Platt’s Perspective: How Much Of Your Partners’ Time Is Spent On Partner-Level Activities?

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

For years I’ve asked a simple question of my clients: “Think about all of the hours your partner group collectively spends on firm business each year. Raise your hand if you believe that more than 80% of those hours are spent doing partner-level work – however you define that.”

When I get no responses, the next offer is “70%?” A hand or two goes up. “Sixty percent?” Maybe a quarter of the hands are visible. “Fifty percent?” Without fail, about half the hands are finally in the air when presented with the 50% option. To spare the rest the embarrassment of raising their hands at levels below 50%, I stop there.

In this unscientific – but consistent – poll of firm leaders, the conclusion is that partners spend more than half their time on work that should be delegated.

The reasons are varied. For some partners, grinding through staff-level work brings them cozily back to their comfort zones. Some don’t trust the quality of subordinates’ work. Others are short-staffed and can’t delegate work. And for some, prioritizing the highest and best use of their non-billable time can devolve into “what can I check off my to-do list?” Too often, that work is not a partner-level activity that will help the firm grow.

The result of all this? Profitability may suffer. Staff engagement suffers because staff know partners will jump in and change things anyway. Strategic planning and brainstorming suffers at the partner level because there is never enough time to work on the business. Partner growth and development suffers because partners are not being challenged. Ultimately the partner’s value to the firm suffers because compensation levels are incompatible with their staff-level activities.

As client needs become more complex, partners will need to step up their game. As staffing leverage continues to grow, as it has for more than 15 years, partners will no longer be able to hide behind staff-level work. As the profession continues to evolve, firms will demand their owners meet the complex demands of the future, and continually raise the bar on what being a partner really requires.

If you want to make an impact on your firm this year, have your partner group commit to increasing their time doing partner-level work from 50% to 60%. It seems like a little step, but it is entirely achievable and will help build the confidence to keep going to 70%, 80%, 90% and beyond.