All Our Practice Tips
Check Your Email – at Scheduled Times Only
I would hazard a guess that one of the very first things you do when you sit down at the office is check emails. Of the 5, 10, 50, or 100 emails you are reviewing, are any of them urgent? I suspect you already know what absolutely must be done on any given day. And if something is absolutely urgent, there’s a good chance your client has called you about it already. My tip here is to set aside a time (or times) to check your emails – and that time doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning. I’ve written about decision fatigue before, the cognitive bias that you have a limited tank of decisions per day. You may want to make sure your most important decisions are made at the beginning of the day while your tank is full. A better strategy is to get to work on the most important task of the day, or, as they say, “eat the frog”.
Suppose in the middle of the day you are working on a big memo, deep in thought. You notice a slight change in the background – you have a new email! You click over and start reading it. You have to make several decisions: is the email urgent, it is important, where to file it, what to do with it, when to do it. That’s a lot of decisions for each and every email. Studies have found that after an interruption it takes about 20 minutes to return to the same state of concentration and focus you had before.
With emails constantly coming in and interrupting your work day (let alone when you are not working!), turn off your notifications and stop the interruptions. Then take control of your emails by only looking at them at set times.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Three Letters = One Powerful Question
Who could help me with this?
One of the biggest mistakes a lawyer can make is not asking for help.
Help can mean many things.
It can mean getting advice on a file. Many lawyers the mistake of going it alone, only to realize too late that turning to another lawyer for guidance would be the best course of action.
Help can be about forming a relationship with a senior lawyer in your practice area for support and guidance. I recently connected a junior lawyer seeking to develop a new practice area with a senior lawyer from a small firm. They are writing articles together now, and the senior lawyer is providing some valuable mentorship.
Sometimes help is getting external support on a practice challenge. It might be that you want to improve work efficiency, or you want to get better at business development, or you are wondering if it is time to make a transition to a different firm or practice. Whatever the challenge, getting confidential assistance is the quickest path forward. The Law Society practice advisors are there to answer your questions, and there are specialized lawyer coaches available to provide guidance.
Don’t go it alone. Whether it is simple advice on how to deal with managing clients expectations or a complex practice challenge, don’t take too long to get help. I frequently hear – I wish I had contacted you sooner – and I never hear I wish I hadn’t asked for help.
— Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)
Sometimes You Have to Spend Money to Make Money
As a lawyer, you identify with being a professional. Strongly and consistently. Perhaps, not as much with being a business person (even if you play a leadership role at your firm)?
Most of the time, that’s just fine. Some of the time, it’s not.
If you don’t see yourself as a business person, not meeting practice goals can become frustrating:
- We used to get a steady stream of referrals. Where have they gone?
- We have a good reputation among our network. Why aren’t we receiving more resumes from talented recruits?
- We hired good people. Why isn’t morale higher?…
You may need help with marketing, leadership, operations, human resource management… But you may not be sure which issue is the most pressing. Or how to even get started. Do you need to embark on a planning exercise? Hire a consultant? Bring new skills in-house?
While it may be easier to simply focus on your work and your clients, good business people know that’s simply not enough. Sometimes, you need to spend money to make money.
So, this week’s tip is about remembering that you aren’t just a lawyer. You’re also, from time-to-time, a business person. And if your firm needs some assistance, it’s your job to investigate what, how and who can help. You don’t need to have the answers all of the time. You just need to find people that do, get through that initial learning curve and set up systems that will allow you to monitor… progress!
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
Think Twice About Free Services From Google
So I belong to this listserv of mostly attorneys and everyone is talking about how they use Google for this and Google for that and all I can think is … is it just me?! Why would anyone wish Google to be scanning and indexing their business records and documents – let alone a bunch of attorneys?
*start of rant*
Of course, you KNOW – any time your data touches a Google server it is being scanned and indexed. Right?
Seriously – you are giving every keystroke/word <-as best as speech recognition can figure out the words I imagine – to Google just by using it. Oh and Google = not just search but, of course, gmail, chrome, anything done on a chromebook. All are collection points. Google was built to scan/index and it’s doing that to your and your clients’ info.
As for those using Google Voice – are you sure you’re getting all your calls? Who are you going to call if you realize, 3 days later, that your phone has stopped ringing?? See – it’s not when tech works that you have to worry – it’s when it doesn’t. Pay the $20 per month to have a business VoIP line or use unified messaging to work your cell as a business AND personal mobile device and stop using a free service, especially Google, for everything!
