As an attorney, your time is your most valuable asset. If you’re the owner or managing partner of a law firm, this is especially true. You’re juggling casework with running your business operations. It’s a demanding profession, and it may seem like there are never enough hours in a day, let alone enough time to maintain a personal life.
Time management is arguably one of the most important skills for lawyers to master, and it’s also one of the most challenging. If you can build strong time management skills, you’ll be a better attorney, a stronger businessperson, and more present in your life outside of the firm.
As you consider how you can spend your time the most effectively, consider the following tips:
The first step to mastering time management is to reduce the time you spend on actions that do not contribute to your law firm’s business development or current caseload. For many lawyers, this means never answering the phone at your firm unless you know who is calling.
Having an efficient intake process can be one of the biggest time-savers for attorneys, as it ensures every time you speak to a potential client on the phone, they’ve been vetted, and their information has already been gathered. It’s especially important if you offer a free consultation. If you find that many of your consultations don’t result in new cases, that could signal an opportunity to improve your intake process.
Today, intake processes for law firms spans far beyond simply having someone in your office to answer the phone, ask some initial questions, and route the call appropriately. For law firms to be successful, they must be available 24/7. In addition to phone calls, your firm is also receiving emails or direct messages on social media from prospective clients, and they expect a prompt response. Many law firms even offer text messaging as an intake option. How do you accomplish that without overworking yourself or your receptionists?
For website requests, make sure you include a detailed intake form and use a single email address that’s different from your personal email (i,.e. firstname.lastname@example.org). Make sure this email address is actively monitored, and consider setting up auto-replies to let people know when they can expect to hear back. We also recommend implementing a Live Chat functionality such as Ngage on your law firm website.
For calls that come to your firm outside of business hours, a virtual receptionist service like Ruby Receptionists can eliminate the need to sift through voicemails each morning.
Create a process where all viable leads are consolidated in one place (such as your separate intake email), and make sure you have the preliminary information you need, such as their location and details about the case. Set aside time each morning to follow up on leads.
The 2018 Clio Legal Trends Report found that, in an eight-hour workday, lawyers spent only 2.4 hours on billable tasks. This highlights the problem with efficiency in law firms, and it can be costing your firm revenue. For example, let’s say you’re a lawyer working an eight-hour day 49 weeks out of the year. If you can optimize your day to allow for just one more billable hour, you’ll add an additional 245 hours of billable work. If your hourly rate is $250, that’s $61,250 in revenue.
One of the best ways to optimize your workload is simply outsourcing the non-billable tasks that take up a significant portion of your week.
To start, keep a time log of your days for a full week. We find that attorneys who do this are often surprised at how they spend their time.
First, look for any tasks that can be eliminated. Do you say “yes” to every question that comes your way? For many attorneys, time can be saved by simply understanding your bandwidth and saying “no” when you need to. You’ll also want to take a close look at tasks that could be delegated to a paralegal or your legal secretary. Even if they’re short, simple tasks, they can add up over the course of a year.
For the tasks that are left, we strongly encourage attorneys to look for opportunities to outsource. Lawclerk is a great option for things like legal research, leases, motions, briefs, and document review. Lawclerk uses a network of over 1,500 U.S. lawyers that you can hire for one-off projects or ongoing work.
For non-legal tasks, consider using Upwork. Upwork freelancers can be hired for a wide variety of tasks, such as administrative work, accounting, IT, and customer service.
You’re working on a case that requires your full attention. As you’re researching, you see an email notification and go to your inbox to check it. A few minutes later, your secretary stops in to hand you some paperwork that you requested. Then, a junior associate at your firm calls your office phone to ask a question about a recent case you worked on. You realize your coffee has gotten cold and get up to make a new cup.
While it may be impossible to completely eliminate distractions, it is important to learn to limit them as much as you can. Every time you invite a distraction into the middle of a task that requires your full attention, it takes more time to re-orient your brain when you resume. You can easily lose hours of your day by checking emails, taking calls, or chatting with associates.
The first step to maximizing your productivity is to think about when you work best and try to schedule your most important tasks during that time. If you’re not a morning person, use the morning hours for tasks that require less brainpower, like checking emails and other clerical tasks. The more flexibility you have to set a schedule that works for you, the better you’ll be able to optimize your time.
Secondly, try to set blocks of time where you can work uninterrupted. This means shutting down your email, silencing your phone, or leaving a note on your office door not to interrupt. You can start in smaller time increments. For example, with the Pomodoro Technique, you set a timer for 25 minutes and work on one task. Each 25-minute time interval is followed by a five-minute break, with longer breaks after an hour of work. Limiting distractions allows you to accomplish more in a shorter period of time.
Modern law firms that embrace technology often run more efficiently. Software and digital tools can help save time on manual tasks and organize your work so that you use time to your advantage.
For many business types, embracing technology is critical to stay in business as client needs evolve. Law firms are no different. Take a look at your firm’s processes. How do you prioritize tasks? Are you able to work from your office, from home, or from a coffee shop and have access to all the tools you need? How do you keep track of your progress on a particular case or project?
It’s important to take time every year to evaluate the legal technology landscape and look for ways to help your firm gain efficiency. We recommend evaluating document automation, practice management, and project management technology to help modernize your firm’s operations.
As a lawyer, you’re likely drowning in documents. Document preparation can be a tedious task, so looking for ways to automate the creation of legal documents can save significant time.
Automation can be one of the most powerful tools to gain efficiency in your law firm. If you find yourself doing tedious or repetitive work, always look for ways to automate tasks. Legal document automation tools can be used to automate intake forms, retainer agreements, contracts, wills, and other documents.
For many law firms, practice management software is a vital piece of running their business. A good practice management software can help centralize many of your firm’s functions into one place, streamlining work and eliminating manual tasks.
Clio is a popular option for attorneys. Features include work automation, case management, billing management, and accounting. Practice management software is created for the unique, often complex needs of law firms. There are also niche practice management solutions geared toward specific practice areas, such as personal injury and bankruptcy law. Most offer free trials, and we recommend doing a trial run of several different systems to find what works best for your firm.
Project management tools can help set workflows for tasks so that you always know the status of each project you’re working on. These tools are especially helpful when projects require inputs from multiple people.
Project management tools like Trello can be a major time saver. They eliminate the need for lengthy email strings, as you can easily log and track all project-related items in one place. It’s also easy to see an aggregate view of all of your work and how you’re tracking toward deadlines. This way, prioritizing your work becomes easier. Most project management tools allow you to log in from any device, so you can easily check the status of a project from your phone, tablet, or laptop when you’re on-the-go.
Project management systems are a great option for non-legal tasks. For example, your secretary could create tasks for the client calls you need to follow up on, set a reminder, and leave all relevant details for you to easily see when you open the task. Law firm marketers, legal secretaries, and even interns can use these tools to manage their work and help your entire firm work more effectively.
Time management is not a “set it and forget it” skill. It requires active thought, practice, and continuous improvement. Take time to read practice management blogs that offer productivity tips for lawyers. Stay engaged during CLEs and networking events, and keep a pulse on the technology offerings available to help attorneys save time.
Effective time management depends on finding the tools and tips that work for you, and this may be different for everyone. It may mean setting aside time quarterly to assess your productivity. Maybe it’s keeping a time log for one week to better understand how you use your time, or trying a new productivity hack each month to find what works best for you.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day work of being an attorney. It’s important to prioritize client work, but you will be able to serve your clients better if you take time to focus on improving your professional skills and increasing your efficiency.