Daily Journal quotes Gary Lafayette in an article examining the success of some minority-owned firms:
Gary Lafayette, an African-American partner at San Francisco’s Lafayette, Kumagai & Clarke, also knows rain can happen when you least expect it.
Lafayette got his first client, the Southland Corp, while visiting family in Dallas. One night he and his brother went out for drinks and struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to them. He turned out to be an in-house lawyer at the Southland Corp., the parent company of 7-Eleven convenience stores.
“The conversation took its natural course, and at some point I asked if his company had issues in California,” Lafayette says.
The Southland Corp. did have California issues and needed legal help. “Without pushing it that hard, I asked if we could talk further,” Lafayette continues. Though he was just an associate at a different firm at the time, Lafayette was eventually retained to help the corporation get a modification on its San Francisco building permits, to construct convenience stores and service stations on the same lots.
Lafayette says that while younger lawyers may not have access to their firm’s current clients, “that doesn’t mean they don’t have access to people who might need their firm’s services.”
Another time in Dallas, while attending a fellow Boalt Hall alum’s wedding, Lafayette struck up a conversation with the best man, who, like him, was one of the small minority of African Americans to attend an Ivy League college in the 1970s. Lafayette attended Dartmouth College and the best man went to Yale University.
“It’s a different old-boys’ network, because there is this group of people who went to Ivy League schools and on some level we know each other, or know some of the same people,” Lafayette says. “And if we don’t know each other, we have the common experience of being in those schools in such small numbers.”
After they discussed mutual friends, the conversation turned to work, and Lafayette discovered the best man held a corporate counsel position for an East Coast corporation, the name of which Lafayette would not disclose.
Although he hadn’t envisioned the wedding as a business-development opportunity, Lafayette had some firm brochures in his rental car. Today, Lafayette still represents that client.
To a certain extent, acting as a business developer “becomes your persona,” Lafayette says, so it’s not unusual to pick up clients in unlikely places. “If you come across acting silly, people will not want to present business to you,” he continued.
A business litigator who represents Wellpoint Health Networks, Procter & Gamble and Eastman Kodak, Lafayette – who would not disclose the dollar amount of his book of business – advises lawyers to focus on a specific practice and develop a reputation as an expert in that area.
Excerpted from Cahill, Stephanie. “ ‘It’s Harder’: The hurdles are many, but some minority rainmakers have their success stories.” Daily Journal. 15 June 1999: n. pag. Web. 5 April 2009.