The Happy Lawyer:
Take Control of Your Time

clockIt’s not easy being a lawyer. Many aspects of the job that are inherently stressful are simply unavoidable. Other times, however, some factors that cause lawyers to feel overworked and depressed are unique to the profession, but are not a necessary part of practicing law. They’ve become customary practices and lawyers don’t always consider the possibility of changing them or eliminating them altogether because “it’s the way things have always been done.”

But just because you’ve always done it a certain way, doesn’t mean you can’t change it. For example, one of the hardest parts about being a lawyer is feeling as if you’re at the mercy of your schedule. Between clients expecting immediate responses, court dates being rescheduled at the whim of the judge, or opposing counsel serving motion papers at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, sometimes it seems as if you have no control over your time.

Feeling like you aren’t in control of your schedule can be stressful, but there are ways to reverse this trend and take back your time. In fact, that’s the whole point of our 15-part blog series: to help you take steps to reduce stress and increase your job satisfaction. When it comes to taking back your schedule, the key is to proactively manage client expectations, use technology to increase efficiency, and better track your time.

Set clear client expectations

One of the best ways to take control of your schedule and your time is to manage client expectations from the outset of a case. These days, clients are used to 24/7 service. The problem is that it’s impossible for you to be available at every hour of the day. After all, you’re just one person. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that your clients understand how your law firm works and when you’ll be available.

As Allison Shields explains in this post at the Legal Ease blog, you need to set reasonable expectations during your very first meeting with your client:

It is crucial that you discover, and help shape, the client’s expectations at the outset of the engagement…Often confrontations arise when the unexpected occurs. You can reduce many common difficult client situations by being prepared and setting boundaries at the outset of the engagement.

Of course, in addition to setting clear expectations and boundaries, it also helps to provide your clients with options. The more ways they have to reach you on their terms, the more empowered they will feel. That’s why your choice of technology can be so important, as you’ll see in the next section. By making use of the right technology for your law firm, you are able to give your clients more choices, while simultaneously increasing your efficiency and profitability by capturing more billable time.

Use technology to make the most of your time

Your technology choices can make all the difference when it comes to making better use of your time. The right technology can streamline your law practice by increasing your efficiency and helping you to make the most of your time.

First, by using client portals, you give your clients more ways to contact you and obtain information about their cases. Instead of calling your firm during business hours, clients login to their secure client portal at any time, day or night, to stay abreast of changes in their case and access important documents and information.

In addition to client portals, another benefit of web-based practice management software is the increased convenience that this tool provides you and your staff. Instead of being chained to your desk, you can access your law firm’s data no matter where you happen to be using any Internet-enabled device. The mobility provided by web-based practice management gives you increased flexibility and better control over your schedule. It lets you practice law on your terms.

Capture more billable time

Finally, the more you are able to accurately capture billable time, the better. By taking steps to increase efficiency in tracking and billing your time, you’ll reduce stress levels and increase profits. This recent Attorney at Work post includes a number of ideas to help you capture more billable time. Here are a few key pointers:

  • Review your firm’s time and billing program. Is it as efficient as it can be? Several programs now have the ability to capture and record time remotely using your smartphone or tablet, allowing you to input time directly into the billing program (without the need for a paper notepad). This is especially useful for litigators who are often out of the office.
  • Record time spent when it’s performed. Don’t aggregate time at the end of the day…Studies show that when time is recorded contemporaneously, the total time billed increases.
  • Communicate with the client regularly. (K)eeping the client informed of the status of a case and the amount of the invoice on a regular basis will reduce stress for both of you. Your client won’t be surprised by the bill if the running total is regularly communicated.
  • Consider alternative billing arrangements. (A) hybrid approach to legal billing can work in many instances. For example, you might determine a flat fee for initial work, and then identify specific events for which you will charge additional fees, or switch to an hourly arrangement. Alternatives like this can take the stress out of billing for both client and attorney.

So there you have it: a few ideas to help you take control of your time and your schedule. So why not get the year started off right? Put a few of these tips into place and see what a difference it can make!

–Nicole Black

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