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Effective Time Management In The Digital Age: Guides, Strategies, Phone Apps & More!

Do you ever look at the clock and think, “where did the time go?”

You know you’ve been working, but on what? For how long? Some days you can’t help but get caught up in the minutiae, whether it’s paperwork, responding to emails, or writing to-do lists for tasks you still—at 5pm—have yet to do.

This is why you’re still billing hours at the end of the day. This is why you’re unable to go home until midnight. This is why you hate coming to work on Monday mornings.

But, those wasted work days—the ones where you lose track of time—can come to an end. At least, Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email In The Morning, would have you believe.

“There are several reasons why our days have swelled,” says Morgenstern to Forbes.

“Companies continuously are trying to hire as few people as possible. Our roles are continuously changing, the world is changing, we’re in a time of rapid change—nothing is ‘business as usual’…”

And, when it comes to law firm professionals, Morgenstern is absolutely right. There’s no such thing as the “normal” associate. There’s no more “standard” for partnership track positions. In fact, law firms are changing the way they do “business as usual” through outsourcing the document review in the discovery stages, utilizing more electronic legal assistants than in-person ones, and even adding online services.

So how do law firm professionals adapt their time management styles to accommodate today’s digital world?

Try writing a time management diary.

Morgenstern suggests employees write down how much time they’re spending on a project, including when and why their workflow was interrupted, everyday. Soon, you’ll find out exactly what’s squandering your and what’s saving you time.

Management consultants are hired to help your firm operate more efficiently. But, you can start auditing your own your own activities is through a smartphone or tablet app.

Consider one of the following apps:

1. Eternity Time Log Lite – Personal Timesheet (Free)

This time management app lets you focus on the work that matters and avoid distractions through project lists and timers. The app creates reports about your time. Just review, and adjust your work habits, accordingly.

2. Klock ($19.99)

Do you know how much time you spend in meetings? On the phone? Promoting yourself? Making sales calls? Keep track of anything with Klock’s work timer and visual display of how your days “fill up”. Klock can be synched across multiple employees. That way you can track time management across team members.

3. Frecke ($19+/month)

Says one satisfied user:

“The Pulse is my favorite feature and what sold me on Freckle. With the Pulse, I can easily see and keep track of how many hours I’ve done and for which client. This makes it really easy for me to see what I need to do for the rest of the week, and also plan for the time I can use for other projects. I can quickly see that I have already put in a certain amount of hours for one client and not yet another, so I know to dedicate some time to the other client. The Pulse really helps me manage my time better and keep track of how I’m actually using my time. It even lets me see when I’m not using my time efficiently.”

And eight more apps here!

You can also sign-up for C4CM’s information-packed guide “Effective Time Management: Take Control, Tackle Work Flow Chaos and Overcome Productivity Challenges.”

This 73-page, comprehensive guide provides many strategies for tackling time management issues at your firm, from handling crises to multitasking to burnout.

You work at a law firm. Chances are you cannot leave at 5pm with everything done like Morgenstern would have you believe. However, you can make sure that each hour you bill is an efficient one, and that each hour you don’t remains productive.

The first step in managing your time? Finding out where you’re wasting it!

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The Debate On Discounting: Why Your Law Firm Should Care More About Value, Not Price

With the emergence of online shopping has come the advent of online savings codes.  In fact, in the UK, nearly 10 million consumers used an online savings code in the past year, according to Nielsen and This Is Money.

A myriad start-up websites, like Groupon, have also cropped up to show us the way toward increased savings. These websites offer vouchers and coupons for cheaper services and products to consumers, while making money in affiliate marketing schemes on the side.

It seems nothing is full-price anymore. Except, perhaps, law services.

Discounting within the field of law is, for some reason, frowned upon.

There’s no “black Friday” for attorneys fees or coupons for half-price on your next court case.

Lawyers are concerned that price equals value—that clients will believe the quality of services rendered were as low as the bill for them. Lawyers are also concerned that clients will become accustomed discounting and will eventually refuse to pay full-price for attorney’s fees or choose alternative representation in the event these fees rise.

As a result, discounting is strategy for attracting new clients or retaining old ones in a competitive market. In the recession, with an overabundance of attorneys, this type of corporate strategy of price differentiation was key.

Luckily for lawyers, however, times are looking up and fees are going up with them.

“The end of 2012 saw increased optimism among law firm managing partners, whose renewed faith in the overall economy mirrored gains in their confidence in business conditions for the legal profession,” The AmLaw Daily concludes from the latest Law Watch Managing Partner Confidence Index survey.

