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July 31, 2004

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Beldar

You raise a good question — what plaintiffs' lawyers (or perhaps here I should say, more accurately, plaintiffs' contingent fee lawyers, personal injury and otherwise) do, or should, call their analog to rainmaking.

The conventional wisdom for such cases is that you make your money as a contingent fee lawyer not on the cases you sign up, but the cases you turn down. From the standpoint of a rational economic profit-maximizer, I agree with this — although it assumes that you have enough volume being offered to you that you can be selective. As you, I, and others (for example, in some of the recent commentary about how "John 'Trial Lawyer' Edwards" made his pile) have noted elsewhere, the prospective case evaluation process is a highly subjective but fascinating and critical part of the business. The hourly-rate lawyers' counterpart is generally so much simpler — boiling down to "Can they pay their bills?" at the first level of analysis, and only then (assuming sufficient volume to be picky), "Is this something I'll enjoy working on? Will it generate lots of hours for lots of timekeepers? Will it lead to more of the same? Will it lead my firm in a direction we want to be heading?" and so forth.

How to ensure that you have a sufficient volume of prospective cases and clients to choose from, however, regardless of whether one's talking about contingent fee or hourly rate work, is what's more traditionally thought of as rainmaking. Making contacts with potential referring lawyers — on the golf course, at CLE or bar or organization meetings, etc. — is indeed one potential means for generating that volume.

Other means would include developing ties with nonlawyers who may ethically (without champerty) generate a stream of referrals. I know of some firms in the Houston/Texas Gulf Coast area, for instance, who painstakingly developed ties over the years to several of the craft unions (ironworkers, pipefitters, etc.), who in turn helped generate a steady stream of workplace injury victims.

My own and my present firm's resources, however, are such that we neither could handle, nor desire, the volume of routine small-dollar cases that one must at a minimum sort through, and more likely also actually take on, to develop that sort of relationship. As an entrepeneur who wants to invest his available time and resources (my human capital) most productively, what I want, of course, is the "magic bullet," the elegant and efficient solution, that will generate a steady stream of lucrative and interesting contingent fee work (personal injury, business litigation, or otherwise), without the strings. To use a crass metaphor, I want to be able to pick up the diamonds without having to mine and sort through the slag.

So if you find that method, Evan, would you be kind enough to post a link? Or, uh, better yet, just send me an email?

Evan

Beldar: A very interesting comment. But how's your golf game?

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