Q: What skill was most important for you in becoming a rainmaker?
A: Diligence is the most important skill that an attorney can bring to bear when engaging with and serving a client. One must be diligent in learning the legal issues facing potential clients, as well as understanding their underlying business objectives and where they sit within the industry in which they operate. Immersion in our clients’ industries, which requires developing an intimate understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented within each sector, enables my team to provide legal advice in support of our clients’ business goals. Collaborating with our clients, we use our extensive knowledge of the law, industry insight and comprehensive research to develop effective strategies and solutions.
Q: How do you prepare a pitch for a potential new client?
A: Too many attorneys, and firms, focus on the legal issues alone when executing a pitch. They assume that if the potential client perceives the lawyer as a legal expert, they are likely to get the business. This approach seems incomplete. Clients want counsel who thoroughly understands their business and who, because of industry expertise, will be able to carefully anticipate how each transaction or litigation will play out over time. Performing a deep dive into a company’s business model and industry segment in advance of a pitch will help win business.
Q: Share an example of a time when landing a client was especially difficult, and how you handled it.
A: In my experience, it is most “difficult” to land a client where multiple firms are pitching for the client’s business, and those firms continuously cut their proposed budgets to secure the work. We painstakingly set our budgets and thus generally do not play this game in order to chase business. Either we are the right fit, or we are not.
In 2004, the New York Times wrote about the “increasingly nasty conflict between the Fox Network and NBC over competing boxing reality-television shows.” Specifically, the Fox show, “The Next Great Champ,” was in hot water with the California State Athletic Commission for throwing matches without a licensed promoter. The article quoted then chairman of the commission, Sanford L. Michelman, stating that he “will take stern and swift action if anyone’s doing something illegal.” Sanford continued, “We take it very seriously if a licensed boxing promoter is not present for bouts,” as promoters are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of the boxers. However, Sanford held off any rush to judgment because he did not want to damage the careers of the boxers and wanted to give the show’s producers a chance to defend themselves.
Back in March Sanford co-authored a Law360 article titled, “A Primer on Defending Your Calif. Insurance License.” The article begins:
For clients, there is little that can match the emotion of receiving an accusation from the California Department of Insurance seeking to revoke the license that justifies your business’s existence. The reason is that licensees are conditioned to believe they have little to no rights when defending against the department. In this instance, it is good to be wrong.
An accusation is a charging document; the document the department must issue to place the licensee on notice of what it is alleging as violations of insurance laws. It is only in the rarest situations that the department can essentially skip the issuance of an accusation and summarily revoke a license. This is good news because if the department believes insurance laws have been violated, it must tell a licensee, with specificity, what it is that was allegedly violated. This is a requirement that a licensee be provided “notice.” This starts the process that leads to an administrative hearing. After receiving notice, the licensee is entitled to respond by serving its own notice that it intends to defend itself and would like a hearing.
All accusations are served with a notice of defense form, but this does not include a critical document most often missed by novice practitioners — a “special notice of defense.” A special notice of defense is parallel to affirmative defenses in civil litigation — if they are not raised at a certain time, these defenses are forever waived.
In 2012, Lawdragon interviewed Sanford as part of it’s Lawyer Limelight series, which “features discussions with top practitioners, including corporate counsel, law firm stars, leaders in academia, public interest lawyers and more.” Below are a few questions and answers from the piece:
Lawdragon: What were some of the biggest challenges of the early days?
Sanford Michelman: Finding the extra few hours a day. We have been fortunate in that we were able to have very talented lawyers join us early on and support from our clients. We never really faced any significant challenges, other than maintaining the quality of our work.
LD: What advice would you give lawyers interested in doing the same?
SM: Make sure it is something you really want to do. It is a tug of war between being a practicing lawyer and operating a business. It requires tremendous hours, patience, and a long view towards where you want the firm to go. Finally, I would say that with every hire, make sure it is a cultural fit – don’t chase business originators in any way that may sacrifice your culture. Define your culture and make that you do not deviate from it.
The Zimmer Children’s Museum annually presents the Discovery Award to “remarkable individuals who exemplify strong leadership” and “live our mission to promote values that make a better society through interactive learning, creative self-expression and art experiences for children and families.” In 2013, the Museum celebrated the following “Good people who have positively made a difference:”
Margaret Loesch, President and CEO of The Hub
David Madden, President of Fox Television Studios
Sanford Michelman, Founder and Partner of Michelman & Robinson