Do you struggle managing your time? Dedicating time to learn about time management for law firms may seem counter-intuitive, unless you look into the enormous benefits. As a business owner and manager of your own small law firm, you won’t be an effective leader unless you learn how to manage your time well. How you manage your workspace, daily schedule, and even appointments should be part of your priorities. Below, US legal systems expert Richard James shares with you some of his proven time-management tips that will help you get things done, make work less stressful, and concentrate on what really drives your business.
But before that, the first thing you may be asking is this: what is time management? Time management for law firm owners and businesses is a process of organizing and planning how to divide time into specific tasks. Time management skills then refers to your ability to organize, to prioritize and avoid wasting time. Having a good grasp of time management allows you to get more work done in a shorter amount of time. Some of the known benefits of managing time includes higher productivity in your law firm, better client reputation, less stress in running your firm, and not missing deadlines.
Time management tip #1: Value your time!
We mean it: you should quantify your time. Business owners need to understand what the value of every single hour is in their firms. The goal here is to understand the value or price of every single minute you spend doing your task. Try putting an actual dollar figure on the value of time. You can do that by dividing the total amount you make in a year by the number of hours you spend working a year. For example, let’s say you are a law firm owner who makes $200,000 a year and spends time 8 hours a day for 220 days a year. Your time value will be at $113 ($200,000 / (8 X 220)). The problem is that no successful business owners work a full eight hours of productive time a day, so the value will probably be much lower. Once you get your own time value, ask yourself: should you really be spending your time doing the things you do if each hour is valued this way? If your answer is no, then don’t do it! Managing lawyers should be spending their time on worthwhile tasks that will grow their business and push things. If not,consider finding a good lawyer practice management training program to take. There are several time management training programs out there, but be sure to choose a program designed for lawyers.
Time management tip #2: Do a time study
Time study is a time-tracking exercise that will help you manage time effectively in the long run. Track your tasks and the things you are doing with your time. You can do this by using a timesheet to write down minute by minute what you are doing every single hour in your office. If you have an online calendar, appointment book, or software that tracks this, use that as a guide, but make sure to include everything in your list such as:
- What time you came into the office
- When you answered your email
- How long it took you to look at stuff
- What you do on your free-time (errands)
- What other non-work related stuff you did during your ‘work hours’
In the end, you will have something that looks like a to-do list except that it is a “what-you-did” list. From there, it will be easier to do time planning and improve your list by removing time wasters, bad habits, and to just stick to what you should be doing as a general manager. If you want to have efficient time management, remember to work smarter not harder,
Time management tip #3: Identify your time vampires
While striving to manage your time, you will sometimes find yourself interrupted or blocked by your time vampires. These are other people, your staff, your employees, or even associates who, little by little every day they sneak a bit of your time away from you. They do so by engaging you in small personal conversations, asking questions that they should already know the answer to, and firing away a lot of open-ended questions for you. In short, these vampires know how to corner you. If you figured out who they are and how they steal your time, you will know what to do when you see it coming. One of the best practices successful law firm owners do to prevent vampires from stealing precious time from you is by setting up basic rules. In your office, you need to explicitly state the specific things you want to be followed in terms of who gets to enter your office, you are allowed to meet with you, what kinds of questions can your employees ask you, and others. Make sure to post physical reminders of your “time management rules: and stay committed to them.
Time management tip #4: Discipline yourself with your time!
Commitment is easy to say but hard to do. If you are now as efficient with your time, then it is probably because you never learned the correct management of time or you just didn’t apply the time principles you got. As a form of discipline, you should also set rules for using phones and emails and for answering communications from clients. Another good practice done by entrepreneurial-minded attorneys is to time-block activities. For instance, you can spend two hours a day, from 8 AM to 10 AM just responding to client emails. Use your time study results to determine how long you should be time-blocking a particular activity.
Time management tip #5: Train your clients
If you don’t establish rules for operating your business, your clients and leads will try to impose their own rules for you. Whether you’re an associate or a sole proprietor with or without a-sociates it is important to have rules about how your client should engage with you or acquire your services. For instance, our legal systems expert and law firm consultant Richard James follows this process: First, he sets a very specific procedure before clients can even do business with him. Next, he has clients answer a series of questions by application before he sets a one-on-one meeting. After that, he offers a 30 day trial period to help a client determine if the services offered are for them. When scheduling meetings, he never shows up late. During the meetings, he also follows specific structure to lead the conversation and eliminate potential distractions or interruptions.
Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to check how well you have trained your clients:
- Have you trained them on how and when can they call or email you?
- Are they showing up on time? Do they get rewarded if they do, or are there ramifications if they show up late?
- Will you still meet with them if they forgot to bring certain documents?
- Do you still hold the appointment even if a person who was supposed to join is not present?
- Do you have a filtering process to identify if the client is someone you actually want to work?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then you may need to go back and set up a process flow for you and your staff to follow.
These five tips are some of the most fundamental building blocks for managing your time more effectively and serving your clients more efficiently. As a practicing attorney or lawyer, and the owner of your legal firm, you should have a good handle of things and not let it eat up your time. Finally, if you wish to be trained more about time management and other building blocks of managing your law firm, consider getting one of our Your Practice Mastered programs. If you have any questions about this article, you can schedule a meeting with a law firm consultant to help you through this if you are getting stuck.