Return on Investment #2: Does Your Work Have the Right Payoff?

In part 1, we discussed how, generally, lawyers divide their time between work (the biggest chunk of their time budget) and everything else in their lives, yet often raid their non-work budget so they can work more.

money clock

Where are you investing your time, and will it bring you career happiness?

In this post, we’ll look at whether your work time investment gives you the right kind of long-term career payoffs, so that in the end, you will have done work that has meaning for you, feels fulfilling, and helps make you the person you want to be.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what is the right time budget and return on your career time investments. Your answer is going to depend on what you prize the most. But here are some questions that will help you think it through:

  • Does the work I’m doing feel meaningful? Does it come with some inherent rewards for me when I’m doing it, like genuine pleasure from analyzing a complex problem, learning about something new and interesting, or helping a client achieve a goal I agree is important? Or do I feel more like a highly paid law factory worker, grinding out hours of briefs, contracts, due diligence, or negotiations that feel hollow or meaningless? If it’s both those things, then what’s the percentage of each?
  • Does any of my work have the realistic potential to teach me, in the next year or two, skills and experience I want to acquire because I’m genuinely interested in those skills (like public speaking, collaboration, writing)? Am I acquiring skills and experience that I’m disinterested in or actually dislike (defensive tactics, sharp bargaining, constantly looking for the downside, searching for needles in electronic haystacks)?
  • Am I spending any consistent amount of my work time on projects or meetings that will take me in a direction I want to go, such as finding clients who need the kind work I want to do more of, meeting interesting people, or working in areas I’m intrigued by? If not, is that the usual state of things, or is it temporary? (Hint: Temporary is a few months, not a few years.) Can I change that if I want to?
  • I’m valued at a law firm for the number of hours I can bill. Does equating my value with the amount time expended on a work make me feel worthwhile (I control my value), or does it make me feel penalized (I can work better and faster in a shorter amount of time, but no one cares)? (Bonus question: Does the billable hour system match my inherent work style? In other words, do I work at a very high level for short, intense bursts, or do I work at a less intense, more even pace?)

These are some questions to get you thinking about how you invest and spend your work time. In part 3, we’ll look at the big picture, your overall time investment strategy.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who thankfully never went to business school, but occasionally finds B-school concepts useful. She coaches attorneys who want to increase the meaningfulness of their work and their lives. What kinds of questions do you ask yourself about your time at work? Tell her at jalvey AT

2 thoughts on “Return on Investment #2: Does Your Work Have the Right Payoff?

  1. Pingback: Return on Investment pt. 3: Solving the Time Budgeting Mess of Lawyer Life « Leaving the Law

  2. Pingback: Return on Investment: The Lawyer Life Edition « Leaving the Law

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