Work values are shifting, and law firms have been caught off guard. Firms now find they must define the time commitment needed for partners and associates alike to succeed in the firm.
To achieve a basic commitment of 2,500 hours per year, a lawyer starts with the required 1,800+ billable hours and then adds 700 or so nonbillable hours for firm management and marketing. The problem is that lawyers are good at tracking management hours, but not so good at tracking marketing hours -- because they figure they would have done it anyway.
How then is a firm to gauge the full commitment of its lawyers?
An old grouch once said you can hire the most responsible and honest people, but you’d better check their work. After many years in business, I have learned this is not such a grouchy idea. It’s human nature. If a manager doesn’t go back and check the work, the work is perceived to be unimportant. On the other hand, shine the light of visibility on a behavior, and that behavior becomes important.
It is therefore a logical question to ask why the legal industry resists tracking nonbillable marketing time. The evidence of resistance can be seen in the blank stares of the designers of time and billing systems. It’s just not a battle they want to fight.
But it is a battle worth fighting.
At a time when law firms are trying to increase their lawyers’ commitment to the firm and seeking “best practices” among competitors, the established practice among CPA firms of budgeting and tracking nonbillable marketing time is an idea worth adopting.
How much marketing time should be budgeted?
A nonmanagement lawyer may budget 1,800 billable hours, 175 hours for billing and timekeeping, 65 hours for practice and firm meetings, 25 hours for CLE and travel, 40 hours for mentoring and coaching, 80 hours for vacation, 65 hours for holidays and 250 hours for marketing.
The total commitment is 2,500 hours, or about 48.4 hours per workweek (assuming two weeks’ vacation) -- a little more than nine hours per day. The marketing commitment is five hours per week. It’s easy to get in five hours of marketing per week by just having lunch with a client, prospect or referral source each day of the week. Of course a wise marketing plan should vary the marketing activities a little more than this. What lawyer would object to this schedule?
I believe lawyers are currently committing this amount of time -- and more -- to their law firms. Many are not getting recognition for their full commitment because they are not tracking marketing time. Law firms should begin to track, guide and reward this commitment.
The excuses given for not tracking marketing time are many -- every lawyer knows them by heart. Here are some answers:
The legal industry has a perception of what is an acceptable percent of nonbillable to billable time. However, the accepted standard comes out of a de-emphasis on tracking marketing time, so it is not reliable. Tracking needs to start now so the standard can be adjusted.
If the activity is a golf game or a sporting event, a good rule of thumb is to ask “Would I have done this anyway?” If so, the lawyer would count just the time actually spent building the relationship and discussing business issues. On the other hand, if the lawyer made a purely business decision to take evening or weekend time away from family to entertain a client, then it may be considered mostly business (and partly fun).
To track volunteer work, again ask “Would I have done this anyway?” Board membership and volunteer activities are at best a combination of passion and business opportunity. Depending on the situation, the lawyer may decide to track only the time spent in business discussions or may choose to record an entire event if the decision to participate was completely driven by work considerations.
To overcome the temptation for a practice group manager to micro-manage, require annual marketing plans, check on progress and then coach individual lawyers as needed.
When all marketing activities are tracked, a practice group manager or managing partner can work with a lawyer to make effective use of his or her time commitment. A lawyer who is committing too much time to certain activities and producing little return ought to appreciate being directed toward more fruitful activities.
Patricia A. Davidson is an independent marketing consultant who was most recently with Greenebaum Doll & McDonald PLLC, a regional law firm with offices in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington, D.C. She can be reached at 502/368-2083 or dcross@firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article first appeared in the August issue of Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing. © 2001 Legal Marketing Association, All Rights Reserved.