Certain Hours Are More Valuable Than Billable Hours

Many firms continue to act as if billing a particular number of hours is the most valuable use of every attorney’s time. In the grand scheme of things, however, devoting time and resources to strategizing the firm’s positioning in the market can be more lucrative.

Firm leaders, having never been taught to value management time themselves, often bring this perspective to their hiring practices. They make the assumption that what they most need to grow their firms are lawyers who will bill a lot of hours. This approach that focuses only on billing time leads many managing partners to neglect an element that’s especially important now – finding and fostering future leadership.

Successful companies groom personnel for leadership roles over time through the management ladder. Too many law firms, in contrast, wait for a crisis to recognize that they don’t have the skills needed to adapt to market changes or take advantage of industry trends. Firms pay close attention to the legal skills of their attorneys but often don’t prioritize leadership skills or management ability.

This is especially dangerous for smaller firms in today’s market. As the pace of change in the legal industry increases, positioning yourself in the marketplace is more important than ever. And decisions about positioning require leaders who can initiate conversations and reach consensus on a range of thorny issues.

As consultants to law firms, we often see that the time it takes to answer questions about a firm’s positioning and future strategy is often more valuable than billable work.  This includes addressing questions like:

  • Should we expand into other practice areas?
  • Can we grow through succession planning (by taking on the book of a retiring lawyer)?
  • What compensation structure most encourages the behavior we need from our senior partners?
  • Who at the firm has the potential and desire to become a future leader, within the ranks of both lawyers and staff?
  • How do we identify future leaders during our hiring process?

Boutique and mid-sized firms may have an advantage. They should be able to pivot more quickly and precisely than their national competitors. And in today’s market, where large firms have many competitive advantages, the quality and quantity of time devoted to leadership, positioning, and strategy are what increasingly will allow smaller firms to thrive.

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