Many law firm partners have built a successful practice through the support of others at their law firms. This is especially true at larger and mid-sized law firms. Support comes from all areas of the firm – marketing, legal assistants, accounting, billing, IT, paralegals, and maybe most importantly, associate attorneys. What happens when needed support is not available?
Is Your Firm Winning or Losing the War for Talent?
Anyone in the legal industry should know that currently finding quality associate attorneys is a challenge. This is an even bigger problem with the huge increase in the demand for legal services. Is your law firm in this boat? Are they able to attract and retain good associates? If not, I would bet that you are feeling it – both personally and professionally.
Can Clients See That You Are Stretched Too Thin?
When your plate is overloaded and you don’t have help, it really is only a matter of time before your clients take notice.
- Deadlines start slipping
- Status reports don’t get sent
- You are not accessible
- Your response time to client inquiries is awful
You once took pride in spending non-billable time with clients – now you have no time to spend. Keeping your head above water and just getting to the client’s work is a major challenge right now. Because you are trying to do it all, is the quality of work suffering too?
This isn’t sustainable. After a while, clients will lose patience and move on to another attorney or law firm. You cannot do it all, you need good associates!
Are Your Clients Overpaying for Your Services?
The legal work still needs to be done but you do not have associates to do it. There is no one to push this work down to an appropriate experience level and billing rate. So, what happens?
Do you bill the client at your normal hourly rate for conducting routine tasks such as basic legal research and due diligence?
Must you reduce your rate or write-off time?
Neither of these options seems appealing. You either have a client balking at your high rates or your personal numbers suffer which may come back to bite you at compensation time. You know – the realization rate thing.
Let me make another point which could be worse.
As a partner, you’ve fallen out of the day-to-day work that associates do, as you focus on high-level negotiations and bet-the-company litigation. What if you have to relearn some of the tasks that an associate would normally handle – things that you forget many moons ago.
Not only does the client have to pay your hefty rate, but they also pay a premium for your learning curve. Again, a no-win for you or the client – time and money being wasted.
Forget Bringing in New Business
Rainmakers are rainmakers for one reason – they know how to get, keep, and grow clients. Drowning in legal work with no associate support also leaves no time for new business development.
Maybe you reached a point in your career where you prefer doing business development over practicing law. Now, you have no time to do the professional activities that benefit you and your firm making more rain. No time for conferences, bar events, dinners, lunches, ball games…whatever works for your business development success.
Work More, Make Less
There is a pretty well-known business book by James Schramko called Work Less, Make More: The Counter-Intuitive Approach to Building a Profitable Business, and a Life You Actually Love. Do you know what is impossible to achieve without associate support? The answer is Mr. Schramko’s desired outcome. In fact, you may find yourself with the complete opposite outcome.
As a successful partner, you are familiar with the term leverage. It takes a team, including associates, each billing thousands of hours a year to build a successful practice. No associates – no leverage. No leverage, less money. This is simple math.
Now combine the lack of leverage with the loss of clients due to service issues, lower realization rate, and no time for business development, and you have a real problem. Rest assured – management will bring up all these problems at compensation time.
How’s Life at Home?
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog – Why do Law Firm Partners Spend So Much Time Apologizing? As the title indicates, busy law firm partners get stretched thin due to career demands. This problem only gets exacerbated when you have no associate support. As mentioned, you will be working harder with longer hours. Obviously, this means more time away from your family. With this, comes a higher level of stress. Stress on you, and stress on your family.
How does the added stress impact your relationships? Is your spouse tired of handling family duties all alone? Are the kids mad that you miss their activities?
Actually, I just read an interview with the actor, Ben Stiller. In the interview, he acknowledges that his daughter called him out for not being present during her childhood. He says,
“What I’ve learned is that your kids are not keeping score on your career. It would be solipsistic to think that my kids actually care about that. They just want a parent who’s emotionally present and supportive of them. That’s probably what they want more than for me to be going off and pushing the bounds of my creativity.”
Ben was obviously stung by his daughter’s comments and is living with some personal regrets. It does not have to be this way for you!
Invites Stop Coming?
If you do not have time for your family, you probably do not have time for your friends. How many times do you need to decline invitations or cancel at the last minute?
Sorry, I can make it to this week’s happy hour. I am stuck in the office with no help.
Honey, please tell the neighbors that we can’t come to the barbeque this weekend.
Hey Mary, please get a fourth for the concert tonight, I can’t come. If you can’t, let me know how much I owe you for the ticket.
Like clients who will move on for not getting good service, friends may move on when constantly getting blown off. Having more associate support would give you more work-life balance – time to spend with your friends.
No Wine, No Movies, No Fun?
Most of us enjoy doing things outside of the office. Chances are that all those activities have been put on a hiatus when you don’t have associate support.
It could be something as simple as walking your dog to taking that dream vacation. Never mind getting a 4-hour round of golf in – that’s not going to happen. Perhaps you love to read but by the time you get home, sleep is the only thing on your mind. Don’t worry, in 5 short hours, you get to hit the grind all over again.
I can go on and on with examples, but the real question is, why are you working so hard if you cannot enjoy your life?
The reminds me of a great movie quote from The Shawshank Redemption:
“Get busy living or get busy dying.”
The difference is that you are not in prison. But you still may need an escape plan if your firm is unable to provide the necessary support.
Mind & Body Come First
It’s no secret that attorneys are prone to alcohol and drug use, mental health issues, and even suicide. Why? Because the stress of the job takes its toll. Attorneys are always working for the best possible outcome for their clients. When there isn’t enough support to handle the workflow, burnout is inevitable.
Also, do you have time for your overall health and wellness? Is your schedule preventing you from eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising? Do you need to keep canceling physical exams and your other health checks such as colonoscopies, mammograms, skin screenings, and stress tests?
Without a healthy you, clients, colleagues, family, friends, will all suffer. If not having support is hurting your health, you MUST make a change.
Don’t Hit Rock Bottom
I must admit, writing this blog up to this point was somewhat depressing. Why you may ask? Because looking at it in its entirety, I see a lawyer, without associate support, losing existing clients, unable to generate new business, experiencing lost or strained relationships, having no fun and enjoyment, filled with stress and regrets, making less money, and being in terrible health. Yuck!
But on the flip side, there is hope because there is another path that makes me happy and not depressed. This other path is my life’s work. To find you the exact right perfect fit law firm. You have earned the opportunity to be at a place that can attract and retain quality associates to support your practice. They are out there, and I can help you find them. It all starts with a phone call.