Productivity and Time Management for Attorneys
by Marcia Watson Wainess
(County Bar Update, April 2000, Vol. 20, No. 4)


Productivity and Time Management for Attorneys

By Marcia Watson Wainess, Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee. Wainess is Director of Law Firm Services for Duitch, Franklin & Co. LLP, certified public accountants and business consultants in Los Angeles and specializes in law practice management. She can be reached at The opinions expressed are her own.

The practice of law is both a profession and a business. The business side of law impacts productivity, time management and time keeping. It is hard to juggle availability to clients, as well as doing legal work, handling administrative matters and making sure that everything is written down on a time sheet, too. By planning and organizing your time on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, your productivity and ability to handle it all will increase.

First, set your priorities on a daily basis.Determine what MUST be done today. Ask yourself what can be effectively delegated to someone else. Make sure that tasks are being done in relation to business priorities and productive results. Set realistic deadlines and make sure they are met.

When scheduling appointments, try to avoid over-scheduling.If possible, keep your calendar clear first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. This quiet time can be used to plan work or meet with your secretary. Attempt to keep 20-25 percent of each day free to enable you to handle crises and manage your workload.

Use a hand-held personal information manager (e.g. a Palm Pilot), manual long-range planner (e.g. a DayTimer) or a computerized calendar program (e.g. Outlook) to record your to-do list. Look at the items on your to-do list and ask yourself: What would happen if this were not done at all? What would happen if this were left until later? Could someone else do this? Include a description of the item and a deadline date for its completion. As items are finished, cross them out. This will make you feel good about accomplishing at least some of the items on your list. If you miss a deadline, re-evaluate the item and its relative importance to the other current items on your list. Then, either move up its priority and finish it, or set a more realistic deadline.

Clear up clutter in your office and on your desk. If your desk is piled high with papers and files, you will misfile or misplace things. This will result in wasted time searching for a lost document or file. To devote full attention to the file you are currently working on, clear your desk and file away all other files and loose papers. Try to work on one project at a time, and try to handle each thing only once.

Telephone management is an integral part of time management.Return calls in priority order, and return them promptly. Consider the objectives for your call, whom you are calling, what you should say to get the positive results you want, and what manner or tone might be most effective. Explain the purpose of your call in one sentence, and try to pre-set time limits for your calls. When leaving a voice-mail message, use voice-mail as a tool. Always state a time when you can be reached for a return call. Always leave your telephone number at the end of the call, particularly if you are leaving a long message. Be direct and be brief in your message. Advise the recipients to leave the information you need in their messages, as opposed to playing telephone tag.

When scheduling meetings, consider the purpose for the meeting.Limit attendance to the smallest number of people possible. To the extent feasible, use a timed agenda to keep the meeting on track. To keep the meeting moving along, include summaries and statements of consensus as the meeting progresses. The last five minutes of the meeting may be the most important part. Participants will usually remember what transpires at the end of the meeting. Try to gain agreement on something positive so people will leave feeling a sense of accomplishment. Take a few minutes to restate assignments and deadlines decided in the meeting. Provide instructions on what has been agreed to, what must be done, and establish a timetable for accomplishing it.

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