Wisconsin Lawyer: What Keeps You Awake at Night: How can I possibly handle all the things I need to do in a day?:

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    What Keeps You Awake at Night: How can I possibly handle all the things I need to do in a day?

    I feel like I’m not in control of my day. How do I keep the ball rolling on nonpressing client and practice management matters while finding the time to manage the urgent email, phone calls, meetings, and other deadlines that demand immediate attention?

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 82, No. 4, April 2009

    “Avoidance” Saves Time

    Add to time demands the fact that we lawyers have personal lives, which means – in addition to everything else – we have obligations to families and children.

    I dealt with time issues this way: I unsubscribed from all nonessential electronic lists to avoid that whole set of distractions. Then, I organized my day so that I went in a half-hour early, told my staff to take messages that would be returned in the afternoon, scheduled all client meetings in the afternoon, and used my mornings exclusively for pushing paper.

    The other major thing that I was able to do in this way was to avoid having to touch something more than once. When the mail came in I would deal with it right away, draft a response right then, or delegate some needed task to an appropriate staff member whenever possible so I could stay ahead of deadlines.

    The final thing to keep in mind is that for most attorneys, there is little other than court appearances that demands such urgent attention that it can’t be dealt with after a few hours, like in the afternoon.

    Jim Lingl, Lingl & Joshi PLC, Agoura, Calif.

    Client Selection = Lawyer Satisfaction

    Robert HagnessAt the risk of sounding simplistic, perhaps we expect too much of ourselves professionally and drive ourselves past our limits. We dig holes for ourselves by allowing our clients to expect more than we can give them, in terms of either time or results.

    Your clients see you because you are respected and do good work, not because they think you are perfect, know everything, or have nothing else to do. Actually, you need to not work for people who think you are perfect, know everything, or have nothing else to do. They’ll never be satisfied. Your reputation will suffer long after your file is closed.

    Why do so many of us assume that everyone who wants our services should be our clients? What’s wrong with saying “no” to someone who undervalues you, whether in terms of your available time or your charges? If you aren’t communicating easily and well at the outset, why do you think that will change later on?

    The initial interview should be a time when you reflect on your feelings about the person sitting across the desk from you. Do you like this person? Do you want to help this person? Is the person willing to work with you? Who’s doing most of the talking? If not the prospective client, what are you learning about that person’s expectations?

    Be considerate to yourself and your family. Be assertive about what you do and for whom, and you’ll have far fewer regrets (if not more time). 

    Robert Hagness, Hagness Law Office, Mondovi

    Hire a Competent Assistant

    In a thriving practice or in order to thrive in practice, I don’t think you can survive without sacrificing your mental health, physical health, or family life, unless you have a competent assistant. I highlight the word “competent” because it is integral. A poor assistant can make your practice that much harder. Pay a competent assistant what he or she is worth, and you will get it back tenfold.

    Heather E. Pauls, Losby & Pauls, Lawyers, Eau Claire

    Communicate Effectively to Save Time

    Communicating effectively with clients can save you time in the long run. Here are some techniques:

    Provide for regular communication with clients: 1) Introduce clients to your assistant or team at the initial interview. 2) Use an engagement letter and discuss the contents with the client. 3) Give clients an administrative information sheet that includes the timetable for the engagement, do’s and don’ts for the client, your preferred mode of communication (mail, telephone, email, your assistant), how after-hours calls and overtime work will be charged, your priority hour (when you’re not available), an appointment-only policy, and the hours when you read email each day.

    Take charge of communications: 1) Use active listening techniques – listen, be willing to interrupt if your intention is to forward the conversation, and move from ideas and feelings to actions. 2) Take charge of phone or personal conversations. Start with, “How can I help you?” Set a time limit: “I am really tied up at the moment. Let’s take three minutes to talk right now and set a later time to talk if we have to,” or “I’m tied up right now; can I call you at 4 p.m.?” In the middle, say, “Let me summarize,” or “What is your point?” End with, “I’ve got another call coming in,” and then hang up while you’re speaking.

    Editor’s note: These tips are excerpted from the 2005 State Bar CLE Seminar “Time Mastery for Legal Staff: 60 Ways to Maximize Your Productivity and Satisfaction,” featuring Frank Sanitate, author of Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun: State-of-the-Heart Time Management. For more State Bar resources on time management, visit www.wisbar.org/practice411.