Interview: Manuel Fishman, Esq.

Manuel (“Manny”) Fishman is a shareholder in Buchalter PLC’s San Francisco office. He focuses his practice on representing real estate developers, owners and third-party asset managers in the acquisition, sale, equity structuring and financing of commercial properties. Fishman has an active leasing practice representing owners of several major office buildings in San Francisco, including the Transamerica Pyramid, and tenants in lease and sublease transactions. He maintains close relationships with the real estate brokerage community and utilizes these relationships to provide clients with market-based information important to their existing and prospective real estate requirements. Fishman is recognized as a leading attorney in the area of landline and wireless communications and Internet-based services in commercial properties, riser management and rooftop installations. In his spare time, he runs marathons.

Q: How did you become a rainmaker?

A: There is a phrase that runners use who want to run faster: “If you want to run faster, you have to run faster.” Sounds obvious, right? Until you try it. How did I become a rainmaker? By getting out of the office and taking the small steps needed to meet people and work through decisions with them. It just takes constant practice — sometimes it works and you run faster, and sometimes it doesn’t work and you feel like you will never run faster. I think it is a misnomer to say, “I have a plan to become a rainmaker” Rather, the way I have done it is to understand what I like about the law and business and simply lead with that.

I have always read financial newspapers and I send articles or links to clients and prospective clients. I enjoy understanding the policy behind new laws and how public policy impacts business. In both areas, I try to understand a client’s business and send them articles that I think will spark a conversation or provide them with an idea. Ultimately, I get work from the client because I have been able to show that I understand the client’s business and that I care about the success of the client’s business.

For larger clients, with a general counsel office, understanding who your client is, is key to being an effective rainmaker — in most cases it is the general counsel office. The key to being a successful rainmaker with institutional clients is to make sure that in-house counsel is in the loop on — and is aware in advance of — major decisions (and major decisions are whatever decisions in-house counsel wants to be involved in).

Q: How do you stay a rainmaker?

A: I try to do something that I can do and that I think will be an opportunity for one-on-one conversation with a client. It sounds obvious, but many people try to be a rainmaker by doing (or thinking they need to do) something that they are not comfortable doing — drinking when they don’t drink, playing golf when they don’t play golf (or have the time). The number one thing that I do is “get out of the office.” You can’t be a rainmaker in the office. Meet consultants, go to conferences, write an article, get on a committee — and always do good work. Don’t let the project out if you have a concern. If you need to meet someone — put the project down and come back.

I estimate I spend 20 percent of my time thinking about, following up on or preparing for an opportunity to meet a “decision maker” for a deal or legal services and provide something to him or her that is useful — even as simple as doing basic emails to client contacts and potential client contacts.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring rainmaker?

A: Make a list. On that list, put the names of five people, be they clients or client contacts with whom you work. Next to each name, write something you know they are interested in professionally. Stop. If you cannot fill that in, take each of those people out for a cup of coffee and find out what they need. It can be as simple as an introduction to someone. Once you have that list complete, make a second column next to each person’s name and decide what you can do that fits each of the following: 1. it’s in your comfort zone, 2. shows off your substantive knowledge, and 3. is responsive to the need you identified for that client contact.

Then do it or offer to do it. If you have picked the right choice for (i) and (ii), you will be able to repeat it and refine it and become a rainmaker with it. For me, it’s presentations.

Q: Tell us a tale of landing a big client.

A: I haven’t landed a “big client” on my own. General Motors is already taken; Goldman Sachs doesn’t need a new law firm. I have stayed in touch with people who have moved to large companies. That is how I have gotten almost every large assignment, from a litigation matter (where I am the subject matter expert, not the litigator), to a new development project. I have never gotten a “big client” through playing golf or sports. I have always gotten big clients through small steps, substantive knowledge and teamwork.

For example, I originally got assigned to a large institutional client to handle leasing matters at an office building. I really enjoy leasing and just did a good job. The general counsel I reported to introduced me to another deal maker at the same institution and I got another real estate assignment. I saw an area where I thought I could leverage my relationship by introducing a subject matter expert to the client. Teamwork at large companies is very important, so my colleague and I made a joint educational program to the client. Introducing a partner at my firm with expert knowledge about an area where a client needs assistance is just as valuable as introducing yourself, and that is how I have landed larger clients, with patience, introductions and a long-term view.