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Time to catch our breath

February 17, 2009

After years of long days and nights at the office many associates  are now finding themselves with regular office hours and the time to catch their breath after the marathon.  It’s been a long crazy trip – 17 years of unparalleled prosperity for law firms according to the Hildebrandt/Citi 2009 Client Advisory – and now it’s time to clean house, throw out the dead house plants and get back in touch with family and friends.

I recently spoke with an associate who had just spent the last three years billing over 2100 hours a year.  There was no time for thinking about work processes, about client development, or about how the work was being done.  Instead it was just one long marathon towards a finish line that forever hovered just beyond the horizon.   It was exciting, it was stressful and he and many others were approaching burn-out.

Now that he has caught up on his sleep he wants to take stock of his practice and invest his time in developing solid practice habits that will support him through the next marathon.
 
Follow his lead.  Take advantage of this period of calm to prepare for the opportunities that will arise when the economy improves.  Hone your practice habits.  Polish your business development skills.  And most importantly connect with your clients, contacts and friends to strengthen the relationships that may have frayed.

Here’s my list of things to do if you are an associate with more time on your hands then usual:

  • First, allow yourself some time to reflect.   What goals do you have for your practice?   Who are the clients you like best?  What is the work you most enjoy?  Consult with a mentor, friend, or coach.  Write down your long term goals and what you would like to make happen this year.
  • Clean up and update your contact list.  Review it and highlight those people you want to get back in touch with this year.  Every week write up a short connect with list of people you will touch base with by email or phone during the week.
  • If you are at a stage of your practice where you have clients, reach out to them.  Visit their offices and make sure they know it is off the clock.  Learn about their priorities for 2009.  How can you or others at your firm help them during the challenging year ahead? 
  • Do some internal networking.  Your relationships with the partners in your firm are important.  Initiate lunch or coffee meetings with the partners to learn about how they are meeting the current challenges.
  • Expand your knowledge base.  Find the publications and associations associated with your practice area and/or industries you serve.  Catch up your reading.  If you come across a useful article, clip it and email it off to your contacts.  Undertake to write an article, present or both.   Look for opportunities to write or present for industry or professional associations, or for legal publications and conferences.
  • Get involved with the professional or industry associations associated with your practice.  By attending the meetings consistently and getting involved on boards and committees you will increase your professional network and lay the foundation for business development in the years to come.  I was recently speaking with an entertainment lawyer who as a young associate got involved in one of the key industry associations for women filmmakers.  The contacts she made back in the early days of her practice were a critical component of her success in the years that followed.
  • Assess your current legal skills.  What are your strengths?  What are your deficits?  Take advantage of your time to take some courses and hone your skills. 
     

There are so many options to consider.  Just remember to start with your goals and choose the actions that will best support you in moving forward.

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