Legal Business Development: Are You Unproductive?

by Paula Black

Unproductive... I shudder at the thought! No one wants to feel that or admit it... but when it's true there is no place to hide. No matter the size of your firm, every lawyer needs to contribute in some way to the success of the firm. I ran across a thought provoking article at Attorney At Work by Karen MacKay that will stop you in your tracks, What if You're the Unproductive Partner? She asks...

"What If You’re Not Cutting It? You are the first to know when you are struggling. You know well ahead of those holding you accountable when you are trending toward “unproductive partner” status. So what do you do? You have three choices.

Option One: Attempt creative avoidance. This strategy is destined to get your name on the management committee’s discussion agenda.

Option Two: Wait until the managing partner stops by for a chat. This approach is firmly planted in denial. You could, of course, complain about the firm, the leadership or its strategy—an offensive move perhaps, and a clear duck-and-run that is also destined to fail.

Option Three: Take corrective action. In exercising this choice, you re-assess your skills, your strengths and your practice and create a proactive plan for your future. And remember, you didn’t get here overnight—this evolved over time. 

Before choosing what to do next, take a good long look in the mirror.

Consider How You Got Here—And How You’ll Move Forward

Business development. There are many ways to build a practice. Honestly, though, many lawyers inherit one—or, they have good skills combined with being in the right place at the right time. If you have never honed the skills necessary to take what you’ve inherited and grow it, you need to focus on learning business development skills. 

Practice management. In today’s law firms, there is no room for poor practice management. Clients demand efficiency and effectiveness, project management and regular reporting. If you are disorganized, get help with that and make room for new and better work. If you are not capturing time, billing and collecting regularly and in ways your clients want, get help with that. 

People management. You may have lots of clients and fairly high revenue, but if you burn through staff and associates, you are unproductive. You are eroding profits, negatively impacting culture and losing respect. Stanford professor Robert Sutton wrote a book called The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. In it, he provides a 24-item self-rating test that answers the question, ”Are You a Certified Asshole?” It might help you to find out, in the quiet of your own office if, according to this research, you are a jerk. 

Go Ahead, Take the Reins. No one aspires to be unproductive. If your law practice is eroding—whether for the above or other reasons—get out in front of it. Avoidance and denial are not effective. Meet preemptively with your managing partner to talk about your concerns and discuss how you will turn things around. Invest in yourself. Hire a coach—someone who knows your world and whom you respect. Develop a plan and work on incremental change. Own your issues and move forward."

Facing reality isn't easy, but the sooner you do it the sooner the situation will improve. Take MacKay's advice and get into action. Hide out and it will only get worse.


Written by:

Paula Black

Paula Black & Associates on:

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