When lawyers ask how to have more balance between their professional and personal lives, my answer is always this: build a book of business.
It takes a lot of time and a significant amount of effort. But of all of your work-related activities, there is nothing that leads to greater work-life balance then developing client relationships that you are responsible for growing and maintaining.
Do you want to have a say in the direction of your firm? Build a book of business. Do you want to hire the people you want and need? Build a book of business. Do you want to have the freedom to leave and go to a firm that is more aligned with your values? Build a book of business.
And, if you want to have the freedom and flexibility to work when, where and how you want, the best thing you can do to make that happen is to build a book of business.
For lawyers, marketing and business development is a thoughtful mix of reputation building and relationship building. In your early years, it is weighted toward the former. In addition to excelling at your substantive competency, you need to engage in activities beyond your client work to build your reputation among potential clients and colleagues. You also need to begin to develop relationships – within your own firm and in the industries and communities in which you practice. Over time, reputation intact, your focus shifts to developing and nurturing the relationships you have formed over time, building a referral base and finding ways to make relationships deeper.
It is true that the time when reputation and relationship building are needed the most often coincides with the years when your family is young and growing. It is not easy. And it is true that successful rainmakers spend 200, 400 or more hours per year engaged in marketing and business development activities. With careful planning, scheduling and strategic thinking about which activities deliver the highest value, these hours are the best investment you can make professionally.
The forty extra billable hours you need? Yes, they will get you the bigger bonus. The big case you won or complicated deal you closed? Yes, they will be celebrated. And, in a couple of years, they will be another example or your work on your representative matter list.
But the client base you personally developed? If you have served then well, met their needs and exceeded their expectations, they are your greatest asset. And sustaining and nurturing that asset is the best way to ensure that you do, in fact, have a life in balance.