I recently met with a candidate and when talking to her about her experience, she only wanted to discuss the incredible number of hours that she billed – as if that defined her as an attorney. She was hoping that this would be the ticket she needed to land at another firm. Who wouldn’t want an attorney who billed around the clock, she thought?
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that one of my favorite business gurus is Seth Godin. In his book The Purple Cow, Seth argues that we have fooled ourselves into believing that we want to be someone who bills the most time, spends the most time marketing to clients, takes the most depositions, has the highest bill rate or is infinitely better than some aspect of being a lawyer. Seth argues that we get our minds around one performance metric and decide that the one and only way we can be remarkable is to knock that metric out of the park. So, hammers have to hammer harder, speakers have to speak louder and cars have to accelerate faster.
Too often we see lawyers who internalize this – they find one metric and focus on that. “I bill 2300 hours a year; year in, year out.” While interesting (and a testament to either client commitment or a lack of outside interests) it does not necessarily mean that you are a good lawyer. Being able to market yourself beyond a factoid or bullet point statement to potential employers is important. Firms rarely hire attorneys who bill hours; they hire good attorneys (who then bill hours). Marketing yourself as a good attorney would be far more beneficial than just marketing the ability to bill hours.
This idea that we need to focus on only one aspect of a person is a distraction from the reality of how humanity chooses, when they have a choice. When given a choice, people hire well-rounded individuals who are good at many things (making them a good attorney). Those who focus their job search marketing only one aspect of their practice, without showing that they are well-rounded are far less likely to get the job they want and to stay happy once they are there. Remember, there is always someone new who can bill one more hour than you.