Can there be a more non-existent concept for lawyers than "extra time"? It sounds like the specious projections I used to hear people offer about travel time in Washington, DC: "It should take about 30 minutes, without traffic." Really? When was the last time there was no traffic in the DC area? Or when a lawyer had "extra time"?
"I meant to do something to generate business, but I've been too busy," is just as silly as, "I meant to shower and brush my teeth, but I've been too busy." Yet, this is exactly what, to me, a staggering number of lawyers are doing. In a buyer’s market, business development is hygiene, not "earn a gold star if you occasionally get off your butt and do something."
Throughout my 25 years as a sales coach to lawyers, a surprising number of lawyers for whom their firms purchased unlimited coaching didn’t use it. Why? “Too busy to develop business.” Because their firms tolerated this excuse, most offered it with impunity. During the Golden Age of Law Firms (as characterized by CitiGroup’s Dan DiPietro) everybody was doing just fine, thank you very much, so no big deal.
Despite the law biz media's constant declarations that those with no business are in peril, lawyers behave as if they still believe that billable tasks trump what should be a survival-driven focus on finding a way to generate revenue.
Here’s a specific example: Among firms whose lawyers were offered three months free business development training and coaching in exchange for feedback on the training program, 50% of those lawyers did nothing. Their reason: “Too busy. Maybe next month.”
To-Do: Make a weekly time commitment, and honor it
During the planning sessions I do with each lawyer I coach, after the lawyer declares her revenue goal and we subtract from that the amount she's confident is already reliable each year, I ask her to tell me how much time she'll devote each week to pursuing the remaining revenue. I clarify that this is the "not to fall below" number, no matter what. None of that "I can't this week because I've got a big case" or "I can't this week because [insert excuse here]."
It's more important to commit to one hour, and actually do that every week, than to say "five hours" and not do it. (I won't believe "five hours" anyway.) As your efforts begin to show progress and you experience some success, you'll willingly raise that hour in response. In the beginning, though, it's more important to program yourself to succeed, and to form good habits. So, I'll take that truthful single hour over the delusional five hours. (BTW, most lawyers commit to around three hours.)
Break that hour, or two, or three, into 30-minute appointments with yourself. In the beginning, scatter them around your calendar in whatever slots make sense to you--but only during regular business hours. Set the same reminders as you would for any other appointment. As you begin honoring those BD appointments, you'll start to get a feel for the optimal times to schedule them during ensuing weeks.
The rule is that you can move them around, but you can't delete them or push them forward into the next week. You committed to doing them each week, so do them each week. Otherwise, you'll fall back into the "when I have more time" habit, which produced whatever revenue deficiency you're concerned about today.
If you stick with the "get around to it" approach, don’t worry. After all, markets always remain static and wait for "someday," don't they? Whenever you get around to it will be fine. Oh, and in that delusional spirit, please inform the Titanic’s captain that the deck chairs are arranged perfectly.