For the 25 years I’ve been coaching lawyers, their #1 excuse for not being more serious about business development has been “lack of time.” During our planning sessions, after you declare your goal, I ask how much time you’ll commit each week to achieve it. This is the “no matter what,” “never fall below,” hygiene-level commitment. For most lawyers, the answer is three hours per week, and most fail to honor that consistently.

Harsh reality check: That won’t get it done. It’s simply not enough time to generate meaningful business.

Last week, I encouraged you to free up time for BD by delegating as much as possible, i.e., firing yourself from any job or task that can be performed by someone else. Today, let’s look at the second way to free up time: Time-shifting.

Common time-shifting

In the late ‘70s, the VCR changed TV-watching forever by enabling us to record TV shows and watch them at our convenience. This became known as “time-shifting.” Entertainment-wise, this freed us from the tyranny of broadcast schedules that didn’t align with our own. Subsequent technologies have now made it that almost nobody watches anything at the time the TV networks broadcast it.

Similarly, various technologies now enable us to work whenever, wherever. Yet, lawyers remain in the habit of performing all client work and firm-committee responsibilities during prime business hours. Then, if they somehow manage to get that all done, they might try to squeeze in a little (grudging) time for BD occasionally. Unfortunately, the people you need to interact with in your market tend to be available primarily during normal business hours, not during the few off-hours that you might have left over after these other tasks.

Applying time-shifting to BD

What would prevent you from adopting the same time-shifting philosophy and techniques that you apply to entertainment, to free up time for BD?

  • If you’re writing a brief, does it matter what time of day you work on it?

  • If you’re analyzing an IP portfolio, does it matter if you do it from 9:00-11:00 am or 7:00-9:00pm?

  • Couldn’t that associate development committee meet at 6:00pm instead of 2:00pm?

  • How smart is it to work on that ABA presentation during the business day?

I’m betting that a big chunk of what you do during prime time can be shifted to off-hours. In fact, I’ll argue that anything that doesn’t require real-time interaction with another person who’s only available during prime business hours can be shifted.

You may be thinking, “You’ll have me working early in the morning and late at night.” No, I won’t, but you might, if it’s important. Think about all the late nights, early mornings, and weekends you work because of client deadlines or demands. It’s not even a decision. You do whatever is necessary to deliver for that client and keep them happy.

Isn’t it time to make yourself an important client, too? Doesn’t your professional- and financial security warrant real priority?

  • What if you shifted two hours of billable work to non-prime time each day? That would give you ten hours per week to devote to business development.

  • What if you also delegated every task that doesn’t absolutely require you to do it personally, and limited your role to oversight and quality control? You might free up another hour or so per day.

  • Total recaptured for BD: 10-15 hours/week

I’ll bet that if you’d been asked to devote 10-15 hours per week to business development, you’d have said it was impossible because you didn't have time. It’s not.

How to get started

Review your time sheets for the past three months. Make a list of every entry that represents something that you can delegate. Add up the hours you spent on those. This is BD time that can be available to you (minus the initial time investment to make sure that the delegated work is up to par).

Arrange the remaining responsibilities that require your personal participation in four quadrants according to their combination of Important, Not Important, Prime Time, and Non-Prime time. For your first attempt, place them where they are today. Then, move them to where they should be, based on their priority and time flexibility.

Prime:Non-Prime time.jpg

Here's an example of a first attempt by an IP litigator I’m working with. It will have to become more granular, but it’s a good start, and he’s working on improving it. I highlighted the “Committees” item to alert him to take a closer look at his committee commitments to see if his colleagues would be willing to move these meetings to non-prime time.

If you accomplished both delegation and time-shifting, reallocated that time to BD, and consistently focused that time on a robust market segment under the guidance of a seasoned coach, what effect might it have on the amount of business you bring in? What effect would that have on your professional standing, financial security, and peace of mind?

Why not find out?

Mike O'Horo

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