According to the survey, confidence in the broader economic, and particularly in business conditions for the legal profession, jumped 18 points in the last quarter of 2012. Although confidence in discounting rates was poor, an improvement in the demand for legal services will go a long way in abolishing this fee-reduction trend.

“A lot of the discounting pressure that we’ve seen over the course of a number of years now, postrecession, has been driven by the fact that there’s not enough legal work to go around,” explains Citi senior client adviser Gretta Rusanow to The AmLaw Daily.

“So, where firms have excess capacity, they are more inclined to discount their fees in an effort to keep their lawyers busy.”

Nevertheless, increased confidence in the market is a good sign for lawyers.

In the end, discounting won’t be necessary as long as your firm can offer clients:

1. Evidence of the value

Have a new client one-page summary sheet that lists your firm’s case wins, satisfied client testimonials, and the profiles of your qualified employees. Provide a short cost-benefit analysis that shows your fees are appropriate, as well as important to stave off the possibility of higher costs in the future.

2. Consistency in work product

Consistency equates to quality. Provide regular case matter updates, personal and electronic communication, and billing. Clients are less upset by invoices that they are already expecting.

3. Confidence

Increased confidence about the market or the future of the field of law is good news on the whole. But, retaining confidence in the high quality of your practice will also help your firm retain its clients. Discounting is a legitimate corporate strategy. But, does your firm care more about its price than its value?

The economy is uncertain. But, with comprehensive and confident work on a client’s case, your performance doesn’t have to be. Discounting or no discounting, a law firm’s value and ability to attract clients is created by a rock-solid reputation, time-proven results, and high human capital—not simply the price tag.

-WB

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How Cool Lawyers Spend Their Lunch Hour

At law firms, where billables matter and work days run long, making use of every hour of every day is important.

But, even lawyers must admit that an 18-hour workday hasn’t been productive each logged minute. In fact, without proper beaks for lunch or coffee, for example, concentration and efficiency will wane.

Although it may be tempting to eat at your desk or order takeaway, the lunch hour between noon and one o’clock can be used to boost other less measurable but equally important aspects of law practice.

How? Turn lunch hour into a bonding experience.

Take a tip from some of the nation’s most successful start-ups by taking action. Entrepreneurs understand the benefits to spending lunch hour in a creative way. To survive in a competitive industry, perhaps law firm managers should, too.

Whose model lunch break? Meet one of New York’s 10 coolest start-up CEOs.

Jim Moran, co-founder of New York City-based Yipit (a daily deal site filter and aggregator), has $7.55 million in venture funding in the bank. But, the buck doesn’t stop there.

In addition to an innovative business, Moran has an innovative lunch hour.

“On Thursdays, the company participates in team lunches where everyone is randomly split up into smaller groups and heads somewhere in the city to eat,” explains Entrepreneur Magazine in its profile of “How Entrepreneurs at 10 Cool Start-Ups Spend Their Lunch Hour.”

“Each team decides its restaurant choice through an elaborate system of suggestions, vetoes and countdown times called The Lunch Game,”

Why is it important? At Yipit, this lunch system is important because it puts everybody out of the office at the same time. Furthermore, The Lunch Game mixes fun and festivity into the company’s daily grind, allowing employees to get to know one another in am informal and more organic way.

“Lunch is a great way to get your mind off work and get to know some other folks at the company,” Moran said to Entrepreneur Magazine.

“Eating together once a day is how we stay connected as we grow.”

What are the benefits for the small firm? In small law firms, it’s especially important for associates to be present in the office at the same time.

At small firms, individuals have more generalized responsibilities. There’s often just a few junior associates per partner or senior associate. This can create a lonely, overwhelming, and stiff environment if the firm’s corporate culture is not properly built.

More than at big firms, to pull their weight, employees at small law firms must work together. If people take lunches at different times in the middle of the day, it will be more difficult to coordinate work effort.

In addition, small law firms behave more like family firms. Close quarters usually means close personal relationships and a need for trust.

Cultivate this asset by implementing a lunch game that boosts morale, increases camaraderie, and tears down any stiff, hierarchical relationships that might interfere with building a culture of mutual support.

What are the benefits for the big firm? On the other hand, big law firms can often produce sterile, impersonal work environments. Associates of the same year band together. Partners forget the names of younger, newer attorneys.

So, personalize your office. Take a page from Yipit’s younger generation and make a game out of lunch. Randomize the groups so that each and every staff member, associate, and senior attorney get to know one another.

Of course, lawyers tend to hold client meetings at lunch, and the idea of a lunch game might be hard for more seasoned law firm partners to swallow.

