Fenwick & West partner Cynthia Hess was profiled by Law360 as part of its “Rainmaker” Q&A series with “leaders at top law firms.”
Cynthia Clarfield Hess is a partner in Fenwick & West LLP's corporate group. She is co-chairwoman of the firm's startups and venture capital group, as well as co-chairwoman of the firm's Israel practice. Based in Mountain View, Calif., she provides comprehensive legal services to emerging growth companies in Silicon Valley and around the world.
Hess serves as a trusted adviser to groundbreaking technology companies at every stage of their lifecycle, from early-stage counseling and venture capital financing, through mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings and beyond. And as co-chairwoman of Fenwick’s Israel practice group, she likens the entrepreneurial culture in Israel to that of Silicon Valley—both are hubs of innovation.
Recognized as among California’s “Top Women Lawyers” by Daily Journal, Hess represents some of the hottest and most innovative companies in the mobile, video, SaaS and social media spaces, such as GoPro, LendingClub, Gigya, Nextdoor, YouSendit (now Hightail) and YuMe.
Hess earned a B.A. from Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and her law degree from The Cornell Law School.
Q: How did you become a rainmaker?
A: When I started my career in New York, I worked primarily with investment banking clients. The firm I worked for encouraged associates at all levels to get to know their counterparts at the bank. Instead of having everyone focus on getting to know the most senior person on the client team, we were all encouraged to get to know our peers. It was valuable early exposure to the importance of developing strong relationships with clients. It also made the job a lot more enjoyable because I was working with friends.
Client development isn’t something you need to know how to do by yourself. Often, younger attorneys put pressure on themselves because they don’t realize that it’s a team effort. I learned early on that it’s better to play a small role in bringing in a meaningful client than try to do it all on my own. When I joined Fenwick and saw the potential to bring on a new client, I didn’t try to do it by myself; I would team up with colleagues to build the strongest possible team for the client. We hunt in packs, as they say. Under the right circumstances, it can be a much more effective way of bringing in business.
Bottom line: Becoming a rainmaker involves teaming up with more senior attorneys who can help win the business and focusing on developing relationships with your peers, then watching those relationships grow over time as they advance professionally.
Q: How do you stay a rainmaker?
A: Once I had worked with a number of name brand technology companies, it became easier to work with more. I think the key is to hang on to good clients and deliver great lawyering and service to maintain those relationships. It’s not always about seeking new business; you’ve got to spend a lot of time with existing clients. Their recommendations mean the most. Having great working relationships with your clients helps you deliver better value for them, not to mention that it makes work a lot more fun to spend time with people you enjoy. Often, a good referral from a client means the new client will hire you based on the referral from a trusted source.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring rainmaker?
A: Stick with it. Get to know people at all levels of your organization and client organizations. Work in teams to bring in new business. Persistence is key, don’t give up. Do the best work you can. Nothing happens overnight, this is the long game.
Fenwick hired me as a partner in 2002, during the depths of the tech recession, one of the worst times the technology sector has ever seen. I didn’t have a large book of business; I’d only lived in the bay area for two years with no prior connections to the area. I think they saw potential in me as a business developer, but it takes a long time. If you’ve got it in you, it can still take several years to develop a nice book of business.
Q: Tell us a tale of landing a big client.
A: We were doing a small amount of trademark work for a client when one of the associates involved approached me for help pitching for their corporate work. Our associate knew the general counsel of the company from school and heard they were interested in switching law firms. Of course, I told the associate I would be happy to help and I contacted our marketing team for help putting together pitch materials.
Then, totally separately, one of the VCs who invested in this company reached out to two other partners in the firm. Our marketing team made the connection and put the two requests together. When my partners and I heard, we thought, hey that’s great, let’s all pitch it together. The teamwork and collaboration was rewarded because we now represent this company and had the enviable role of taking the company pubic this summer.
The interview is also available through the Law360 website (subscription required).