New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, although the holiday falls on a Saturday night this year so many of us may not get any additional time off! The new year is a great time to reflect on everything that a lawyer has accomplished in the preceding twelve months and make goals that will provide guidance on the year ahead. Although most new year’s resolutions involve personal accomplishments, people sometimes set professional goals when they make new year’s resolutions. From my experience, there are a few goals that should be at the top of all lawyers’ minds when they create their professional new year’s resolutions.
Develop More Business
Business development usually takes a backseat to billing work when it comes to the priorities of lawyers. This is because most attorneys are conditioned to use all of their available time to bill hours and churn out work for clients. However, clients leave firms and portfolios of work dry up from time to time. As such, lawyers need to always be thinking about developing business so that they are not caught in the lurch if workcycles change or clients want to leave their shop for another law firm.
There are a few ways lawyers can go about making business development a part of their everyday work schedule. I once worked for a partner who said that he spent thirty minutes every day engaging with potential client contacts on LinkedIn. Sometimes it was as easy as commenting on a post that somewhat had written, and other times, he reached out to old acquaintances and scheduled times to meet up so he could cultivate the contact. If business development is one of your new year’s resolutions, perhaps you can go further and say that you will devote some amount of time each workday to the task so that there is a tangible step toward developing more business.
Associates should also start thinking about business development, even if this is not typically part of an associate’s job description. An associate who develops business often has an easier time climbing the corporate ladder since they are seen as possessing skills that would make them solid partners. Enterprising associates can also make business development a part of their new year’s resolutions so that they can partake in this important part of the legal profession.
Over the last three years, it has been difficult to have personal, face-to-face contact with clients. The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to see clients in person, and almost everything from client meetings to court conferences was done remotely. I reflected recently that there are clients who have given me substantial amounts of business that I have never met in person. There is usually no substitute for meeting someone in person, so even though I have spoken to these clients on the phone and occasionally by video, a personal meeting would likely be welcomed.
As the world finally opens up as pandemic fears subside, it is becoming more important to fit in some facetime with clients. This often requires lawyers to take time away that they could use billing hours so that they can travel to clients and ideally engage with clients in a social setting. However, having more in-person interactions with clients can strengthen the bonds between lawyer and client and perhaps make the attorney-client relationship smoother. In addition, this can also be helpful to retaining business, which is important for all kinds of lawyers.
Law firms are notoriously bad at team development, which is targeted activities that builds morale and team spirit at a shop. Team development is important to keeping people working at a firm, which is important since attorney turnover can make it difficult to serve clients and looks bad to clients and people who work at a firm. In addition, team spirit also makes people work more efficiently and can lead to better service for clients.
Building team spirit usually requires law firms to schedule social events and for partners to spend time with associates outside of a work setting so that everyone at a shop can connect on a more personal level. Since lawyers are typically busy billing hours and completing all of the other tasks that attorneys need to complete in their work, it is difficult to set time aside for this important activity. However, law firms and lawyers should prioritize team development when they can so that they can build a stronger team and best serve clients.
All told, the new year is a great time to take stock and think about goals lawyers and law firms might have for the new year. Lawyers should prioritize some of the goals that might not seem important on the surface but which can lead to the long-term success of lawyers and law firms.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.