Start small. See how effective these lunches turn out among your first- and second- year associates.

If your firm isn’t quite ready for this culinary risk, Yipit also has a Friday tradition called Awesome Lunch. The company treats the team to a catered meal at the office by a top-notch NYC restaurant, reports Entrepreneur Magazine.

Certainly no high-powered partner can complain about a high-powered lunch.

When it comes to settling the bill and justifying the expense, providing lunch once a week is a fairly inexpensive way to increase professional satisfaction and retention among your employees.

Plus, every Friday, you now know how and exactly where to reach your associates in times of emergency. Your attorneys don’t need to be tied to their Blackberries when they have blackberry pie in the conference room.

-WB

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Delegation: It’s Not Just So You Can Go Home Early…

Delegating is one of the hardest leadership skills to master.

It involves a measure of trust in your subordinates, as well as a lack of control. To compound this problem, managing a law firm—though ultimately a business—is rife with personal risk.

Cases are predominately about people. Thus, what’s a stake is also personal.

This is why it’s so hard to let go. Law firm managers and senior attorneys “want to get it right” the first time, and it’s with hesitance that they cede work to others. Unfortunately, this makes for poor business practice.

When a professional refuses to delegate, it often leads to late nights, procrastination, missed deadlines, lack of full attention to the task at hand, and other inefficiencies. This is why great leaders understand how to delegate work and who to delegate it to.

Not to mention, as a manager, you can’t be everywhere all the time.

“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” said Jeffrey Pfeffer to Amy Gallo of the Harvard Business Review Blog. Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management.

A 2007 study on time management found that nearly half of the 332 companies surveyed worried about their employees’ ability to delegate. So, what did these companies do about their concerns?

Nothing. Only 28 percent of the surveyed companies offered training on the topic, according to the HBR Blog. Luckily, there’s still time for your firm.

There are two tiers of delegation within a law firm: Delegating to legal staff and delegating to associates.

Delegation To Legal Staff

Don’t overlook legal assistants and paralegals in the office.

Frequently legal staff are as equipped as junior attorneys to proofread briefs, research legal forms, or conduct other more menial tasks. And, that’s exactly what your support staff is there for.

“Most people will tell you they are too busy to delegate—that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves,” said Carol Walker to Gallo for the HBR Blog. Gallo is the president of Prepared to Lead, a consulting firm that focuses on developing young leaders.

Not true. In fact, legal assistants have a profound expertise. Furthermore, legal staff have another secret weapon and value add to your firm: lower billables.

As a result, your legal staff can devote the time and energy necessary to complete a job more comprehensively, meticulously, and quickly than their busy junior associate counterpart.

Why ask an associate to perform these duties (i.e., pleadings, research, or deposition summaries) when your legal assistant is more than capable to do the same, for less?

If you don’t yet know the breadth of skill or ability of your assistant, go ahead and test it now. Task him or her a deposition to summarize, PowerPoint to format, or trial prep work to complete that you’d typically assign a first-year. You’ll be glad you did when there’s a crunch time in the future.

Delegating To Associates

As mentioned above, law firms should teach and practice the art of delegation in order to maintain a cost-effective billing structure for its clients.

Typically, lower-paid associates take on the bulk of casework so that higher-paid associates—more senior ones—spend less time on busy work and more productive time approving, modifying, or signing off on the final product. Think about where partner time is best spent.

If your leaders are not delegating work properly, it’s likely that you’re overbilling clients.

As a law firm manager, keep track of each associate’s assignments. Ensure that the responsibilities delegated to them are commensurate with their position at the firm and their career path.

Monitor the hours of your more senior associates. When necessary, force them to delegate more high-profile work to junior associates—so young attorneys gain experience and more practiced attorneys learn to trust the team.

Like word processing, writing, or the practice of law, delegation is a skill to be acquired.

So, sign up your managers today for a course on time management (like this one by C4CM) to ensure your firm boosts its efficiency, regains control of its productive time, conquers clutter, and ends procrastination caused by poor delegation.

-WB

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For the Future: Sell Your Knowledge and Judgment – Upgrading Your Business Model

With all the talk of the billable hour being a dying anachronism (which is how it’s described by Above the Law’s Jay Shepherd in a recent post), administrators have begun to examine other business models…and with good reason, opines Shepherd, who claims that timesheets focus on selling the wrong commodity: time.  

It’s not your hour the client wants; it’s your ability to use your knowledge and judgment. 

Besides, the billable hour is based on a business model that’s a hundred years old. It was launched at the very beginning of the prohibition era “by a tiny Boston firm called Hale and Dorr”.   

