Pay attention, all you law and accounting firm partners


Congratulations: after six, seven, or even more years of keeping your nose to the grindstone for 1900+ hours per year, you've made partner. Now you get the posh office, the long lunches, and the Thursday golf games. Oh, wait. It's not the 1960s anymore. Still, you get to share in the firm's profits, and that's not bad.

Except that, in the words of Marshall Goldsmith, what got you here won't get you there.

As an associate, you were rewarded for increasing your billable hours. But that's not the game for you anymore. That's not how you're going to be successful as a partner. You're not going to increase your book of business from $2 million to $22 million by spending a few more Saturdays on the Johnson IPO and misssing all your kid's soccer games.

You need to cut down your billable hours and increase the time you spend on business development. And the only way to do that is to begin delegating your work -- early, often, and effectively.

Delegation is probably uncomfortable for you. You didn't get to where you are by passing off work. So you don't have the habit or the skills, and you may not even have a whole lot of confidence in your associates. But it's the only way you're going to thrive from now on.

There are whole books written on delegation that you may not have the time or patience to read. So let me present a few basic ideas that will help you start:

1. Get organized. Here's a newsflash: dropping 25 pounds of documents on an associate's desk on Thursday afternoon and asking for an analysis by Friday morning does not qualify as delegation. If you don't know everything that's on your plate and everything that's upcoming, you'll never be able to bring associates onboard *before* the deadline is upon you. Need help getting a handle on all your commitments and deadlines? Read these posts to get started: [1] [2] [3]

2. Define the outcome. What does a successful outcome look like? Smart people don't want to be told how to do their jobs. They want to know where they're going, and they'll figure out how to get there. So paint a clear picture of what the client is going to get when the job is completed successfully.

3. Set a timeline. You and your associates will do a lot better if you both know what the next step is and, more importantly, when it's due. People are often uncomfortable with delegation because they're afraid they'll forget about the matter in question -- out of sight, out of mind, and all that. But if you and your associates commit to a date and time for the next meeting, and have clearly defined deliverables, it won't slip your mind. Or hers. Worried that she'll forget? Make calendar reminder for you to call her a day or two before the meeting just to ensure she's on schedule.

4. Start early. A lawyer I know corrals an associate as soon as he gets a call from the client that will result in work. That enables the associate to learn everything from the beginning, without wasting anyone's time in getting him up to speed later. Even better, he develops a real sense of ownership in the client matter, which makes him more committed to the outcome.

5. Use all your resources. Are you still redlining briefs and memos? Doing it once or twice so that the associate understands what you want is fine. But after that, he should be going to a senior associate for help, and only coming to you for the final review. That's part of why the senior associates are gettting paid. Your job is to make sure the final product is up to your standards; it's not to make the same corrections over and over again.

I'll write more later about how to carve out time for business development and what to do with that time, but this is an important first step. Because if you can't delegate some of your work, you'll never have the time to do biz dev.

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