Need a comprehensive guide on time management for attorneys?
As an attorney, you could have several things to manage every day — client details, case progressions, court dates…. the list goes on.
Do you keep wishing for an extra hour (or even two?)
While we can’t make it come true, we can certainly show you how to maximize your available time without losing sleep!
All you need is good time management skills — but that goes beyond just creating a daily schedule or using a to-do list.
This article contains:
(click on the link to jump to that section)
- 5 Attorney Time Management Issues (With Solutions)
- 6 Smart Tips To Improve Time Management For Attorneys
- Why Is Time Management Important
Let’s jump right in.
5 attorney time management issues (with solutions)
You may have received tons of advice on managing your time more efficiently while doing legal work.
However, not everyone knows the issues you face as a lawyer.
We understand them, and that’s why we’ve addressed a few important ones in this section:
1. Having constant interruptions
Regardless of whether you have a small firm or a large one, interruptions can come from anywhere.
It could be due to constant phone calls, social media notifications, etc.
However, it not only takes up your time but also disrupts your thought process.
As a result, you end up doing the same task over and over again because you’ll have to pick up where you left off or got disrupted.
To overcome this, set dedicated ‘do not disturb’ hours for your workday. The duration of these work hours depends on your priorities and needs as a lawyer.
The general idea is to let everyone know, including your clients, that you’ll not be available during these specific times.
2. Underestimating the time required for a task
Not allocating enough time for each task may make it challenging to complete those tasks every day. These tasks keep piling up and create a colossal time debt.
What can you do?
Look at how much time it took you to complete similar tasks in the past.
This way, you’ll be able to make better estimates of the time needed for the current tasks or projects. (We’ll tell you more about tracking the time tasks take in a while.)
3. Procrastinating tedious tasks
There may be some activities or tasks in your daily practice that are quite challenging or even boring.
You may keep pushing them till the end of the day, but procrastination will only stress you out even further.
Instead, the best way of decreasing stress is by ‘eating the frog’ first thing in the morning.
We don’t mean an actual frog; this phrase refers to tackling an unpleasant or dreaded task!
See what’s the hardest task on your to-do list and start working on that first. Doing this will lift a significant burden off your shoulders.
You’ll find that you can actually manage other more manageable tasks well within the estimated time.
4. Insisting on doing things yourself
The legal profession has some mundane clerical tasks such as:
- Entering billing information.
- General client communication.
- Making travel arrangements.
- Answering phone calls, etc.
Many young lawyers are overenthusiastic and insist on multitasking.
However, if you do everything yourself, you’ll not have the time or energy left to take up projects or assignments that actually need your expertise.
You can avoid this by delegating responsibilities. You could hire a receptionist or a virtual assistant to help you out with administrative tasks.
You can even take the help of a paralegal or a legal VA for jobs such as:
- Interviewing witnesses.
- Conducting legal research.
- Summarizing depositions.
- Drafting legal documents, etc.
You have to bear in mind that every person does things differently. So it’s very important that you should monitor your virtual assistant’s performance.
However, be wary of micromanaging. A successful delegation of work is one where you provide guidance only when needed.
5. Not using software
Just answering emails through your smartphone will not be enough to save time.
You need to take advantage of workplace tools for tracking time, automating your calendar, billing clients, and other activities.
Automation can save a lot of your time, allowing you to multitask effectively without compromising on the quality of your tasks.
Additionally, as per the rules of the American Bar Association (ABA) rules, you should be up to date and competent with technology in your law practice.
There are various software for:
- Law practice management: Firm Central, Rocket Matter
- Drafting documents: HotDocs, TheFormTool
- Tracking time: Time Doctor
There are various time and project management software like Trello and Asana, which are quite easy to use for a legal professional.
Addressing these issues will undoubtedly help you better manage your time in your practice of law.
6 smart tips to improve time management for attorneys
Time management isn’t a one-time process. You need to practice it every day.
Here are some smart time management tips to help you get started:
1. Make your to-do list for the next day
Planning your schedule ahead of the previous day will help you allocate an adequate amount of time for each activity.
You’ll be more focused on the job at hand when you know that you have only a limited number of hours to complete it.
And if you plan it on the previous day, you’ll be more likely to keep unpleasant tasks at the beginning of the day.
While it’s easy to make a to-do list, prioritizing tasks can be challenging.
Spending 15 minutes organizing the next day’s tasks can save a lot of time for your practice.