Shepherd contends that the main reason the billable hour model is no longer up to speed is that, in today’s high-paced day and age,  lawyers are not able to put a price tag on the practice of  law.   As a service, the practice of law is simply not quantifiable.

As an example, he points to the effort involved in  his blog writing.  If we operate under the billable hour model and we are assuming that it took him three hours to write the blog, this would mean it should—if the post’s author billed “a comfortable $500 an hour”–be worth $1500 to the reader.  Is it?  He doesn’t think so.   

No. What the client values is how efficiently you can resolve his or her dilemma.  “Because we’re selling the wrong thing, we’re measuring the wrong thing,” he says.  

To further illustrate his point, Shepherd takes us through a couple of other failed business models: the print newspaper and records.  These two industries need to re-evaluate what they’re selling, he thinks.

In re: newspapers, the lengendary New York Times recently came out with a revamped online pricing model which still just “sells people paper and ink”.  People don’t want paper and ink, it seems.  “[T]hey want information, and they want it fast.”   It’s not cost-effective to charge less for a paper that includes a digital version than it costs to just outright buy an all-inclusive digital subscription, he quotes tech-blogger John Gruber as saying.  “This makes no sense,” Gruber notes.  

The same goes for records. From the beginning, customers just wanted to buy music…and this just happened to come packaged in records, first; then in tapes, and then in CD’s.  “Napster and Apple…sold…customers what they wanted…”    Those companies represented the future of music to the customers.

So what will the future of practicing law look like?  What it won’t include is the billable hour, says Shepherd, as, in the process of solving your clients’ problems, you’re in possession of something they don’t have and, for the most part, value highly: the knowledge of law.  And that, you can’t see or sell by the hour. 

“We sell substantive knowledge—the ‘law’—which we learn in law school and for the bar exam and in legal research,” he explaines.

So when lawyers mistakenly think they are selling activity—thus the time sheet, which easily measures this activity– it doesn’t fly.  “We [think we are selling] representation and advocacy and drafting briefs and…wills and doing real-estate closings.  

Instead, of course,  lawyers actually sell their judgment, which is what prevents them from being replaced by the likes of Watson the IBM computer. 

When lawyers are able to focus on what really matters—and this won’t happen until the industry values the knowledge and judgment of their own—only then will they be able to step off the treadmill of billable hours and into the 21st Century and beyond.  Without a doubt, “we will be practicing law differently in the future,” says Shepherd.

For more, go here: http://abovethelaw.com/2011/04/small-firms-big-lawyers-blade-runner-and-the-future-of-law/#more-69138

-EM

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Rethinking the Billable Hour – I of II – Flat Fees, Anyone?

This is the second in a two-part series on the billable hour  It should give you an idea of some of  the viewpoints which are being bandied about, as well as what other forms of billing are being utilized.  

Today we’ll cover a few alternative fee arrangements, and why they’re being considered.

Recently, The New York Times Business Section described how, despite a long-held affinity for the billable hour, newer forms of billing have–out of necessity–been creeping into the accounts receivables offices of Big Law.  It’s not that the wheel had to be re-invented; these “other” forms of fee arrangements have been around since the first deal was brokered. But the billable hour, first used by law firms in the 1960’s, is firmly entrenched.  Lawyers are still circling the wagons around the billable hour concept.  “Lawyers are having trouble defending the most basic yardstick of the legal profession…the billable hour,” reads the first line in the NYT piece.  

What is it that’s made push come to shove on the issue?  

“Clients have complained for years that the practice of billing for each hour worked can encourage law firms to prolong a client’s problem….”  Urderstandably, the current economic climate has made these same clients much more demanding. 

Evan R. Chesler, presiding partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York (where most senior partners bill around $800 per hour) has taken on the cause of trying to push the billable hour aside.  “This is the time to get rid of the billable hour,” he says.  “Clients are concerned…more so than perhaps a year or two ago.”   Mr. Chesler (pictured here) says that more clients are paying flat fees. 

There are few surveys on the subject, but partners at half-a-dozen other “big bellwether firms…say they are more often seeing different pay arrangements.”

The Times piece reflected on the possibility that the attorneys might be “talking a good game” while secretly awaiting the return of all things to their proper place (including the widespread reinstatement of the billable hour). After all, that is what has, up until now, set an exceptionally successful lawyer apart from the rest.  “[T]he best …the busiest and most costly” lawyers have always billed the most hours. 

