Dec. 21, 2011 – Lawyers spend a lot of time on client management, career management, and firm management. Improving our activities within each of these areas will lead to improved time management.
The quadrant system
One very effective time management system comes from Stephen Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s quadrant system helps us understand how we spend our time. He classifies activities as Urgent (necessary to avoid negative consequences) and/or Important (having great value and significance).
Quadrant 1 includes activities we consider both Urgent and Important. Our time spent in this quadrant is highly stressful, and we are reactionary and pressed by deadlines.
Quadrant 2 includes activities that are Important but have not yet become Urgent. We want to try to handle more activities in this quadrant so we lower our stress and make better decisions.
Quadrant 3 includes activities that have become Urgent but are really not very Important. We have procrastinated completing an activity and are now up against a deadline.
Quadrant 4 includes activities that are neither Urgent nor Important. These activities are unproductive and waste our time. We need to minimize these activities.
In this video, Michael Moore of Moore’s Law offers ideas for attorneys to implement time management into their law practices so they can be better at their jobs while also spending more time doing what they enjoy.
Many Wisconsin lawyers represent individuals and small-business owners. These clients have a lot in common with consumers when purchasing legal services. In consumer-oriented practices, lawyers deal with a greater percentage of clients who are often inexperienced in dealing with lawyers. Therefore, effective client management is critical.
Client management techniques. For the initial interview, use an intake checklist that prompts collection of essential information for a preliminary conflict check. You will also need a client intake form that includes all relevant information for further conflicts checking, financial due diligence, contact information for the client, and identifies any fee agreements in place.
Address client expectations. Following the initial visit with a lawyer, every client has certain expectations that will guide their thinking as the matter proceeds. Be prepared to share information and answer questions. The client wants to know how the legal process will work, how long the legal process will take, what the strategy for addressing the legal issues will be, and the range of likely results. The client also will want to know the overall cost of the legal services; how the services will be billed; when payment will be expected; and what will happen, if fees are not paid as they are billed.
Effective use of client management techniques and addressing client expectations will result in a more effective use of time with each client. In addition, positive management of client expectations improves many financial indicators such as billing realization, billing turnover, collection realization, and collection turnover. Improving each of these indicators by a few percentage points can result in significant additional revenue.
In my work creating success with individual lawyers, we focus on five areas. These are: (1) professional goals, (2) personal productivity, (3) revenue generation, (4) marketing, and (5) professional growth.
Each lawyer identifies professional goals they want to accomplish in the next 12 months. We also look at effective methods to increase personal productivity and revenue generation. For effective client development, we identify linkage between the lawyer, their practice skills, and potential clients and their needs. For professional growth, every lawyer continues to enhance their skills as a lawyer, and the goal is to become a “go to” player in their practice area. A more effective plan for your career means more effective use of your time.
Billable time is a lawyer’s finished product. The business cycle is the same as with any manufacturing business, from inventory to work in progress to finished goods to delivery, billing, and payment. To increase effectiveness, lawyers need to shorten their cycle time. By entering time daily, processing bills in a timely fashion, and collecting receivables promptly, a lawyer can increase productivity and profitability.
Effective law firm management requires understanding sales, marketing, leverage, delegation, administration, and economics. A lawyer’s time is most effective when spent doing what they do best, practicing law. Lawyers can utilize both firm administrators and outside resources to delegate many management issues including human resources, administration, and marketing. Lawyers need to spend their time finding clients, doing great work, and getting paid for it.
Effective time management creates success for lawyers. By focusing on where we spend our time, we can increase our effectiveness in what we do and improve our use of time. If we can be more effective in the areas where we spend our time, we can expand our business, provide excellent client service, and find more options for an improved work/life balance.
About the author
Michael Moore, Lewis and Clark 1983, is a professional coach for lawyers and the founder of Moore’s Law, Milwaukee. He presented Managing Your Time: Get More Done in Less Time at the State Bar of Wisconsin PINNALCE™ Solo & Small Firm Conference in October. Moore specializes in marketing, client development, and leadership coaching for attorneys at all levels of experience. Moore also advises law firms on strategic planning and resource optimization. He has more than 25 years’ experience in private practice, as a general counsel, in law firm management, and in legal recruiting. For more information, visit Moore’s Law.