When consultant Rjon Robins tells lawyers then can make a great living and still have lots of family time, they often don't believe him. Most believe that sacrificing their personal lives is mandatory for professional success — until Rjon shows them otherwise.
"My biggest challenging is helping them believe it's possible," he says.
Rjon, founder of howtomanageasmalllawfirm.com, says many lawyers think if they are not being martyrs to clients, they aren't working hard enough.
He and his staff serve as hired managing partners for small law firms around the country and help attorneys to run their practices more efficiently.
The first step to efficiency is having a business plan and ensuring your staff understands the plan and their role in it, Rjon says. Overwhelm and inefficiency are the result of not having the help you need because you don't have a plan for how to hire or make hires pay off. "Clients can tell when you are frustrated and overwhelmed and it's harder to market the firm," he says.
Here's the big mistake that lawyers and others often make: treating a firm like a hobby and wondering why it doesn’t function like a business. They key to a profitable business is for the leader to focus on highly effective tasks, rather than busy work, he says.
"Clients don’t’ benefit when you work on weekends. They benefit when you're smart enough to figure out how not to work on weekends so you’re fresh and smart and brilliant. Stop telling everyone how busy you are and replace it with effective!"
Just as law firm owners can achieve a better work life balance, so, too, can lawyers at the big firms. Leslie Smith, a partner at Foley & Lardner, says women lawyers at big firms are learning how to do business development early in their careers so they can have the security that comes with generating revenue. Without that security, they often resent the work load heaped on them, the lack of recognition, and the pressure to bring in business. They often leave when personal challenges crop up.
"Attrition is a big issue," Smith admits.
Smith says large law firms like hers, Foley & Lardner in Miami, are re-examing when more associates are needed. "We know we need to make it easier for people to be in the legal profession and still have family life. If we don't help them, we can lose a great skill set and client relationships that have been built up over years."
Smith sees a reality to what Robins encounters — a belief that lawyers work long hours and make personal sacrifices. "No one comes into this profession — especially an Am law 100 firm — and thinks they are going to get weekends off and neverwork late. You know you’re signing up for that and people are willing to do it. It doesn’t mean we can’t get creative about not losing talent men and women."
Rjon says the path to balance is believing it's possible. Smith believes it takes a clear plan for how you want to structure your work life.
So lawyers, I want to hear from you. Do you think concentrating on efficiency rather than volume is enough to create better work life balance? Do you think a financially successful lawyers can control expectations of clients to allow for a life outside of work?