Advancement in a law firm 20 years ago was relatively simple: If you worked hard, did a good job and played nice with your colleagues, chances are you would advance and even make partner. Today, increased competition and trying economic times have shattered this notion. Now, in most firms, you need to work hard and generate business to advance. To obtain new clients, you must market yourself and your firm by spending countless hours at functions, lunches and networking events. The mounting pressure to generate business has increased the amount of nonbillable work required of young lawyers who must manage their billable requirements at the same time.
In addition to spending more time marketing, most young lawyers with children have increased roles at home. Long gone are the days when one parent would work and the other was left to handle the everyday needs attendant with raising kids. Sure, the lawyers in single-income households would make it to ball games on Saturday and help with homework. But making breakfast, packing lunches, washing clothes and soothing newborns at 3 a.m. were left mainly to the nonworking parent. With both parents working, and more single-parent households, more everyday chores and child care must necessarily be shouldered by full- or part-time working parents.
With increased time pressures at home and at work, it is harder than ever for young lawyers to manage it all. But fear not. Below are five tips that I have learned through my journey in the law to help meet the new challenges we face as young lawyers.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
With so much on our plates, we simply can’t do it all. That is why prioritizing is key to ensuring that the most important things and people are taken care of.
Some priorities are easy to set. For instance, taking care of the kids comes first. Because of work schedules, most mornings fall on me to get the kids dressed, fed and ready for the day. Not only is this an obvious necessity that must take priority in my life, but the time I spend with my kids in the morning is time I look forward to each day.
However, some priorities are not as easy to identify. Take the case of marketing events/functions. There are countless organizations and marketing events that can fill up every day and night of the week. It is important to look carefully at which events/organizations you involve yourself with and pick only a few to which you will devote your time. If you spread yourself too thin, your marketing efforts will be less fruitful. Instead, designate one or two nights of the week for marketing events (Tuesdays and Thursdays for me). That way, you can ensure that the remaining nights of the week are available for family, friends or personal time (otherwise known as sleep for you new parents).
Face Time? Forgetaboutit
If you have worked in a firm long enough, chances are you have had this happen to you: You need to leave at 5 p.m. to take care of something. As you are leaving, the partner notices your departure, looks at his or her watch and makes a snide remark like, “Taking a half-day?”
While I am fortunate that I do not encounter such attitudes at my current firm, I have been there, and know that some firms or particular lawyers still overemphasize the value of face time. If you find yourself stuck in this environment, don’t let it get to you. One of the best ways to get around this is sending an email or two late at night regarding work you are doing for the particular partner who unnecessarily harps on face time. Chances are, you have to send some emails or finish up a project after you kiss the kiddies goodnight anyway. If so, make sure the pain-in-the-you-know-what partner knows that you are getting things done after you leave the office by sending a few emails his or her way.
And you partners out there who still look at your watch when an associate leaves before 6 p.m., I have message for you: Get over it. This is not a fraternity. We are professionals. If we get our work done and put in the hours, why should you care if an associate decides to go home for dinner at 5:30 to see his or her kids? Besides, technology enables more and more meaningful work to be done from home at odd hours. Let us do our work on our schedule, not yours. We will be happier and the work product will be better as a result.
Lunch Is Not For Eating
Let me say this: I love lunch. I love all meals really. At my first job out of law school, I went out to lunch every day with my fellow associates. Lunches started at noon sharp, and lasted at least an hour. By the time I got over the food coma that usually ensued after lunch, I wasn’t back to meaningful work until 2 p.m. As a result, I found my work piling up in the afternoon, leaving more to do at night and, in turn, less time for either marketing or personal time.
While I still value lunch with my colleagues on occasion, I now use lunch to either network or get work done. I try to go out at least twice a week for lunch with a new contact or current client. I find these lunches invaluable — the one-on-one time creates and/or reinforces meaningful relationships that last. When I don’t have lunch plans, I try to pack a lunch or pick something up quickly and work through lunch. By using the lunch hour for work, I free up time to do other things later on. For me, using the lunch hour wisely is critical for getting it all done.
With so much on our plates, it is virtually impossible to keep it all straight. When I first started, my organizational skills were lacking to say the least. That changed quickly when the deadlines started to overwhelm me. That is when I realized that my Outlook calendar is invaluable. I now make sure that the first thing that is done when a motion is filed or a management order entered is that the deadlines are calendared.
After realizing that my calendar was critical to managing deadlines, I started to use the calendar to assist with marketing. Too often you meet someone, try to schedule a lunch and the person asks you to get back to him or her in a month or two. Or, you have a lunch, discuss a topic and the contact asks you to follow up with him or her on the issue in a few weeks. Under either scenario, I make sure to put a reminder in my calendar to follow up at the appropriate time to ensure that the follow-up does not slip through the cracks.
True optimization of my calendar occurred when I started calendaring life tasks and activities and synchronizing my calendar with my spouse’s. This way, I prevent double-bookings and ensure that I have a proper balance in my week for home and work life. In addition, my spouse and I can plan for nights when I will be home late and get child care coverage if need be. This prevents last-minute cancellations and/or an upset spouse — neither of which is good.
My calendar just reminded me that this article is due as I write, so I better move on to my final tip.
Institute a Marketing Plan
When I realized the importance of business generation, I started attending as many events as possible and involved myself with too many organizations willy-nilly. I ended up spending a lot of time marketing with little return. When my busy life forced me to look at my efforts and see what was working, I realized I needed a plan.
While my first tip, prioritizing, is essential, you need to take it one step further and institute a marketing plan that is right for you. To do this, you do not need to be a marketing guru. Simply identify good sources of potential business, determine two or three methods that you think will bear fruit, and go for it. By setting goals, you can see if your methods work. If the answer is no, adjust your plan and try again. If you don’t have a plan and don’t set goals, you won’t know what efforts are worth your while and what things are not worth your time.
Matthew A. Green is an attorney in Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel’s litigation and labor relations and employment law departments. He works from the firm’s Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, N.J., offices.