*Jumps off soapbox*
Note: the above is much more amusing when you read it like Edna Mode , dahling! #justsayin
Andrea Cannavina (@AndreaCan) helps law firms organize, automate and implement business process improvements to create efficient workflows and happier staff.
The Delegation Dilemma
You’ve had an up and down year, and suddenly when it rains, it pours. Clients are coming in by the bucket, tasks are piling up, and you have got to delegate your work. Your articling student ambles up to your office with a gentle knock, asking, “Hi – just wondering if you have any tasks I can help out with?” You make a mental note that this is a keen student, maybe a keeper. You hand her over a file, spend a few seconds explaining the task, and off she goes. That should do it, right?
But the articling student comes back a few days later with a barrage of questions, at just the wrong time. In the middle of drafting a big document you’ve been interrupted. You sigh and turn around, your body and your mind, to answer the questions. Before you know it you’ve spent another “0.5” explaining a task. Could you have done it sooner if you had done it yourself? Will the job turn out the way you want?
The delegation dilemma is this – you want to delegate your work but you also have to teach, give feedback, and occasionally handhold. Will the task be done better? Have you actually saved any time? Perhaps not this task. But the good news is, the better you delegate, and the better you train, the better your student/law clerk/assistant will be. And, with good work put in, you eventually will have that well-trained helper. Here’s some delegation tips.
Explain the whole file, every time. It may not be enough to say, “go look at my interview notes” and write that statement of claim. A good explanation means you can highlight what’s important and what the priorities are. You can point out the pitfalls before they’ve been fallen into, and you can hammer home the points that need support. It will take more time initially, but presumably the pay-off is a better work product. Similarly, explain in detail the task at hand. It may be necessary to provide precedents, to explain the formatting you desire, to paint a picture of the end product. If you want a well-written memo in full sentences, then say so. And if you want a short one-page note-form memo, say so. Give a sensible deadline to avoid last-minute calamities. Give enough time for your helper to complete the work, and give yourself leeway to review the work. And finally, determine the level of client contact you want to delegate. Is this a task that won’t require any client contact? Is the client too important and sensitive to delegate? Answer these questions before you hand off the work.
Good delegation can greatly improve your ability to take on more files and do good work. Make sure you review work that goes out in your name – you are still responsible for clerical mistakes, which account for some 6% of malpractice claims. Dedicate time up front to train well, and thereby resolve the delegation dilemma.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)
Get More Mileage Out of the Friday Afternoon Doldrums
What’s the most productive day of the week? Most HR directors report that Tuesday has that honour. And the least productive? You guessed right! Friday.
Monday is a contender for most productive day of the week but what tends to get in the way of the doing are the meetings and planning that tends to get jammed into the Monday slot.
To help you get more out of your Fridays and to turn Monday into a productivity zone – try a Friday afternoon planning session.
A Friday afternoon planning session accomplishes three great things:
- It sets you up for starting Monday morning with a deep dive into work, as you will have your priorities set out.
- It helps you get a head start on delegating. You can see what you need to involve a junior or assistant on and can hand that off before the weekend so they can get a running start on it Monday morning.
- You get more peace of mind because all your outstanding To Dos are out of your head and onto your list and you have a plan of attack all worked out.
Once you get in the groove of Friday planning I think you will find you never want to give it up!
— Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)
Taking Responsibility for the Future: Are You Ready?
“Lawyer Norm Keith is 58 and laughs hard when asked about his readiness for retirement.” There is an old adage that most good lawyers live well work hard and die poor”, he says referencing the quote from American Lawyer and statesman, Daniel Webster. “Many probably for appearances sake, or life enjoyment or because they are not thinking or planning ahead.” (Canadian Lawyer Mag, June 1st 2015)
As a lawyer who owns or works for a small or large firm, or in the capacity as a sole practitioner, you need to be prepared to take responsibility for your financial future. Most firms don’t offer group retirement plans and even when they do, would not properly address what would be required to replace lifestyle expenses at retirement or earlier. Embrace the fact in most cases, You Are Your Retirement Plan.
Begin with the end in mind. Waiting too long to think about retirement means, working because you have to, not because you want to. Put a plan in motion that will allow you to put your assets to work for you, so that at some point you can decide to stop working altogether. Keep in mind, planning to retire can occur only when there are sufficient assets or capital available to replace your current lifestyle.
THREATS THAT CAN DERAIL YOUR RETIREMENT PLANS
- Loss of employment. The word on Bay street is that big firms are pushing partners out, in some cases in their late 40’s and 50’s in order to thin the ranks and make room for less expensive, younger lawyers.