You can also use this handy rule to make your list: it’s called the 1-3-5 rule.
You need to select one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks for your to-do list.
It may seem challenging to restrict yourself to just nine activities in the day, but if you can implement it correctly, you’ll accomplish a lot more than you expect!
2. Don’t rely solely on memory
Considering the number of things you already need to remember, it may not always be possible to remember every task.
You may miss out on some important tasks or meetings because you simply forgot.
You can avoid this faux pas by using technology in your legal practice.
There are various digital calendars that enable you to set reminders and alarms days or minutes before the actual activity.
Setting a reminder to go off 15-20 minutes before the task will help you prepare for it and complete it in time.
You can also create reminders for upcoming weekly deadlines. This will help you prioritize important tasks and complete them on time.
3. Use shortcuts wherever possible
This may seem quite trivial, but it’s a very efficient time management tip.
For a busy lawyer, no two days are similar. You may have a court appearance on one day, while the next day may be dedicated entirely to case research.
However, certain activities are bound to repeat daily, or at least a few times a week.
Some of these include:
- Visiting the same web pages frequently.
- Using spreadsheets for compiling data.
- Sending similar emails, letters, and documents, and more.
You can save a significant amount of time if you create shortcuts or templates for such tasks.
You can also reuse simple forms or checklist templates to collect relevant data from new clients, without spending time to create them from scratch.
4. Have some free minutes for each task
You may be as punctual as a clock, but not everyone possesses that asset.
Your client may arrive a few minutes late, your cab might get stuck in traffic, or the delivery person may not get the essential documents on time.
Even if it’s your best intention to always be punctual, there can still be some inevitable delays.
The easiest way to overcome these delays is to always keep some free time between two jobs.
This can save you the unnecessary stress of not completing either of the tasks. You can even get ahead of schedule if everything goes according to plan!
5. Learn to say ‘No’
It may be difficult , but try to not overcommit.
Don’t take more tasks than you can handle at a time, even if it’s a referral by an old client or a trusted friend.
If you’re working solo, you may face this situation more often than any law firm.
You may just not have the time to take up some tasks, or you may not be the right person for it.
Saying ‘no’ isn’t against the law!
Firmly declining certain projects will help in decreasing stress and also give you adequate time to complete the existing tasks effectively.
At the end of the day, what matters is the quality of your billable work — not the quantity.
6. Monitor time spent on each task
Monitoring the time required for each task will help you easily track your billable hours.
It also comes in handy when you need to keep tabs on the estimated vs. the actual time taken for that task.
And we don’t mean just looking at your watch as you start and finish your activity.
You should track every minute of the time spent while doing that task.
Additionally, having good time management skills is a challenge that every lawyer faces.
Whether you’re a solo practitioner or have a law firm, you’ll always need ways to improve your and your team’s efficiency at work — which will ultimately increase productivity and profitability.
The key to effective time management in any legal practice is knowing where and how you spend your time.
Once you have that data, you can easily manage all your tasks with ease.
Fortunately, you can do this by using software such as Time Doctor, which accurately tracks your non-productive and productive time and gives you insights into how you spent it.
So what is Time Doctor?
Time Doctor is a productivity management tool that tracks all activities of the workday, giving you real-time, actionable insights to help you manage your time more efficiently.
Time Doctor provides useful work data such as:
- Total hours worked per user.
- Start and end times for the workday.
- Productivity breakdowns by day, week, or month.
- Employee with the highest (or lowest) productivity (if you work in a team).
- Top used websites, applications such as LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
- Top projects and tasks by hours worked.
- Daily timeline overview.
Why is time management important
Providing high-quality service to clients and efficiently managing time is certainly not an easy task.
Having a judicious system for your law practice management is essential for decreasing stress and anxiety. And when you’re relaxed, you can give your best to your clients.
And if these reasons weren’t enough, the ABA (American Bar Association) has issued Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that a lawyer must display good time management skills in their practice.
The bottom line is: effective time management is an integral part of any profession.
This is especially true for a lawyer as you’ll have to stay on top of several tasks and clients.
By managing your time better, you can complete all tasks quickly. You’ll also have more free time to focus on your personal life.
With this, we rest our case. Use the tips and tools we covered here to turn time in your favor!
Liam Martin is a co-founder of Time Doctor which is software to improve productivity and help keep track and know what your team is working on, even when working from home.