Take The Frustration Out of Administrative Tasks

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It's often difficult to get lawyers to place priority on administrative tasks: staying current on time records, updating client billings, responding to CLE requirements, etc. Most lawyers are individualistic and 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 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. That defines procrastination, with failure to prioritize as the root cause.

A good example is client billing. Lawyers too often put off or even ignore completing daily time records, which really 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 go. If it's completed each day, it should be made available through shared document management to firm administrators, who can then review it as appropriate to ensure that everything is current and 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 overextended is an equally legitimate 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 those areas is by defining the consequences when administrative tasks are not achieved.

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 schedules are a viable solution to the prioritizing dilemma. Certainly, it can help satisfy the needs of different generations of lawyers working in the same office environment, each with its own concept of priorities and demands. But there is no clear universal solution. Any feasible approach must reflect not only the individual lawyer's situation, but also the needs and priorities of the clients and of the firm itself. By defining and pursuing administrative priorities on a structured basis, lawyer and firm benefit by producing a better work product, increasing client satisfaction and reducing stress.

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