Rainmaker Q&A: Wolf Greenfield's Edward Gates
(as published in IP Law360)
Clients describe Gates as “strategic”, “effective” and “persuasive.” His experience helps him recognize and capture value at the intersection of technology, IP and business. He frequently acts as a dealmaker, matchmaker and problem solver for clients in matters involving IP. His experience as primary negotiator and/or lead counsel in scores of licensing transactions places him in the elite of IP transaction lawyers. He serves small and large businesses, as well as nonprofits.
Known nationally for his expertise in university policy with respect to IP, Gates is effective on either side of the table in structuring technology deals arising out of academic and hospital research institutions.
Q: How did you become a rainmaker?
A: I followed some guideposts:
I began by acquiring the right attributes:
- Develop first rate skills;
- Provide exceptional service;
- Be a good listener and be helpful beyond just doing the work; and
- Be creative, constructive and solution-oriented.
Then, I focused on building relationships by:
- Demonstrating I cared about the people with whom I associated;
- Getting to know people who could influence selection of patent counsel; and
- Letting prospects know I wanted and appreciated the opportunity to represent them.
As a young associate, I wanted to practice in the biotech space, but the firm had little work in that area. If I wanted that work, I had to develop it.
First, I proved to the partners at my firm that I had strong prosecution skills, could provide exceptional service, and could be relied upon.
Next, I looked for a person in biotech with the ability to select outside counsel. I focused on someone at a prestigious research institution. I asked for a chance to show her what I could do, and she gave me a shot. I then worked to impress her and the inventors to an extent that they would ask for me in the future and recommend me to others.
In addition, I became involved with the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) and spent years attending its conferences and networking with other members. I eventually worked up to giving presentations and white papers, always trying to address questions that members cared about. This solidified relationships with existing clients and introduced me to many new ones.
At the same time, I was networking with as many entrepreneurs as possible and began working with some biotech startups. As a fourth year associate, I co-founded a biotech company with a scientist and an entrepreneur, exposing me to many business issues. All along, I was building strong relationships. I kept in touch when people left to go to new companies, and some became new clients.
That was my approach. But I never would have developed the level of business I have without some other key elements. First of all, I wanted to become a rainmaker. I found the challenge of finding and developing new clients exciting and liberating, as it gave me more options to work with interesting, wonderful clients.
Second, I understood I had to build my network. I wasn’t shy about asking clients for referrals, asking referral sources for introductions, or asking prospects for their business. I knew that if I could get my proverbial foot in the door, I would be able to prove the value I could offer, and one matter would eventually turn into multiple matters.
Last — and perhaps most important — I recognized early on that just doing good work was not enough, so I looked for opportunities to add value. I tried to understand the relationship between how a client made money and its IP. I always asked for and read a client’s business plan. I introduced clients to potential employees, business opportunities and funding sources. To distinguish myself, I tried not only to find problems, but also solutions because, at the end of the day, solutions are what drive a client’s business forward.
Q: How do you stay a rainmaker?
A: This is a relationship business, and no one stays a rainmaker without spending time nurturing those relationships. While I always remain open to establishing new relationships, I ensure I don’t take on a new opportunity at the expense of poorly servicing an existing client.
It’s been my observation that the best rainmakers truly enjoy the whole process of generating business, and the activity involved becomes second nature. I’ve never stopped looking for new opportunities, or making sure I’m providing the highest quality and service possible, or exploring the best solutions to meet my clients’ goals.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring rainmaker?
A: Build a network of referral sources. Obviously, this can be done a number of ways, so choose those that fit your personality and comfort level. Don’t be shy about politely asking for business or for a referral. You’d be surprised at how favorably businesses react to letting them know you would value the opportunity to represent them.
Consistently meet or exceed clients’ expectations in service and quality. “Good” lawyers are everywhere; even outstanding lawyers are not so rare. Clients will expect a high level of competence as a given, so the way to stand out is to provide an exceptional level of service. Believe it or not, clients value service above quality.
Treat everyone with respect — even opposing counsel and adverse parties — and avoid making enemies. I have quite a few clients originally on the other side of a deal, who came to me afterwards because they were impressed by what I accomplished and because I was constructive and effective without being hostile.
Q: Tell us a tale of landing a big client.
A: A company recently came to me, already involved in two lawsuits being handled by another firm. They wanted new counsel for a third suit because they felt their existing counsel was inefficient.
I asked probing questions about the company’s business plans and goals. Based on that information, I counseled them not to file a third lawsuit. I told them to focus on winning the existing suits to stop the financial and human resource drain, and permit them to return to devoting all their energies to selling products.
Some rainmaking strategy, right? Well, the company followed the advice but then transferred both the existing lawsuits to our firm. Just another example of how focusing on what a client needs is the best strategy.