How do you organize your day? Do you feel like your time is not always well spent and that you’re wasting time in meetings and doing things you really shouldn’t be doing?
I’ve been running my own practice for the last 11 years and I’ve developed a lot of time management tips and tricks that can help you accomplish a lot more in any given day.
For me, as somebody that runs a law firm, managing my time is absolutely critical. Every minute of my day, every six minutes of my day, they’re very valuable. The more I can accomplish, the more revenue our firm typically will generate, and the better our firm will run. So, ensuring my time is properly spent is absolutely critical. This is not only true for me, but it’s true for everybody in my law firm.
I’ve actually developed a list of six things that I think are critical to properly managing my time every day and I want to share it with you today. If you have time management tips and tricks that you can share, please, in the comments, leave them. We would love to start a discussion about how attorneys are saving time and managing their time better.
6 Tips for Managing Time as an Attorney
1. Avoid meetings with clients and internal staff at all cost.
The first tip of my list is to avoid meetings at all cost. The reason for this is that they are just too time consuming. Client meetings, for example, require preparation and exhaust you when they’re finally over. Could you have accomplished that meeting in a more effective manner? Perhaps you could have recorded a short video message for the client to explain what’s going on in their case and to show them what the next steps are. You could have just emailed it to them and then taken a phone call to answer follow-up questions.
Granted, there’s always a time and a place you have to meet face-to-face. I’m not going to say you never have to. That’s why I say you avoid it when you can. But avoiding these meetings can save you countless hours that you can then use to develop new clients and new business.
These rules apply internally, too. At our firm, we have one staff meeting weekly that I keep to 30 minutes. And to be frank, I do not think that we accomplish a lot substantively at these meetings. I can talk to each individual member of my team or I can have or those individual team members can talk to themselves during the week and get a lot more accomplished. The idea for the 30-minute meeting is just to get together as a group and understand who we’re working with. To let the personalities of the group meld a little bit. But that’s the reason I do it. I don’t do it because substantively we actually get things done.
If you want to get things done, you need to have small group meetings or you need to ensure things are highly outlined before you walk into a meeting about what you want to accomplish and start working toward those goals. Keep everybody on task and keep the meeting short. Nothing worse than sitting in an hour and a half long meeting, coming out and feeling exhausted and having 100 emails to get back to. That is just bad time management right there.
2. Schedule time for emails and phone calls
The second tip is to set up your day so there are clear chunks of time where you’re working on things like emails, phone calls, marketing activities, etc. And you should do these things at the same time every day so you develop a routine.
For example, I start my day with tasks in the morning. Seven o’clock to nine o’clock in the morning, I can crank out a lot of emails. I can just go through different quick questions clients have, clear out my inbox to get the day started. This is typically from overnight or later the previous day. Some people are more creative in the morning. So, if you’re super creative in the morning, maybe your first hour should be on marketing activities. But every day I start the same way. Just clearing out my inbox, working up getting the emails caught up. And then around 10 o’clock in the morning to eleven o’clock, I get calls scheduled. So, I know to expect, “Hey, I’ve got a break from email.” So, I do two-three hours of email. Now, I’ve got a break, I can get on the phone, I walk around. From eleven to twelve every day, I go to the gym. Then I have lunch, I come back, and I have another two-hour block of email. Then, I have a call scheduled, then I have from 3:15 to 4:00, no calls. Again, more email. Four o’clock, I get calls till about 5:00.
So, you can see my day is broken up but it’s also extremely consistent. So, I know what to expect and I’m not just like, “Oh, I need to take this call. I gotta run…” No. I know I have two hours to get these emails done so I have to get it done. And I have to prioritize whatever I’m doing for that two hours because I know after that, I’ve got to call. And it’s very, very helpful to have the same routine every day and to make sure when I’m working on something or I’m on a call, I’m in the moment and I’m not worried about, “Oh, I got this call coming in or I’ve got this email to get back to.” No. I’m working on emails for this period time and I’m taking calls in that period of time.
3. Manage client expectations
This melds into my third point which is that we have to set client expectations so that they do not expect us to complete fire drills for them and just to take meetings on a whim. I know it’s not always possible, I get it. But when possible, we need to explain to clients, look, that you set up phone calls at certain times during the day so that you can be ready. I always tell clients, “Look, I need to have your file in front of me.” If you just call in and I take your call, I’m going to have to stop, try to figure out where your case is. It just doesn’t work that well. So, if I know I have a call with you at 10:00, at 9:50, I’m going to stop doing what I do and I’m going to start reviewing your case so that by time we get on the phone together, I’m ready to go. And so setting that meeting with me, setting that appointment is really, really helpful.
