Law Firm Management

The Story of Mark and Mary

Once there was a lawyer named Mark who considered himself to be an ‘idea man.’  Mark had a whole bunch of non-billable projects on his list of things to do, and he was always adding items to it.

Mark’s list included ideas to improve all sorts of things, such as quality control, profitability, knowledge management systems, and precedents. Mark also thought of ideas for training initiatives, seminars, articles, and other marketing activities. He added them all to the list.

All of the ideas on Mark’s list had one attribute in common:  None of them were billable to clients.

Like any lawyer worth his salt, Mark put all of these great, but non-billable, ideas on hold whenever he was busy with client work, which was most of the time.

These projects, as important as they were, never got done.

Eventually Mark hit upon a solution, and he started delegating these non-billable tasks to his Associate, Mary. He made sure to tell Mary that these projects were very important.  Since Mary was young, enthusiastic, eager to please, driven to succeed, and just a little bit naïve and inexperienced in the legal profession, Mary believed Mark.

Of course, Mark did not attach any specific amount of compensation to Mary’s non-billable work. Nor did Mark create any key performance indicators for the non-billable work, so the only performance criterion that Mary ever had in mind was her billable hours target.

One time, Mary had planned to spend the day working on one of the marketing projects, when Mark dumped a major drafting project on her desk that was ‘urgent.’  When Mary explained that she had been planning to work on the non-billable project that day, Mark told her that billable work comes first. Mary never made that mistake again.

In her first few years practicing law, it took Mary a great deal of time to complete her assignments, as she was still learning how to do things. Mark kept her very busy, and billable work always comes first, so Mary did not get to much of the non-billable work. 

As Mary became more efficient, Mark was able to pile more and more work on her plate. Eventually she became even busier than Mark was.  Since Mary was so good at what she did, it is only natural that she too started coming up with ideas on how to improve the way that work was done at the firm, as well as ideas for new marketing initiatives. She added these ideas to the list that Mark kept.

Like any lawyer worth her salt, Mary put all of these great, but non-billable, ideas on hold whenever she was busy with billable work, which was most of the time.

And that is why important stuff that cannot be billed to clients does not get done in law firms.

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