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September 12, 2007

How much time should lawyers spend on business development?

One fundamental law of marketing is that if you spend no time, you will get no results. The best plan in the world will produce nothing unless you follow up, week after week after week.

But how do you strike a balance between bringing in new work and paying the bills by doing the work you already have? Not to mention finding the time to go home before your kids graduate from high school. There are no easy answers, and every person who provides services for a living—including lawyers—must constantly struggle with this question.

Before you set your weekly goal, it would be nice to start by considering how many hours your competitors devote to marketing. But most law firms don’t even know, because they don’t track business development time meticulously enough.

When I visit law firms, I often ask how much time their average partner is expected to devote to marketing. I’ve heard everything from almost no time (“they can do it in the morning instead of reading the Wall Street Journal”) to an average of 8 hours per week and more for each partner.

According to a recent survey from ALM Research and the Brand Research Company, in large firms “Business development is expected of most partners to achieve equity status.” However, “Few firms have a set expectation of the number of hours a lawyer should devote to business development.”

There are a few firms that have publicized their approach. One data point comes from Graydon, Head & Ritchey a Cincinnati firm. When they put a new business development strategy in place a few years ago, they required that each partner spend at least 200 hours per year, or about 4 hours per week, in direct selling. Direct selling included meetings with clients and prospects, but excluded such tasks as writing articles and conducting seminars. The target for associates was at least 50 hours per year, or about 1 hour per week.

Another data point comes from Paul Clifford, former managing partner at Gadsby Hannah, and now a principal at Law Practice Consultants . In a 2006 speech to the New England chapter of the Legal Marketing Association , Clifford said that “to be competitive today, partners must work 2500 hours per year,” an average of 50 hours per week for 50 weeks. (He also noted that 2500 hours is on the high side, and 2200 hours is not unusual.) Generally, 1800 of those hours will be billable. The other 700 are “investment hours” divided into three groups: 300 hours for practice management (where that applies), 200 hours for client relationship management, and 200 hours for marketing/business development.

In my book, Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide , I recommend an absolute minimum of at least one hour per week if you are focusing on current clients, and three hours per week if you are looking for new clients. Remember, this is not my recommendation for a goal, it is my recommendation for an absolute minimum.

In most situations, I am a big believer that less is more. But with marketing time, more is more.

Desk_reference_cover_with_border_3 This post was adapted from The LegalBizDev Desk Reference.  For more information, Download legalbizdevsuccess_kit_summaryl.pdf.

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