Edge International


Business Development Skills and the Billable Hour

Business Development Skills and the Billable Hour

I recently reviewed a small firm’s Associate Guidebook. In describing the firm’s expectations of associates, two-thirds of the text was taken up with how to attain annual billable hours (2000). The remaining one-third addressed billing and timekeeping. Not a word was said about business development or career.

This got me pondering this question: What if small firms paid as much attention to business-development skills as they do to billable hours?

I speak of small firms because many of them have leverage of less than 1:1; indeed one partner to .5 of an associate is not unusual. If they continue to make partners at the historical pace, those partners (whether non-equity or equity) will all have to contribute to revenue. This message is, regrettably, delivered too late to most associates. “Late,” in my mind, would be any later than three years of practice. Just as we have seen in BigLaw, there will not be much room for “service partners,” or long learning curves.

Applying the techniques and effort of managing billable hours of associates to the management of their business-development skills would lead to some of these practices:

For law firm leaders, this application of old tools to new skills can easily be imagined. If your partner-heavy firm is to thrive, leaders may have to make these a reality.

David Cruickshank

Edge Principal advises firms on growth strategies and lateral integration programs. In addition to being a lawyer with a master’s from Harvard Law School and an LLB from the University of Western Ontario, he is a trained mediator who has taught at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School. He frequently trains partners and associates on management skills like delegation, feedback, managing up and career development.  His interactive courses are now online.