For 16 years now I have been coaching lawyers in business. I would guess, (this is not scientific), that well over 85% of my clients either struggled with or could benefit from vast improvements to their practice management. And that is attorneys at all stages of their careers, even veterans.
The two main areas where I identified challenges with practice management are organization/time management and docketing. This article seeks to provide you with strategies to overcome these challenges and become efficient in these areas.
To be fair to you, at any given moment, you have a lot on your plate. Being able to prioritize and organize your time is critical to your success as a lawyer. Here are a few suggestions that my clients have found to be invaluable.
Organizing your Day/Week
Weekly wrap-up: Starting at the end of the week
- Before you leave your office, or as things go currently, walk from your office to your living room on Friday, look ahead to next week.
- Take the last part of your day and book it into your calendar as (wrap up). Look ahead to next week and prioritize your tasks, these include client work, BD & marketing, management, and admin stuff.
- Start with ‘‘Drop Dead—Must Be Done” tasks, followed by “Should Be Done”, and finally “Like to Be Done”. Make a list. If you think this is a waste of time, just imagine yourself walking into your office on Monday morning knowing you have your plan. Enjoy your weekend and spend time with the ones you care about.
- Monday arrives. Review your emails and compare that with your plan. Do you need to re-prioritize? Take a few minutes to look over the list you made the previous Friday.
- Re-acquaint yourself with your top priorities.
- Set your week up for success!
Daily set up:
- As noted above, book time into your calendar for daily ‘set-up’. Start every day with intention.
- Make sure you, or your staff do not book appointments for you during this time.
- Review emails and phone messages.
- Make any necessary priority adjustments to your daily to-do list.
Throughout your day:
- Avoid distractions and stay focused on the task at hand.
- Manage emails and phone messages checking them 3x a day-don’t let them manage you!
- Re-prioritize your to-do list as needed and as the day goes on.
Daily wrap up:
- As noted above, make this a priority. Book it into your calendar daily-no exceptions! Unless the building is on fire.
- How did you do with your list?
- Review emails and phone messages.
- What did you miss? What remains a priority?
- Review. Are you behind? How is that going to affect tomorrow and the rest of your week? Do you need to make a quick phone call or send an email to a client to let them know you are behind? Respond to priority emails only, even if it just means acknowledging the email and stating you will get back to them tomorrow. Make those urgent calls.
- Adjust your list and set your day up for tomorrow. Get into the habit of doing this every night before you leave your office.
Again, this may seem like you are spending a lot of time just to get and stay organized and focused. The time you invest in getting organized will come back to you in spades. When this becomes habit, you will notice a sense of increased control and ease, less stress, and higher productivity.
OK, let’s look at your favorite task, docketing. This is simple. Even though simple isn’t always easy, it works! Just ask my clients.
Docketing is by far one of the sharpest pain points my clients experience in their day-to-day practice management. If you are in a position where you need to account for and record your time spent, the tips below will especially be important to you. Ensure you are properly accounting for all your time spent.
Instead of waiting until the end of the day, or worse, a few days later to review your time on a file, get into the habit of recording your billable time as you go. Do not rely on memory. Over the years I cannot tell you how many billable hours I have helped my clients find by following this very simple approach. I’ve had clients who waited until the end of the day, end of the week, and even worse, end of the months to take care of their docketing and billings. How do you think that went?
It is simple! Always use a timer when completing any task. When you take a break, or complete a task, record the time you spent right in that moment! Do not wait until the end of your workday. You cannot always rely on memory to account for your time. Review your sent and deleted emails at the end of the day. I am positive you will find more time spent communicating with your clients.
If you are not properly recording your time spent on client work, you are leaving countless billable hours on the table. This is not going to serve you well whether you are at a firm, or out on your own. And you are likely costing your firm or yourself revenue, and profits. Not a wise move! Working with one client and using this approach, we found an additional 200 billable hours over the course of the year. Add that up!
Follow these simple and practical tips on organizing your time and docketing, and watch how efficient your overall practice management becomes.