How Top Lawyers Want to Spend Non-Billable Time

For as long as anyone can remember, it seemed like the biggest fight a law firm had outside of the courtroom centered around winning and retaining profitable clients. More recently, however, another even more pressing battle has emerged. The Battle of Talents.

Exacerbated by the “big quit” and people’s desire to do work that truly satisfies them, law firms find that they often need to sell potential recruits to the firm as much as they would a potential client. . Plus, they often have to work just as hard to keep quality talent as they do to keep their best clients.

In order to compete in the race for talent, firms need to understand what motivates lawyers. What excites them? What are they passionate about?

While every lawyer should know that success or failure will be based on billable hours and other agreed-upon metrics, there are other facets to the job. There is an outdated but persistent notion among law firms that non-billable time is still unprofitable time. Obviously, the best lawyers feel passionate about the things the firm wants them to do. But firms need to understand that there is value in much of the non-billable activity that inspires many lawyers.

Lawyers want to be excited about every aspect of their work. And law firms need to be able to leverage what their lawyers want to do with their non-billable time. This is an area where many law firms fail in their efforts to explain their culture and the opportunity that exists for a new partner or lateral hire.

Align firm culture with lawyer preferences

Data from the recently released Thomson Reuters Stellar Performance Skills and Progression Mid-Year Survey 2021 indicates that business building activities may be where most lawyers want to spend their non-billable time. The graph below from the survey shows that for most lawyers, their passion lies in developing client relationships and growing business.

If we look at the responsibilities highlighted in the “vocation” box, we see that these are functions that mainly focus on the growth of the company. We can think of “professional” responsibilities as things that lawyers might be drawn to as a kind of vocation. These are things they want to do and find fulfilling. People who excel in these responsibilities tend to be corporate rainmakers.

Leverage responsibilities, on the other hand, tend to be more strategic and logistical. As shown in the graphic, these responsibilities do not need to involve a large number of people. They just need a handful of focused, driven legal professionals (not just lawyers) who can get things done.

When successfully fulfilled, these responsibilities can pay huge dividends to the company and all its members. Additionally, this kind of collaborative, cross-functional approach can make this potentially less rewarding work more engaging for lawyers.

These are two very distinct skill sets that are equally important to the success of a law firm. When firms listen to their lawyers and make a point of giving them work that feeds their passions, lawyers are more productive, happier and more likely to stay with the firm for the long term.

The survey data clearly shows lawyers’ preference for professional responsibilities as well as the criticality of leveraged ones. Smart firms will balance the necessary work around leverage-related tasks with providing meaningful opportunities to dig into the vocation-related work that lawyers find so fulfilling.

Learn more about what motivates lawyers

Hiring and retaining top talent will likely remain a top concern for law firms throughout 2022. Join the Thomson Reuters webcast, “Stop the Great Resignation: Strategies for Reducing Law Firm Turnover” on Wednesday, March 16 , to learn more about what you can do to make your company an attractive employer in a tough talent market. Register today.