This article originally ran in Law360 on October 2, 2013.
James J. Rohn is the chairman of Conrad O’Brien PC, which is headquartered in Pennsylvania.
When corporate America is in trouble, Rohn is on the short list of attorneys sought out to help. Respected for his wise counsel, his decades of experience working with government officials, his empowering “we will succeed” attitude, and his gift for strategic thinking, he makes things happen for his clients. He is also known to care deeply for his clients and the circumstances that brought them to him.
Rohn joined the firm in 1989 as managing shareholder, a position he held for more than 18 years before becoming chairman. Before joining Conrad O’Brien, he served as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia for eight years, three of those as the First Assistant United States Attorney. A Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, Rohn has tried and been lead counsel in a wide variety of complex commercial litigation cases. He is also nationally recognized for his white collar defense practice.
In addition to his practice and firm leadership role, Rohn has actively served the broader community, teaching and serving on the boards of public and nonprofit entities. He is a long-distance runner who recently completed his first marathon.
Q: How did you become a rainmaker?
A: When I left the government to go into private practice I had no clients, and that needed to change quickly. As an AUSA, I prosecuted groundbreaking cases involving con artists who took over licensed insurers and plundered their policyholders. With the power of the grand jury subpoena and plea agreements, we convicted the fraudsters and went after their assets to get the money back. In private practice, of course, I no longer had access to a prosecutor’s tools, so I came up with a strategy that would work in civil insurance fraud and liquidation cases. I then volunteered to speak at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. I presented my strategy and four different state insurance commissioners hired me to file RICO suits against insurance company raiders. I was off to the races! At one point, we had 10 RICO suits going at the same time, and we recovered millions of dollars for policyholders.
My next rainmaking effort, however, was not a success. A law school classmate referred me to the general counsel of a multinational corporation which was facing a significant criminal antitrust investigation. As excited as I was, I went about it all wrong. I did not prepare properly. I did not do an X-ray study of the corporation and its values. Worse, I worked it up all by myself and worst of all, I went to the interview ALONE. I was not chosen to represent the corporation.
Lesson learned. When a friend referred me a small matter for a subsidiary of a large multinational corporation, I created an internal team, we prepared thoroughly, and we went in together to make the presentation. We got the assignment, did a great job and won. We followed up with meetings with counsel to other subsidiaries and then with the corporation’s general counsel and key executives. We volunteered our services to help with problems we saw on the horizon. When the storms hit, we were retained. Fifteen years later, we have handled over 50 significant matters including 15 national class actions.
Q: How do you stay a rainmaker?
A: More of the same!
First and foremost, the “rainmaker” doesn’t stand alone — my colleagues support everything I do. At Conrad O’Brien, our best business development tool is being exceptionally good at our craft. We do quality work on every case — large and small. The lawyers who get great results for our clients count every bit as much as the lawyer who brought the case in the door in the first place.
Second, we’re problem solvers, but even more importantly we’re problem preventers. We consistently stay on top of issues that affect the people and organizations we represent, and we’re available 24-7.
Third, when we are called about a potential representation, we invest ourselves 100 percent, before we are even retained. We do an in-depth analysis to understand the legal issues and our client’s broader business and personal concerns. We create a game plan, with the best team we can assemble. Even if we’re not ultimately retained, we deliver real value and people remember that.
Fourth, once we are retained, we actively build on the foundation we established from day one. Our focus is always on solid preparation; teamwork; being adaptive and innovative in solving existing problems and preventing new ones. Many of our clients are in highly regulated industries. Their world isn’t black and white — it’s gray. Good judgment is essential, as is the ability to see around corners to predict what’s coming next.
Q: What advice would you give an aspiring rainmaker?
A. I honed my skills by shadowing the very best — my friend, founding partner of Conrad O’Brien and my mentor, Bill O’Brien. Here’s what I learned from Bill and my own life’s journey. Go into something you like to do. Be yourself — find your talents, your voice and your sweet spot. Live your life and do the right thing — if that leads to new business, great. Business development is like running a marathon, it’s a long process and you meet a lot of people along the way.
A few more specific suggestions. Stay in touch with your high school, college and law school classmates. As a general rule, you should make three contacts a day outside of your regular business routine. Join the local bar association and the sections that fit your talents. Attend seminars that relate to your sweet spots. Arrange for speaking engagements — there’s nothing like getting in front of people and wowing them.
On the personal side, get involved in your community, where you worship, where you play. You never know where those contacts can lead. Finally, pay close attention to the rainmakers you partner with in client presentations. Take from them what works for you then spice it up with your talents.
Q: Tell us a tale of landing a big client.
A: Two years ago, the leadership changed at an organization which, for confidentiality reasons, we can’t identify. The organization was facing many challenges legally, legislatively and in the media. The new leaders decided they needed an entirely new set of advisers, including new legal counsel. Our firm was one of many firms asked to interview. After a long and multistep process, we were asked to serve as general outside counsel for the organization.
Why were we successful? (1) Preparation. (2) Preparation. (3) Preparation.
We assembled the right team. Starting with the first interview, we addressed every problem we thought the organization could face in the next two, five and even 10 years and had a game plan for each situation. We anticipated changing conditions and were prepared to address what we might have to do to adapt the plan. Perhaps most importantly, we took the time to understand the core values of the organization and its leadership, and incorporated those values into the game plan we laid out!
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
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