You’ve probably heard — the sky is falling. My source was a small farm animal, but you may have also heard something from more reliable sources.
In non-fabled terms, economic times are tough and many associates are encountering days where they just can’t find any more six-minute increments to reach 7.2 billable hours. But before you make friends with that hysterical sky-is-falling chicken, there are some things you can do to help ride out the storm. Keeping busy is key, so here are a few suggestions from associates on ways to spend your down time — legitimate, productive, and other.
I hate to be trite but maybe you should just go home. Spend time with your significant other, child, dog, PVR, personal trainer, or whatever constitutes the primary relationship in your life. Several associates say, faced with less work, they have been leaving earlier. Apparently staying around past five when you are not busy doesn’t make you a team player, it makes you a sucker. This may not apply to those who have not racked up any goodwill, but if you are a champ the rest of the time and accessible during and after work, you have likely earned the right to go home at a decent hour. For those held back by guilt, either you are a guilt glutton, in which case you’re likely a pleaser and deserve to go home, or your guilt is well placed, in which case face time may be your best value.
2. Raise your own bar
For some, the words “professional development” represent an uncomfortable calculation made solely for the law society. But what savvy associates realize is that professional development is an opportunity to engage in self-promotion in your firm and the greater legal community. Beyond the obvious goal of self-education, it raises both your profile and that of the firm. The more you do this, the more indispensable you will be — a better strategy to keeping your job than banking on your mother’s promise that you are special. Becoming an expert in a relevant but novel area is a great way to engage in professional development. No lawyer is all knowing, and strategic research can quickly develop you into a “go-to” person. Nobody whacks the “go-to” person.
Slower times are an opportunity to improve on your file work and make honest people out of those partners who promised to mentor you. If you are of the more benevolent stock, taking on some pro bono work is a great way to diversify as a lawyer and can have the wonderful side effect of restoring your faith in humanity. Organizing professional development initiatives (with the young lawyers division of the Ontario Bar Association, for instance) is another decent way to give back and raise your profile.
A few other suggestions: writing articles on your own initiative, improve and organize your precedents, and join committees, editorial boards, and marketing seminars. Chances are the people who do this stuff will be the ones who are still around to reap the rewards when the economy improves.
3. Show your clients some love
Since the slowing economy is affecting us all, some of your clients may also have more time on their hands. So it is not a bad time to treat your clients to lunch or at least a coffee.
There are other ways to woo your clients in your downtime too. Providing them with updates on case law or legal developments relevant to their business is a good way to demonstrate your added value. Offering to visit clients and deliver training seminars in person is even better. Also, meet up with peers, many of them will become in-house counsel in the years to come.
4. Becoming Martha Stewart
Slow days present a great opportunity for some housekeeping. Start by taking care of the neglected children of your practice. You know, the files you push aside for the more dynamic and exciting child. The ones that left unattended grow into brats that terrorize you when you are least equipped to deal.
Another suggestion is to revise your web site profile. This is often the first impression you make on a prospective client and it should graduate from its generic beginnings. Because most associates will make at least one move in their career, revising your CV is another good idea as you likely won’t have time to give it a real effort when that dream job comes up.
Cleaning out your e-mail inbox is also a good idea. Reading your CLE materials has been another popular suggestion and may lead you to discover that the answer to the 10-page memo you slaved over last week is definitively explained on page two. You can also take a crack at dismantling that fort you are
assembling in your office and put some stuff away in storage.
These are a few of my least favourite things, but you’ll be happy when they are done.
5. When there’s nothing left
I do not encourage or condone the following activities but in the name of brazen honesty, this last category is what we do but rarely admit to when there is just nothing left. What did people do before Internet? They had affairs and cigarettes at their desks (I’ve been watching too much Mad Men). But it doesn’t have to be useless Internet time. For those who can still access Facebook, there are several application games that can vaguely be called educational and will satiate your competitive spirit. Blogs are another great time-killer and if your vice is celebrity gossip, I suggest Perez Hilton for mind-numbing doses of celebrity and Lainey gossip if you like your trash with a dash of intellect. Remember, there are a lot of people willing to sacrifice their dignity to make you laugh on YouTube. Finally, if you still have your job, online shopping and planning your next vacation are great ways to waste time while giving back to the economy.
Danya Cohen is a legal consultant with Rainmaker Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org