The Dreaded “D” Word

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am here today to talk to you about something with which we are all too familiar but nobody ever talks about. Something so taboo, so shocking, that it eclipses even the billable hour vs. flat fee billing debate.

I am talking about downtime.

What? You were expecting maybe a dissertation on lawyer advertising?

No one I know seems willing to admit that they have lulls in business. No one wants to acknowledge that the gap between the last client and the next client is there, much less admit that there may be whole days when you are searching for something to do.

At BigLaw, downtime equals death. Your billable hours will suffer, and these days you could lose more than your bonus if that happens. So you scrounge around the firm for billable work, looking for something, anything to do that you can charge to a client file.

That habit, the need to always be working on client matters, has to be broken when you go solo. Downtime should not be a dirty word. Downtime for a solo, when properly considered, really means, “time to work on my business,” or “time to work on me.”

So here is what you can do with a little downtime:

  • Write an article. Research an area of your practice that has had recent legislative or common law changes or controversies and bang out a few hundred words on it. Send it to your local bar association and see if you can get published. It doesn’t have to be a major article in a national law review to help your reputation and business. As an editor of my local Bar Association’s monthly magazine, I can tell you that we are ALWAYS looking for well-written, substantive articles to publish.
  • Develop a marketing presentation. Got an area of law that you can educate others about, especially prospective clients? Work up a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation on the subject and some talking points to go along with it. Shoot for 20-30 minutes of presentation. Then contact local groups that would be receptive to your presentation. You can also record some audio and convert the presentation to video you can use on your website.
  • Get caught up on your reading. You can’t stay effective as a lawyer if you don’t stay current on the law. Take advantage of a little downtime to read those articles you’ve been meaning to get to and finally clear off the corner of your desk that is piled with periodicals.While you are at it, read through all those group lists that have been piling up in your email Inbox, and find out what is going on in your practice area.
  • Take some CLE and SPU classes. You did sign up for an SPU subscription that comes with unlimited CLE, didn’t you? Then take advantage of it! Don’t wait till the last minute to get your CLE credits knocked out. And you already know that those SPU classes are invaluable. Brush up on how you run a law firm, as well as how to practice law. Use your downtime, not your weekends, to take classes. Your spouse and/or kids will thank you for it.
  • Volunteer. Call your local Legal Aid Society and offer to take just one case. If you think all Legal Aid does is help kids in foster care, think again. Consumer credit, bankruptcy, family, housing, employment, public benefits, immigration and other kinds of cases are available, not just Guardian ad Litem work. Make your downtime count for someone less fortunate than you.
  • Market your butt off. Downtime is a perfect time to put yourself out there. Make coffee or lunch dates with colleagues and referral sources. Revamp your website, or just add content. Start that BLAWG you’ve been meaning to. Send an email blast newsletter to your clients and referral sources. Go to networking events. Get involved with your alumni association. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Just make sure that the last client you had won’t be the last client you ever have.
  • Take some time for yourself. Unscheduled as it may be, downtime isn’t the same as planned vacation time. But you can take advantage of a clear calendar to get some things done around the house, play a round of golf, get a massage, or go fishing. Playing a little hooky can be good for the soul. And it makes those BigLaw lawyers you know very jealous.
  • Write or revamp your business plan. You should have a business plan if you don’t. A business plan is a roadmap for getting your business to the next level. It’s about planning for success instead of flying by the seat of your pants and hoping for the best. So take stock of your business, figure out where you want to go and how you are going to get there. For those of you who have never before written a business plan, I recommend the book The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan by Tim Berry.
  • Sit down with your CPA. Schedule an appointment with your accountant to discuss how you should keep your books. There is the common sense way and then there is the accounting way, so an hour or two of your accountant’s time is well worth a couple hundred bucks to learn what you need to know about keeping your books straight. You’ll save at least that much at tax time when your CPA doesn’t have to call you with a million questions to do your corporate tax return.
  • Follow-up with your existing clients. Ask them how you’ve been doing and really listen to them. What can you do to improve your customer service? What would it take for them to refer business to you? Take your downtime to improve the way you serve your existing customers, and you will have a lot less downtime to worry about in the future.

Take advantage of your downtime. Embrace it. Use it wisely. Then, be ready to reap the rewards.

So, how do you use your ‘downtime’?  We know you have it…share!

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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