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For lawyers, the long-entrenched habit of focusing exclusively on billable work is mindless, comfortable, comforting and easy. The discipline of devoting time and effort to business development, and acquiring the skills to be good at it, is uncomfortable and hard. (In our less charitable moments, we might even suggest that the billable focus is a form of BD task-avoidance.)

Change is hard

I'm paraphrasing time-management expert Paul Burton's broader definition in a blog post, "Disciplines are Hard. Habits are Easy." He also tells us that

"Change is hard because it forces us to move from a mindless state of consciousness to a mindful one before returning to another mindless one."

We want to move from one hard-coded behavior (habit) to another hard-coded behavior (habit). We must exert conscious effort (discipline) to accomplish this goal. In fact, we need to apply discipline for as long as it takes to "break" the old habit and "form" the new habit. Though we feel uncomfortable during the discipline stage, we reach a comfort level again once the new habit is formed. 

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Mental evolution

For lawyers to embrace the temporary discipline and discomfort of forming a business-development habit requires a mental evolution:

  1. Accept that business development is a necessary, mission-critical function

  2. Accept that business development requires knowledge and skill that almost nobody has naturally

  3. Resolve to acquire such knowledge and skill

  4. Commit enough time and money to accomplish #3

  5. Commit to a weekly time budget for learning, practice, and application

66 days to form a new habit

Stick with it for at least 66 days, which research shows is the average time to form a new habit. (The range is 18-254 days; some people and some habits take more or less time to change.)

I'll let Paul Burton give you the good news:

The really good news is that the discipline phase is relatively short! At the beginning of the journey, we leave our comfort zone and pass through an uncomfortable period until we reach our new comfort zone. How long the journey takes depends on how big the change is, but the fundamental truth is that the discipline period will always be shorter than that of either habit!"

Paul's promise is consistent with habit research. If you've been focusing solely on billable work for 5, 10, 15 years or more, changing to a business development mentality and practice is likely to require at least the 66-day average. Your previous habit is well entrenched, and the new habit requires you to acquire skill in addition to changing behavior and focus.

Worst case, if your BD-discipline-habit takes 254 days to "stick," compared to a five-year billable-only-habit, that's still only 14% of the time you had the old habit, and not even a rounding error compared to the rest of your career.  For lawyers practicing 10 or 15 years, these ratios become almost marginal, e.g., 7% and 4.6%, respectively.

Mike O’Horo

RainmakerVT subscribers: We've added a weekly training guide to help you form the business development habit and acquire your real skills and virtual experience in a steady, reliable fashion that will create the habits you need to succeed.

To add this helpful tool to your subscription, send us an email with the subject line "RainmakerVT weekly training plan."