Coaching Attorneys on ‘Having It All’

October 6, 2016

There is much to be said for the virtue of having it all, but not all of it at once.

For many attorneys transitioning into the middle years of their careers, moving from being associates to becoming partners, there is a sense that professional responsibilities explode – having to keep up billable hours, delivering work, while also spending time developing client relationships that lead to more work – at the exact same time that personal responsibilities do as well.  Balancing commitments to a spouse, kids, and maybe aging parents too, can be overwhelming when layered on top of the pressure to start building your own book of business.

It’s the demographic equivalent of a perfect storm.  Our parents, who waited just a little later in life than previous generations did to have us, are getting older themselves.  And we’ve waited just a little longer than their generation did to start our own families.  So our baby-having and child-rearing and parent-caregiving years are happening at exactly the same time as our prime income-earning and business-building years.

Layer this on top of the shifting economics of law firms, as corporate clients, facing changing market dynamics of their own, require ever cheaper and more efficient delivery of business services, and attorneys find themselves in a hurricane of competing pressures and demands blowing in from seemingly every direction.

Managing partners and practice group heads know that their attorneys are struggling through the storms of work and life.  But they’re reluctant to weigh in on private matters and, often feeling like there aren’t many concrete solutions to offer, they simply avoid having a conversation that could easily become awkward or unpleasant.  In staying quiet, though, law firm leaders are missing an opportunity to connect with, motivate and retain some of their most talented attorneys.

We hear from our clients again and again that women and younger attorneys in particular will leave a firm without first raising a flag that they’re thinking about it.  They don’t complain – at least, not to their bosses.  Instead, they just quit.

And so the promise of real change in law firm culture remains frustratingly, even increasingly, elusive.

As senior partners watch their younger colleagues leave for more family-friendly in-house jobs or flexible and entrepreneurial opportunities, they become even less inclined to extend themselves in invest in the rising generations behind them.  The atmosphere can be so fraught sometimes that even the best-intended coaching and mentoring comes off as critical or pressuring.

While it’s understood, at the highest levels of law firm leadership, that developing one’s own book business is, ultimately, the key to job security, this message can be misinterpreted by younger and mid-career attorneys, who might hear it as “add one more impossible task to your day – go out and find your own clients.”

At Page 2, we keep all this in mind as we work with the high-potential attorneys identified by our client firms as being future leaders.

So, instead of talking about business development, we talk about excellence.  Because we believe that the best way to market your legal work is to do it very, very well.  If you focus on excellence first, on truly mastering your craft, it becomes easier to prioritize your time and make good decisions about exactly how you’ll spend the hours of your not-quite-long-enough day.

As communication strategists, we take on the work of spreading the word about how excellent our clients truly are.  In introducing them to key journalists, connectors and thought leaders, we’re creating the outlines and framework for the book of business they’ll build themselves a little later in their careers, when they have more time and energy to devote to it.  In using social media and other channels to amplify the great results they obtain for their clients, we’re defining the personal brand that they’ll bring to the market.

The truth is that someone can spend 10 hours a week as an inexperienced attorney trying to make herself sound like an expert or she can take the bulk of that time back – outsourcing marketing tasks to us – and devote the re-gained time to truly becoming an expert.

We’re finding that this approach works wonders – relieving attorneys’ stress about how to handle their marketing, building their confidence when they domarket their work, and reinforcing their commitment to their firms, since they feel valued, rather than threatened.

Taking a slower, more thoughtful, substantive approach to promoting an attorney’s practice might seem counter-intuitive in this age of texts and tweets, but, in fact, it’s a necessary antidote to the impossible collapsing of so many pressures and expectations into a few critical early-to-mid-career years.

The truth is that when it comes to success in your law career – and in your life – you just can’t have it all right now.