Five Qs: Bonnie Mayfield on Rainmaking and Finding Clients

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Bonnie Mayfield, a Bloomfield Hills-based attorney in Dykema’s litigation practice, has written an article about developing a client base, which was excerpted in the most recent edition of Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach, a textbook for law students. Mayfield spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the article and her advice for young lawyers.

1. DDN: What is rainmaking?

BM: It’s a colloquial term in the legal trade for developing and retaining business. Some lawyers are given business opportunities. Others are not. Most lawyers have to go out and get business themselves, so it’s important to have client development and business retention skills.

This is something that can actually be learned at the beginning of a legal career. When students are in law school, they’re in a whole pool of people who may someday become clients or people who may be able to refer clients to them. So networking can be practiced at the early stages of a career.

2. DDN: What is your advice about finding new clients?

BM: There are lots of places where you can find clients, like collegiate or law school alumni associations. There are industry associations, like pharmaceutical or manufacturing associations, where you might be able to find client opportunities. There are also groups or networks for lawyers where you can find clients. For example, I’m a member of the International Association of Defense Counsel, which is a good opportunity for me to develop potential referrals from members within that organization.

3. DDN: Doesn’t it get competitive?

BM: It is competitive, but you have mentors who can try to help you develop clients. My rule of thumb is that I do not poach clients from those who try to give me business. That’s bad business. You have to have integrity and make sure that when you’re referring a client to someone that they understand that you would like for that client not to be stolen. And at the same time, you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you.

4. DDN: Does it take long to get a client?

BM: Something I learned early on was what I call the “rule of seven.” It’s not my concept — it’s something I picked up along the way. You can’t just walk into the room and (sign a client) right away. You typically have to have several sustained contacts over a course of time before you get the business. A lot of people (give up) before they get to that second or third contact because they expect immediate results. And client development and business retention are long-lasting efforts that take time.

5. DDN: Your article talks about the importance of developing a marketing persona — how does that work?

BM: If you think about your life, you have several different kinds of relationships, but you’re still the same person. You have relationships with your siblings or your spouse. You have relationships with your peers at your office, and just different kinds of relationships in general. And so that’s just a different facet of your personality that each person gets to experience.

I remember reading about the actress Rita Hayworth and discovered that she was very shy — which is unusual because she made movies. But she had to (overcome that shyness in front of the camera) to develop business and sustain herself. It’s the same thing with anybody else in business, whether you’re a lawyer, doctor, or a startup (entrepreneur). Not everybody enjoys going out and speaking or meeting new people, but you have to find that side of you that’s upfront, honest, and sincere.

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