Imagine You Could Get It All Done!
The Solo/Small Firm Practitioner's Guide to Time Management For a More Efficient and Effective Practice

Presented by Irene Leonard, at the 3rd Annual WSBA Solo and Small Firm Conference July 18, 2008 Wenatchee, WA

Practicing good time management skills reduces stress, allows you to be more effective and productive in your practice, and helps you get it all done.

Time Management Skills


Planning is essential to making effective, productive use of your time. Take time each day, week, and month to look forward in your practice and life and plan how to best use your valuable time.

When you start work with a new client, spend some time planning or thinking through the various components of your representation. Break the matter down into small steps or tasks in conjunction with a timeline.

Use 'To Do' Lists

Writing 'To Do' lists that list all your projects and project components is essential to an efficient use of your time and is an effective way to reduce stress in your practice. 'To do' lists help when you feel overwhelmed because they bring perspective and planning to the situation and put you back in control.

Don't count on remembering anything; write it down.

Most of us have times in the day when we are more productive than other times. Determine when you are most productive and use your daily 'To Do' list to plan your day accordingly.

In a busy law practice it's a given that there are daily unexpected conversations, emails, projects, and demands from clients and others. Plan for the unexpected by leaving plenty of room in your schedule or 'to do' list to be able to handle last minute, urgent, important rushes.

Set Priorities

Steven Covey is known for establishing the importance of determining the difference between doing what is important and what is urgent. In setting your priorities focus on doing the important not the urgent.

Additionally, it's necessary to understand how the 80/20 rule, or Pareto principal, can help you prioritize. The 80/20 rule states that the relationship between input and output is not balanced. When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results. Recognizing and focusing on that 20 percent is the key to setting priorities, which will result in the most effective use of your time.

Estimate Time to Complete Projects Accurately

In order to be realistic with your promises to clients and others, you must be able to estimate how long it takes for you to do things. Use a Project 'To Do' list that shows all components along with an estimated time for each component of the project. You're more likely to get a realistic estimate if you break the project down and add up the individual time components. Consider doubling or tripling your overall time estimate.

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

Delegating is not only necessary to help you handle the volume of work you have, but is also a good way to make your practice more profitable. Good delegating skills help you manage all the aspects of running your law practice and client matters and ensure that you bill as many hours of the day as you can.

Work should be delegated or pushed down to the lowest capable level. If someone else can do something, delegate it so you can spend your time billing your full rate or doing something that only you can do.

Plan your projects so that you give your delegatees plenty of time and training to do what's necessary in order to produce a work product that meets your expectations.

The skill of delegation includes using technology wherever possible.

Say No

When you have competing demands, you have to decide which is most important and then how to say no to the demand which is not as important. This is a tough behavior to develop but one of the most important efficiency skills to master. Say no as early as possible in order to reduce stress for you, your client, and others.

Saying no includes:

Examples of Saying No

Here are some scripts to help you say no:

Avoid Distractions

Distractions are time wasters and create billing problems, so reduce and minimize distractions by saying no. Have and use rules that help you stay focused.

Defeat Procrastination

One of the most common stressors for lawyers is the file on the desk that's been languishing: You're just not able to find the time to work on the matter and you feel guilty because you know you're procrastinating. Here are some suggestions to help you complete projects and defeat procrastination.

Get Organized

Get organized by implementing and using systems that match your work style. Efficient systems that help you manage your practice's information flow are the foundation for managing your time more efficiently.

Organize Paper

If you've piles of paper in your office:

Manage Communications

Control your email, correspondence and voice mail by coming up with boundaries and rules regarding them.

Capture More Time

Enhanced time management skills can result in an improvement to your profitability as well as greater productivity and satisfaction. If you capture just 30 minutes more a day at a billing rate of $200 an hour you'll add approximately $24,000 to your annual revenue. That's a significant amount of money for just a little more time.

Record Your Time Compulsively

Record your billable time compulsively and as you go. No matter how busy you are, don't start the next matter or respond to the phone or email until you've recorded your time. Your time is a very valuable commodity; only give it away intentionally.

If you're one of those lawyers who instinctively decide to reduce their time or not record it at all - stop doing that. Wait until finalizing the bill to edit your time. You really don't have enough information to make the decision regarding the value of your services to your client until you take into context the other tasks you attended to that month for that client. If you still want to discount your time you can show that in your bill as a No Charge.

Track All Your Time

Tracking all your time, billable and non-billable, will help you capture billable time that gets lost between matters. It will also help you appreciate how long it really takes you to do non-billable tasks, which may help you decide to delegate more.

Value All Your Time

Are you comfortable billing all your time spent on a client matter? If yes: good. If not:

What will you do to reduce the amount of non-billable time you spend?

Give Your Clients Accurate Bills

Billing is an area where you can create or lose trust with your clients. Commit to making your timekeeping one of those things you do very well. When you do you will write bills more easily and accurately. These are the kind of bills that are more likely to be paid promptly and in full by satisfied clients.

When you manage your time well, good timekeeping follows.

How do you plan to capture more time?

What changes will you make to improve your efficiency?

Bibliography, Resources and Suggested Readings

Allen, David, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Viking Penguin, 2001.

Covey, Stephen R., First Things First, Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Elwork, Amiram. Stress Management for Lawyers: How to Increase Personal & Professional Satisfaction in the Law, The Vorkell Group, 1997.

Koch, Richard. The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More With Less, Doubleday, 1998.

Morgenstern, Julie. Time Management from the Inside Out: The foolproof System for Taking Control of your Schedule - and Your Life, Henry Holt, 2000.

Sanitate, Frank. Don't Got to Work Unless It's Fun! State-of-the-Heart Time Management, Santa Barbara Press, 1994.

Smith, Hyrum. The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management: Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace Warner Books, Inc., 1994.