Lawyers, Develop New Business by Selling Yourself One Hour of Your Time Every Day

JD Supra Perspectives

[Excerpted from Jay Harrington's new book, The Productivity Pivot:]

...the best investment you’ll ever make is selling yourself one hour of your time every day.

One of the many consequences of the COVID-19 crisis is that traditional approaches to new business development in the legal industry have been upended. Many lawyers are still working from home. There are no more lunch meetings. Events and other in-person networking opportunities are nonexistent for the foreseeable future. Given the economic downturn, demand for most legal services is down, so new business opportunities are harder to come by. Accordingly, it’s more important than ever for lawyers to be disciplined and focused on business development, but discipline and focus are hard to deploy these days.

Even pre-COVID-19, many lawyers struggled to prioritize business development. The 24-hour, on-demand, always-on work culture of the legal industry saps lawyers of the willpower and energy necessary to remain focused on the task-at-hand for more than mere moments. These circumstances make it difficult to keep up with client work. They make it seem nearly impossible to focus on important but not necessarily urgent issues like professional and business development.

That’s a big problem, because professional and business development are the very things that allow lawyers to grow and thrive over the arc of a long legal career. Indeed, to succeed over the long-term, a lawyer must continually increase knowledge, improve skills, and build and grow relationships that will create new business opportunities. Failing to do so will result in getting left behind.

“But I Don’t Have the Time”

In my coaching practice, when I challenge lawyers to devote more effort toward business development, the response I hear most frequently is some variation of “I simply can’t find the time.” When lawyers respond this way, it’s because they’re hung up on the limiting belief that their highest contribution is focusing, often to the exclusion of all else, on their clients’ priorities—and billing lots of hours in the process. must ruthlessly prioritize the time necessary to focus on building a practice

When you operate on the belief that your own priorities—in this case, building a legal practice—must be relegated to the bottom of your to-do list, you’ll never “find” the time for business development. We all have the same number of hours to work with. Instead, you must ruthlessly prioritize the time necessary to focus on building a practice, with the understanding that it’s the most valuable investment you can make in your most important client: yourself.

Sell Yourself One Hour of Your Time Every Day

Research suggests that autonomy—the feeling that you are in control of your circumstances—is the most important contributor to career satisfaction. Lawyers who desire more autonomy will likely never get it if they’re dependent on others for billable hours. With clients of their own, a lawyer will make more money, have more options, and be able to exercise more control over their time.

Accordingly, while building a practice requires hard work, it’s an investment that has a big payoff, both in terms of financial rewards and personal wellbeing. But none of those benefits will accrue if you’re not consistently engaging in the activities required to develop new business. You must prioritize the time necessary to build a practice.

In my new book, The Productivity Pivot, I discuss the importance of spending one hour every day focused on business development. It’s a methodology adopted from the experience of Charlie Munger, who co-founded law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and later became a billionaire businessman as Warren Buffett’s partner in Berkshire Hathaway.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Charlie Munger moved to California with his family and began practicing law as an associate at a law firm. Early in his legal career, Charlie came to an important realization that would help set him on a path toward massive success—as a lawyer and then as an investor. He recognized that he was spending all of his time working on behalf of his clients. As a result, he was doing little to serve the person he came to realize was his most important client: himself.

For Munger, the realization that he was his own most important client led him to adopt a daily practice as a young lawyer that became critical to his long-term success. He began “selling” himself the most important hour of his day—every day, first thing in the morning—and he used the time to work on personal and professional development. He wasn’t satisfied with his circumstances, so he decided to work for himself—one hour every day—to improve them.

In an interview he gave for his authorized biography, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Buffett recounts Munger’s approach: “Charlie, as a very young lawyer, was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, ‘Who’s my most valuable client?’ And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on these construction projects and real estate deals. Everybody should do this, be the client, and then work for other people, too, and sell yourself an hour a day.”

Most lawyers think the path to success lies in devoting as much time as possible to working for paying clients. However, as Munger learned and Buffett observed, the best investment you’ll ever make is selling yourself one hour of your time every day.

Don’t Let This Year Slip By

If you find the idea of carving out an hour every day to engage in business development activities unrealistic, you’re not alone. Despite the fact that one hour constitutes merely ten percent of most lawyers’ time each workday, they view an hour-per-day approach as unsustainable. What’s unsustainable, however, is the sporadic, frenetic alternative. You won’t build a practice if business development is only something you focus on when it becomes an urgent priority.

Chances are, you set some big business development goals for yourself at the beginning of 2020. Perhaps they seemed so big that you never got started working toward achieving them. Even if you did get started, the COVID-19 crisis may have thrown you off-track. Today, with less than five months left in the year, is the perfect time to revisit those goals.

Make a commitment. Develop a plan. Block time on your calendar for business development. Start selling yourself one hour every day.


Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading digital marketing agency for law, consulting, and accounting firms. He specializes in helping law firms build engaging websites and digital marketing strategies through creative design and storytelling. Jay is author of three books, The Productivity Pivot, The Essential Associate, and One of a Kind. He hosts the podcast The Thought Leadership Project Jay is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, and previously he was a commercial litigator and corporate bankruptcy attorney at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner.

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