CASE STUDY: Making Time For Business

Originally published in California Lawyer Magazine

Here’s How to Find Time for Business Development
You’re a partner at a large firm. You do excellent work and are in demand, but you aren’t building your book of business as quickly as you’d like. Even though bringing in new clients is crucial to your future success, you haven’t been able to find time to focus on business development. Your daily schedule is endlessly clogged with time-sensitive client demands, partner requirements, and committee meetings. Cramming in “biz dev” seems impossible, even though it should be a high priority. Of course, when there’s too much work to fit into the day, no amount of “time management” will help–no magic can turn five minutes into six. But using a system to organize your work and manage your commitments can ensure that you won’t lose sight of what’s really important to your career–and it can enable you to dramatically increase the time you devote to developing new business.

If You Don’t See It, It’s Not Important
Attorneys agree that business development is vital. Yet at their offices their biz dev files are invisible, completely buried beneath piles of client matter. New prospects lie dormant among existing client demands. Even when lawyers try to begin biz dev they lose focus, as the relevant information molders beneath mounds of other documents. The solution? Create a filing architecture that separates “working” client and business development files from lower value, reference material. Note the 80/20 rule: Eighty percent of the work is done with 20 percent of the paper. Keep the important 20 percent–the working files–close at hand. Move the rest to a file cabinet or a drawer farther away. Clearing away junk and lower-value documents makes working biz dev files more visible, improves your ability to focus on that activity, and eliminates time lost searching for needed information. (As a bonus, the discipline of personal organization will help you delegate work to others.)

Put Away the Firefighter’s Helmet
Too many attorneys begin the day reading through their email in-box. No doubt, reputations depend on near-instantaneous client service. But that level of service comes at a cost: Attorneys become reactive rather than proactive. No matter how quickly they respond, they are always fighting fires, always behind the curve. You can focus instead on “living in the calendar.” Rather than vainly hoping for a free afternoon for business development, carve out time for it. Structure your schedule each day so you stay on top of ongoing commitments while still allocating appropriate time to forging relationships with prospective clients. Additionally, set Outlook or Lotus Notes to open in the Calendar, rather than the Inbox. This one adjustment will keep you focused on daily and weekly plans. The first thing you’ll see each morning is your schedule, not the avalanche of emails that poured in overnight. Of course, you still must respond to those messages, but at least now you’ll be more cognizant of your daily priorities. Living in your calendar also helps you delegate work more effectively. As you become better at tracking client commitments, you can hand off work to associates with clear check-in dates and deadlines–and that means more time for business development.

Taking Action
The final step is creating a clearly defined plan of action. When it comes to biz dev, most lawyers don’t know precisely what they’ll do or when they’ll do it. That’s because “business development” is a squishy concept comprising many different activities. It’s hard to make progress when you don’t have specific tasks to complete. You can get around this problem by explicitly defining biz dev’s core actions–internal networking, external networking, activities that raise your visibility–and then putting them on the calendar. Make lists of prospective clients and create recurring calendar appointments to stay in touch. Schedule time to write and edit articles for journals. Identify conferences to speak at, set specific times to contact the organizers with proposals, and connect with your associates to develop the presentations. The steady accretion of these activities will result in more biz dev activity–and it will result in winning new clients.

Achieving Measurable Results
After just a few months of structured activity, you will begin to see results. I have personally seen junior partners increase their average promotional time by almost 25 percent. Although there are no guarantees, creating clarity in your workspace–both physically and mentally–will make you more effective at developing business.

Dan Markovitz is president of TimeBack Management, a consulting firm that helps lawyers make more time for business development.