Also, doing fire drills is another way to really waste time because you could have a lot of other things you need to do and then a client calls you with an emergency and you have to drop everything. So, yes, there are legitimate emergencies. I get it and we handle them too. But when it’s not a legitimate emergency, we have to manage the client and say, “Look, we could do this, it’s going to take a day or two. But there’s not an exigency here other than you just want it done and I’m already committed to something else right now.” And you know what? I’m honest. And that’s just the way it is. But you know, making sure your clients understand that you have a schedule you need to keep and that you can serve them better. If they help you keep the schedule and they help schedule meetings and calls with you, goes long, long, long way to just having to avoid putting out fires all day long.
4. Hire and train new employees
The fourth tip on my list is you’ve got to hire people and you’ve got to take the time to train folks to help you get through all the things that you can get off your plate. I am probably the number one offender here of taking forever in a day to actually make this happen. But I started my practice in 2008 and it wasn’t till 2014, probably almost six years into it that I actually started hiring folks in earnest to help me get things off my plate. I want to run through a list of things I used to do that I no longer have to do.
So, the first thing I got off my list is going through client reminders. That is making sure that the cases are moving, that we’ve followed up with clients that owe us things. I’ve been able to train attorneys and paralegals in my firm to handle this and I no longer have to do it on a day-to-day basis. The second is when we get an office action or response from a government attorney on a trademark application, I’m not the first-line defense. A paralegal or an attorney in my firm can review and set up an initial email to a client to go over the issues and what we need to get the application moving again. The third is information requests about our services. I used to take every incoming call from a prospective client. Now, I have an extraordinarily talented paralegal who’s been working here 11 years that’s able to take these calls and get clients all the information they need about our services. And that literally saves me hours every day. The fourth is setting up trademark filings. I used to sit there and draft every application, put in all the information, all the data input. And now our talented staff of paralegals can do that and I can simply review the filing before it goes out. The fifth is setting up engagement forms for our clients. I used to sit and do all the electronic data entry to get the engagement form set up so that we could get the client even engaged in the first place. Now, our office manager assists me with that. And finally, I used to do all of the billing every month. I used to sit there and go through the client bills, generate the invoices and actually send them out. I used to do that every Sunday afternoon once a month. And it used to take me four or five hours. Now, our office manager handles that.
Just by getting these tasks off my plate, I’ve probably saved myself days of time every week and there’s still more I can do. There’s still more I can do. But look at everything you’re doing and look, I know this is the hardest part is you say, “Oh, I could do this so fast and all I have to do is spend three minutes on this and it’ll be done.” But yeah. But if you multiply that three minutes times 100 times 52 weeks or whatever it is you’ve got going on, it saves so much time if you could train folks to help you out with things that you can truly get off your plate.
5. Be proficient in your area of practice
My fifth tip is to become proficient in your area of law. Don’t try to be a generalist. It doesn’t work in today’s marketplace anyhow from a marketing perspective. I’ve been focused on trademark work for the last 11 years. I am extraordinarily good at trademarks. I’m just going to say it. I’m terrible at anything else. Ask me to do anything else, I am terrible. I’m not the guy you want. But when it comes to trademarks, I’m convinced there’s not a single person in this world that could do a better job for you. And I’m extraordinarily fast because I’ve seen so many things that I can look at something and boom I know exactly what needs to happen, I know what we need to do and we move it forward. And being that proficient saves me tons of time. When I started the firm in 2008, I was not as proficient. And it took me a long time to figure out what we should do for a client to identify issues, to figure out what we should put in a trademark application. I am probably 100 times faster today than I was in 2008, no joke, just because of how proficient I am in what I do. So, being able to find something and get really good at is going to save you a ton of time.
6. Focus on only one thing at a time
My last point, which I’m guilty of breaking about every 20 minutes in my day, is you have to stay focused on one thing. The minute we start multitasking, we lose efficiency and we also lose focus and probably quality of work. If you’re working on a client matter, forget the phone ringing, forget the emails dinging, forget the text messages coming in. You have to focus on what you’re doing until it’s done. And if it’s…especially if it’s something that requires some mental energy a lot of times where you’re like, “Oh, maybe I’ll check Twitter or maybe I’ll check my LinkedIn, maybe I’ll check my personal email and see if anything funny is going on there.” No. Got to stay in the moment, got to focus on what you’re doing because the more focused you stay, the quicker you’re going to get through that task, the better the task is going to be done. And when you do that on literally everything you’re doing, your day is going to become much more efficient.
I hope you enjoyed the video today. These are just some of the ways I’ve worked to save time in my day that I’ve developed over doing trademark practice for 11 years. If you have any ideas yourself and things you found that really save you time, please, please share them in the comments. I’d love to start a discussion about this topic. It’s very near and dear to my heart and I’m always looking for different hacks and how to save more time during my day. Until next time, I’m Josh Gerben. Thanks for watching the show.