It is often difficult to get lawyers to place priority on administrative tasks – staying current on time records and client billings, or responding to CLE requirements. Most lawyers are individualistic and are focused on the contract or case they have today, which undermines time management. Prodding them to meet an administrative deadline is often a source of frustration.
There are two types of “law time:” the hours necessary to develop and provide legal advice, and those necessary to run the practice. Managing either type of time requires setting and regularly reviewing priorities. Most lawyers who claim they have too little time, or are overwhelmed by time demands, generally fail to set priorities, allowing themselves to be distracted by too many other tasks. This defines procrastination, and failure to prioritize is the root cause.
A good example is client billing, as lawyers too often put off or even ignore completing daily time records. These records should be prepared as the work is done. Use a simple electronic spreadsheet and encourage lawyers to keep a running log of time on everything as they do it. If this is completed each day, it should be available through shared document management, so firm administrators can as appropriate review it as a whole to ensure that it is current, and to assure that firm goals are being met.
Lawyers rightly worry about workload. Concern over having enough client demand in the pipeline for future business is certainly legitimate, but being over-extended is just as great a worry.
Consider a lawyer whose new practice has taken hold and who has been successful in keeping her time records and related accounts receivable current and well managed. In other words, she has been able to work, bill and get paid quickly. She could, however, be concerned that getting clients to pay quickly might limit their future work requests.
Being aware of this psychological dynamic regarding billing is the best way to overcome it.
Lawyers must, in turn, win the work (marketing), do the work effectively and efficiently (production), and get paid (collection). The best way to set priorities in any of these three areas is by defining the consequences if administrative tasks are not achieved.
The consequences of not having billable work as a priority is to fail to bill, fail to get paid and a direct negative ability to pay your talent what they deserve and on time. In marketing or similar non-billable issues, priorities are harder to set because they typically are approached only after the billable work is done.
As with ethical consequences for unmet client needs, lawyers need to see the financial consequences for not meeting business priorities. If these languish, a lawyer’s practice and sense of control over it will suffer.
Some lawyers feel that flexible working time schedules are a viable solution to the prioritizing dilemma. Certainly this is an issue in satisfying the needs of the now sometimes four generations of lawyers working in the same office environment, each with its own concept of priorities and demands.
There is no clear universal solution. Any viable approach must reflect not only the individual lawyer’s situation, but also the needs and priorities of the lawyer’s clients and of the firm itself.
By defining and pursuing administrative priorities on a structured basis, lawyer and firm benefit through improved management of work. The benefits include better work product, increased client satisfaction and reduced stress for the lawyer.