- Divorce. Imagine you’ve been on track with a retirement plan and then it blows up because suddenly half of your assets are gone.
- Income declining or stagnant. Due to the reduced profitability of firms
- Market Conditions. Investment returns on portfolios have generally been lower since 2008
- Illness. A disability or critical illness can mean your tapping into assets sooner than planned in order to maintain lifestyle until you recover
(Source for point 1-4, Canadian Lawyer Mag, June 2015)
—Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)
Use Your Downtime Well
It’s June, already! It’s been a long winter. Yet, somehow it feels like summer has crept up on us.
For some law firms, that can mean the beginning of a slower period. A chance for some well-earned, rest and relaxation.
Not to be a downer about it, but that also happens to be a good time to do some planning for your firm.
Whatever has been on your mind for the fall – a new website, marketing plans for the associates, a succession plan for a retiring partner or even a retreat – it will be easier to get started if you take the time to consider the strategy before you’re faced with a deadline on top of your usual client work.
So, this week’s tip is to use your downtime well. Make a list of all the practice building projects you’ve been meaning to get to. Prioritize the list. Then focus on just your top priority items. Get at least some of the preliminary considerations underway by reviewing relevant information or data, setting up internal meetings and also consulting with outside advisors to get a better understanding of what might be involved. You will be setting yourself up to have the time and space for some of that critical, big picture thinking and also to make decisions about the time and resources needed, the sequence of events and even possible collaborators.
Once that’s done, pat yourself on the back for getting ahead of the curve and enjoy the rest of your summer!
For more reading on business and marketing plans, see these past articles on SlawTips:
Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:
– Sandra Bekhor, Toronto
Mindsets Matter. Make the Shift From Fixed to Growth
Mindsets are simply deeply held beliefs, and in the words of author and professor Dr. Carol Dweck “we can always change our minds”.
Dweck discovered that people generally hold one of two mindsets, a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. And these mindsets have a strong influence on how we approach challenge.
With a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.
Dweck says that with a fixed mindset every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?
With a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities are things that can be cultivated through effort. With a growth mindset we evaluate our progress based on how we did today compared with our own past performance. Growth mindset encourages us to take on challenges and contributes to our resilience overall.
To develop your growth mindset try this:
- Notice: When do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?
- Think again: When you catch yourself making this comparison take a moment to pause, and think again.
From a growth mindset consider your own goals, priorities and standards and compare yourself to these. How are you measuring up? What action could you take to improve?
- Test: Start small. Identify an example of fixed mindset thinking and test out a growth mindset approach.
One lawyer I know, Susan, loved cooking but thought she was no good at baking and never would be. She decided to try out a growth mindset by taking on some baking. She started with a simple bread recipe and kept going from there. What she discovered was that her baking kept improving and she really enjoyed it. With fixed mindset she had decided she was a hopeless baker. With growth mindset she realised she was becoming a good baker. Now she is applying this mindset shift to other parts of her life.
Where can you make the shift from fixed to growth?
— Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)
“Chunking” the Daunting Task
Ahead of me laid a mountain of a mediation memo. On one side a complex liability scenario had to be made easily digestible. Expert and lay witnesses provided converging and diverging testimony, and I had to explain why I happened to have the best interpretation. Hundreds of pages of reports lay in store, needing analysis with a fine-tooth comb and a magician’s touch to transform it all to less than a dozen pages. On the other side the damages story awaited. Millions of dollars claimed, another set of reports and analysis. Where to start, how to start, should I even start? It’s a good thing there was a deadline.
My mind wandered, staring into the abyss (self-starter? Who, me?), as I pondered the daunting task. Many moons ago I tutored wee little ones in math. They struggled mightily with algebra, confused by the letters that represented numbers (2x+5=15? Huh?). So we approached a problem by breaking into into chunks. We discovered even more basic problems with addition, subtraction, and counting. We began with the simplest chunks, counting with our fingers as we performed basic arithmetic. And slowly worked our way through, chunk by chunk, until the problem was solved. Thus the complex task was conquered, reconstructed into a sequence of simple chunks.
I approached the memo the same way. I broke it down into sections. Liability and damages to start. Then liability into five more sections, damages into three. I booked dates and times to do each section. I proceeded with the first section, then the next, then the next, and before I knew it I was done.
So if you’re stuck on a big task, “chunk” it. Break it down into smaller parts and approach each little part one at a time.
—Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)