful

Lawyer Patricia Gillette has controlled millions of dollars of business for her firm for over 20 years. A nationally recognized author and speaker, Gillette — senior counsel, employment law, Orrick San Francisco — also advocates and mentors women in business and law, has served on several non-profit boards, and has two successful sons and a husband of 40 years.

How does she do it? She’s a rainmaker.

What is a rainmaker?

A rainmaker is a person who brings clients, money or respect to an organization based solely on his or her association. Gillette discussed the term in her keynote at Women in the Legal Profession – How to be Successful, an event the Law Society co-hosted with the Ontario Bar Association (OBA) and Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO).

Over 150 people attended the event at Osgoode Hall and an additional 170 participated by webcast, reinforcing the importance of the Law Society’s Justicia Project, an innovative initiative designed to support the retention and advancement of female lawyers in private practice.

Those in attendance heard Gillette explain that rainmakers are essentially very good salespeople—although lawyers are often reluctant to use that term.

To better understand what differentiates rainmakers from other lawyers, Gillette engaged Lawyer Metrics and leaders from major law firms from across the United States to conduct a study.

The research revealed that rainmakers consistently score well on the following characteristics:

  • Engagement
  • Dominance
  • Motivating others
  • Risk-taking

The study also found that men and women are equally able to become rainmakers.

More importantly, while some people are natural rainmakers, rainmaking as a skill can be developed.

Read the full study.

Gillette noted that women are naturally very good at the teamwork, collaboration and relationship building aspects of rainmaking, but tend to be risk-averse.

Rainmaker panel continued the discussion

A panel consisting of four women lawyers — all of them Toronto-based rainmakers — demonstrated different approaches to rainmaking. The discussion that followed feature lively, candid and inspiring insight from:

  • Laurie Pawlitza, Partner, Family Law Group, Torkin Manes LLP, and former LSUC Treasurer
  • Lisa A. Borsook, Executive Partner, Weir Foulds LLP
  • Dorothy Quann, Vice President and General Counsel, Xerox Canada
  • May M. Cheng, Partner, Trade-mark Agent, Fasken Martineau

While everyone’s rainmaking style is (and should be) unique, the panelists agreed that there are two keys to success:

  • Building your reputation
  • Building relationships

The panel also encouraged the audience to personalize their approach to clients, distinguish themselves in their field through writing or speaking opportunities, and integrate business development with activities they enjoy on a personal level.

Finally, they encouraged women to embrace failure and learn from it, giving examples of how they were able to turn lost business into clients, and showing how following up on business you were initially unable to secure is one of the keys to success.

An enlightening conversation with the Judiciary

The event also included a conversation with members of the judiciary. The Honourable Heather Forster Smith, Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice, and The Honourable Faith M. Finnestad, Associate Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice and Co-ordinator of Justices of the Peace discussed their paths to success.

Both judges emphasized the importance of mentorship, continuous learning and relationship building when establishing a career in law.

More information

For additional tools and resources, read A Guide to Business Development for Women Lawyers and the Justicia Guide to Women’s Leadership in Law Firms.