Rainmaker Q&A: Fox Rothschild’s David Potter

November 2, 2016 – In The News
Law360

Reprinted with permission from Law360. (c) 2016 Portfolio Media. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

David B. Potter is a partner in the Minneapolis office of Fox Rothschild LLP. Considered a top litigator in Minnesota and across the United States for his established national practice in disaster litigation involving toxic spills, train derailments and other mass torts, he has served as lead counsel and defended numerous high-profile complex litigation matters.A senior trial lawyer, Potter chairs the board of advisers for the University of Minnesota Law School and has held positions with Neighborhood House and Children’s Law Center. 

In addition, he defends payors, third-party administrators and providers in complex health care matters.

Q: What skill was most important for you in becoming a rainmaker?

A: For me, it is a combination of patience and perseverance. Put another way: Don’t give up on relationships. Long ago, I learned that maintaining contact with key individuals and offering complimentary counsel when complex situations arose — and doing so with no particular pay-off or ulterior motive in mind — was beneficial in the long term.

By doing this, contacts come to recognize that you are looking out for their best interests and thinking about what will help them the most. This philosophy eventually led to me landing the biggest case of my career from a person with whom I had worked for more than 10 years.

Q: How do you prepare for a pitch for a potential client?

A: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. So undertake significant research, engage in a great deal of forethought and attempt to anticipate what may come up during the pitch. Also, ensure you are coming at the pitch practically and thoughtfully and in a way that will solve the problem or issue at hand.

When I’m about to meet with or talk to a client about a potential engagement, I’m extremely focused on ascertaining what specific and tangible concern the client is currently faced with so that I can formulate the best answer and bring fresh ideas and new strategies to the table for consideration. And I do it with the hope of hearing the client or prospect say, “Well that’s a different strategy,” or “I hadn’t thought about going in that direction.”

Q: Share an example of a time when landing a client was especially difficult, and how you handled it.

A: A colleague from whom I had been trying to secure work for some time called me one day about a massive ethanol train derailment. He knew I was “the lawyer” for the job because of my significant experience in disaster litigation. However, there was already an internal team on the ground at the accident site working on the case.

It was a challenge in the beginning because I did not even have authorization to enter the train site, and the internal team was unfamiliar with me and my background. So I positioned myself as a team player and not someone who wanted to take control of the accident site. And eventually I convinced the internal team members to bring me on board. It took a great deal of patience, persistence and perseverance to demonstrate to the internal team how valuable I could be to them and how much my background could be of assistance to them in this matter. Thankfully, the hard work paid off, and we ultimately prevailed in the case.

Q: What should aspiring rainmakers focus on when beginning their law careers?

A: The most candid advice I can offer is to ensure the client feels that they are walking away with something extra, something special, that only you can offer to them. That’s what is ultimately going to close deals for you — to fully use your social intelligence. A client wants to know you always keep them informed, you always have their back and you always make them look good, especially during situations that can be trying for them.

It goes without saying that it’s always nice to win cases and walk away victorious, but at the end of the day, your goal should be to ensure that your client perceives you as their favorite attorney to work with. And to achieve that requires more than just legal intelligence. It requires social intelligence from the outset of the relationship.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of remaining a rainmaker?

A: The current marketplace is the most volatile I have ever seen since I started practicing law in 1980. Today, there is unprecedented turnover regarding who your potential contacts are, who your team is and who you are trying to pitch. That’s why, in my opinion, it’s critical to possess patience, persistence and perseverance in order to be fully engaged in the long-sell. I believe in the long-sell. It works.

Reprinted with permission from Law360. (c) 2016 Portfolio Media. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.