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ESSENTIAL 1 Time Management

As you and your staff learn how to plan, prioritize, organize, delegate, and minimize interruptions in a way that works for you and them, you’ll have more time for—and be significantly more effective at — your two main income-producing activities: serving current clients and developing new ones.

While it is common to speak about “time management,” the simple truth is that you cannot manage time. No one can. Yet you can quite effectively manage yourself—and your behaviors and your choices—as you move through the day. Indeed, if “time management” is a misnomer, “time management for lawyers” is a veritable oxymoron. Yet, as the practice of law and the requirements of business grow increasingly complex, it becomes even more important to spend your time most productively.

AREAS OF FOCUS
Take Control of Your Schedule
Prioritize and Delegate Effectively
Design Case Flow Systems
Conduct Efficient Meetings
Organize Your Physical and Electronic Information
Take Control of Your Schedule

"Efficient meetings"? Another oxymoron? Most of the time, yes.

If the contents of your calendar and how you spend your day do not resemble each other, it’s likely that at day’s close, too much is undone and behind schedule. Priorities get lost and important work such as marketing or staff development gets pushed aside by the barrage of the “urgent” (such as staff and client interruptions). Taking control of your schedule requires a combination of applying the right tools and processes that are congruent with your style, and developing the mindset to use them consistently. When you take control of your schedule, you’ll plan your time based on your key priorities—no longer responding to what is most urgent, but to what is most important. Whether it’s marketing, firm management, client work, or making more time for your children, for example, you’ll work so that those tasks are front and center. As you learn to apply a handful of basic tactics—batching staff questions, use of do-not-disturb project time, effective calendaring, daily and weekly planning, etc.—you’ll find that your calendar begins to be something that works for you instead of something you’re fighting against.

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively
By not delegating effectively, you are wasting your valuable time on tasks that can and should be handled by someone lower down the ladder. You’ve built inadequate leverage of your production resources into your firm structure and your ability to increase profitability relies too heavily on your own long hours. This is a stressful and self-defeating approach.

If you are one of the many attorneys who has a love/hate relationship with the notion of delegation—longing for its benefits but stymied by how to realize it for your firm—we will help you master the systems to ensure that you and others in your firm delegate work properly.
If you permit the easy rationale that “I can do it better, quicker, easier” to become a self-fulfilling prophesy, you won’t assign work to your legal or support staff, and instead you’ll hold on to too much of it yourself. The negative impact is multiple—not only are you overextended, but you’re failing to develop your people and also likely to be harming your clients’ ability to communicate directly and quickly with your firm.

Design Case Flow Systems
If your firm isn’t using and refining case flow templates, you’re almost certainly tolerating inefficiencies in how routine work is getting done. Staff members may not be able to locate a file or document at critical moments—a phone call from a client, opposing counsel, or clerk, for instance. Case notes, client conversations, document drafts, important evidence—all can be scattered around the desk of the numerous legal and support staff who participate in a client matter. You’ll also tend to fail to adequately track time schedules, deadlines, delegation and supervision tasks, and almost any other aspect of representation.
The impact on your practice includes wasted billable time, client dissatisfaction with your firm’s response time to their case status questions, and increased strain on staff and office life generally. Losing track, even momentarily, of client files can quickly become a nightmare—or at least cause a real headache.
By contrast, when you design and implement case flow templates that are aligned with your firm’s practice management software, you are setting the basis to know where each part of the file resides at any point in the course of representation. You’ll have prompt access to information on status, deadlines, and benchmarks. And both capacity and speed of production will increase.

Conduct Efficient Meetings
“Efficient meetings”? Another oxymoron? Most of the time, yes. And the costs of bad meetings are well known. If you’re spending too much time in meetings and getting too little done—or, alternatively, if you are avoiding meeting regularly with your people because you dread the waste of time and/or energy—you are not alone. But that’s no excuse. Your law firm is, in effect, a series of teams—from you and your administrative assistant, for example, to your law partners or practice group—so, team meetings are inevitable for good work product. How does your firm rate in meeting conduct? Is there a huge waste of time and energy associated with most of your meetings?
If so, it’s time to develop powerful meeting systems. Which meetings to hold, how often, with what objectives? Don’t confuse tactical project meetings with strategic discussions, or everyone will leave frustrated and unclear. The more effective you are in your meetings with staff, colleagues, and clients, the more they will find the time—and thus, YOU—valuable.
Don’t forget, too, that what comes out of the meeting truly provides the value. Do people leave your meetings without explicit agreement about who’s taking what actions, by what date, and how follow-up will occur? Without these agreements, meetings can conclude but the follow-through and desired outcomes are not realized.
Develop substantial meetings skills that you can apply to all your meetings—internally, with clients, with referral sources, or where you serve on community or other boards. You’ll not only enhance outcomes and efficiency, your reputation for effectiveness and delivering strong value will grow as well.

Organize Your Physical and Electronic Information
Office disorganization and clutter take a toll on your firm’s ability to be productive, costing you time and money. From ever-present piles of papers or constantly messy desks to email and computer files organized willy-nilly, many attorneys tolerate the inefficiencies that come with disorganization. Time spent looking for things translates directly to lost revenue. It’s stressful, too, and breaks the momentum of production.
Disorganization is often reflected and exacerbated by ineffective case flow systems, haphazard file handling routines, insufficient storage facilities, and most frightening, inadequate backup and disaster recovery/planning systems. Client service and representation, efficiency and profitability, and peace of mind are at stake. In the worst case scenario, the future of your practice can be jeopardized.
Conversely, each step you take toward heightened organization will provide you with immediate benefits. Simply having the right storage within easy reach, for example, can mean the difference between successfully managing a paper-heavy workflow and suffering the debilitating effects of low-level chaos. You’re buying back your valuable time. We’ll get you on track with solid organizational systems for all your physical and electronic information. It will put your firm on solid ground. You’ll free up time and resources, and earn yourself well-deserved peace of mind.

Bill Jawitz

Bill Jawitz, Practice Advisor with SuccessTrackESQ, has been consulting with lawyers to become more profitable and enjoy a higher quality of life since 2002. Visit us at successtrackesq.com.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPersonal Development

About the Author: Bill Jawitz, Practice Advisor with SuccessTrackESQ, has been consulting with lawyers to become more profitable and enjoy a higher quality of life since 2002. Visit us at successtrackesq.com.

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