“[L]awyers will talk about charging clients for 3,000 or more hours in a year—a figure that means that lawyers spend about 12 hours a day of every weekday drafting motions or contracts and reviewing other lawyer’s [work]…”. 

Another reason that alternative fee structures are being looked at is that firms, having almost reached the limit of how hard they can ask lawyers to work, need another way to keep the momentum going, explains Scott F. Turow, the acclaimed author (and partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago).  “Without alternative billing schemes, lawyers will not be able to maintain the rapid escalation in incomes…”  

Smaller firms and solo practitioners have long been amenable to flat fees, especially for mortgage closings.  Plaintiff lawyers have often billed on a contingency basis.  Some business litigation lawyers charge a monthly retainer and then credit that against the recovery.

According to ABA Now, “….counsel hates the billable hour. It hurts relationships.” Fixed fees, flat fees and success fees are other structures being considered across the board.  “So-called value billing, which can mean a flat rate for work for the year, frees lawyers and firms from recording billable hours.”  This doesn’t mean that lawyers engaged in such billing would lose track of what they were spending their time on.   Keeping tabs on actual work conducted would provide a record of overall efficiency—only not for purposes of charging the client.   

To read more go here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/business/30hours.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1 and here: http://www.abanow.org/2011/02/is-the-billable-hour-past/

-EM

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Rethinking the Billable Hour – I of II – Is It Efficient?

This is the first in a two-part series on the billable hour, to give you an idea of which viewpoints are being bandied about as well as what other forms of billing are being utilized.  

Today we’ll tackle the subject from the point of view of the blog Stay of Execution, written (at the time) by a Big Law associate who, while she was practicing, claims she felt inefficient under the billing system.  Then we’ll check out the information that was part of an April 2011 Yale Law School Career Development Office handout.  

So the SoE blog author starts out clucking good-naturedly: “You know, of course, that it’s sort-of taboo to ask a practicing lawyer to discuss billable hours, don’t you? Or maybe it isn’t and it just feels that way to me. It’s like asking someone their salary. It’s a yardstick that I know someone will judge me by.”  The author then proceeds to talk about how she knows she’s going to be perceived as a slacker as she’s only billed 7.5 for that day; she’ll probably end up billing a total of 8.  How did  that happen?  

Well, the lawyer got in before 8 a.m. and felt, since she had e-mails to answer, and “administriva” to tend to, that she could safely start billing at 9 a.m.  Then there were all those non-billables: that administrative assistant day do to attend, some networking (okay, gossiping with staff), a personal phone call and errand, and all those sorts of interruptions that one encounters during a typical work day.  “It takes me 10 hours to bill 7 to 8 hours,” she says.  

Another concern: at the end of 2 ½ hours of working on a project, she’s been through “half a dozen blind alleys” and written down maybe half a paragraph of “tepid conclusions”.   “Do you bill that 2 ½ hours?  On the one hand, great…that’s a nice big chunk of change,” she says. On the other hand, she suddenly realizes that those who look over her work will wonder why it took her so long to do such a simple task…and she’s still not finished.   “Maybe you should only write down 1 hour. But where are you going to get the other 1.5 hours?”  

OK, we get the picture.  Now on to Yale Law School. What do they have to say in “The Truth About The Billable Hour”?   The piece starts off by warning that it’s nearly impossible to avoid the billable hour, and reiterates the old saw that: “Most law firms make their money by billing their clients by the hour.” Then, in no uncertain terms, the equation is laid out: you must not only cover your salary and overhead, but, in order to be profitable for the firm, you must also bring in revenue. It’s simple math. Salary + Overhead + Revenue = Keeping Your Job.  They give a likely workday estimate as one where you’ll be working 12 hour days but billing 8 1/2.

How many billable hours are required? “Not all law firms have the same emphasis on billable hours.  Public interest law firms, smaller law firms and law firms outside of large metropolitan areas often require less billable hours and may place more emphasis on training, client development, community related activities and the like.”    

Government and public-interest “bosses” don’t have any billable hours as they don’t bill in that manner.  “Finally, in the current economic climate, some firms are struggling to keep their associates busy and billable hour concerns are taking a different turn.”  

To see what a typical work schedule can ostensibly look like, you can use Yale’s “online work life balance calculator” at http://www.envoyglobal.net/jdbliss/test/calculator2.htm. Stay tuned for more on the billable hour.  

To read the SoE blog, go here: http://civpro.blogs.com/civil_procedure/2004/04/billable_hours.html  

For the Yale handout, go here: http://www.law.yale.edu/documents/pdf/CDO_Public/cdo-billable_hour.pdf

-EM

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