How to stay organised as a law professional
20th April 2020
As with many professions, staying organised is key to success. This is even more true, however, in the fast-paced world of law professionals. Lawyers find themselves spinning a lot of plates at once, with clients, hearings, paperwork, emails, and meetings all demanding attention. If you are starting out in the law profession – perhaps hired in an in-house legal job – or if you have been in the business for a while but would like a few tips, this article is for you. Here we discuss how to stay organised as a law professional, from mastering time management to knowing when to delegate.
Time management is a skill we would all benefit from and it is most certainly a key component of an organised legal professional. Knowing how to manage your time, what to spend it on and when, will help you to prioritise work and give the proper attention to everything that deserves it.
The team at TimeSolv – a legal time tracking solution – comment on the importance of time management: “Time management is a major concern for attorneys. With numerous clients depending on you for stellar service, disorganisation can quickly turn into missed deadlines, overwhelming stress, and even professional violations.”
Ros, founder and lead coach at The Career Coach, shared her advice with us for lawyers and says that learning what is a priority and understanding your own is vital: “Since law firms make their money by selling their time, staying organized, whatever level you’re at is key. The expectations placed on you will change as you progress up the ladder (delighting clients, supervising and line managing junior lawyers, networking for new clients and ultimately, managing the firm). But whatever stage you’re at you need to balance your firm’s objectives and the results you are being measured on - with your own professional (career goals, CPD) and personal objectives.”
Ros advises that learning to say “no” can be a big help when trying to organise your workload and sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything: “I recall coaching an in-house lawyer who was terrified of pushing back a director who had a habit of coming in late in the day with urgent requests. We worked on how she would say ‘no’ the next time she was overcommitted and practised it a few times before the session ended.
“One day the same director asked her to do something one Friday afternoon when she had another commitment that evening, and she found herself saying ‘no’, just as we’d practised. The director cocked his eyebrow in surprise, went quiet for a moment, before saying, ‘Not a problem.’ And my client discovered that saying no sometimes increases other people’s respect for you. She had discovered the power of her voice!
“Besides saying “no”, you can also defer, delegate, counteroffer or renegotiate (e.g. extend the length of time, take parts out of the deliverables to keep to original timeline).”
Creating an organised and detailed plan for the day helps, as does working on the most difficult tasks first. Many find that emails are a massive time-drainer, so setting aside some specific time for this task each day – instead of dipping in whenever – could be a smart move. Ros suggests: "When doing email, have a set time for checking it. 1) Deal with it if it takes less than 5 minutes, 2) Book time in for answering if it takes more time and 3) File it away (if needed for reference later) or delete.”
Go paperless where possible
Many businesses and law firms these days have gone paperless but if you haven’t you should certainly consider it. Law firms and offices can quickly become full to the brim with documents of every type, from contracts to court papers. By digitising you will certainly make things easier for yourself. Even still, you will need to be organised with your digital filing. Are your files organised efficiently? Are they easy to find? Do you utilise a uniform naming convention? Spend the time to organise these documents so you can save time later.
Use the right technology
Technology is all around us and every law firm in the UK will be utilising it to some extent but using the right type of technology is key. Where should you be using technology to help with organising? Exhibit software experts Agile Law suggest: “Using law office billing software to track billable hours is more efficient than paper billing and gives you a searchable record of all accounting transactions.”
Utilising calendar software is also a good idea as is file sharing and project management programmes, helping you to collaborate with colleagues and speed up the process around the office.
Utilise your assistant
Even if you have an assistant, you won’t stand a chance of being organised if you don’t utilise them effectively. Many hold back on delegating responsibilities and relying on assistants because of a desire to do everything themselves, but this is a mistake. They are there to support you and can greatly help in your attempt to become more organised. Legal website Above the Law has the following suggestion:
“Write out a list of the things you want to shift to someone else. Check off those things that don’t require legal skills and hand them over to your assistant. Discuss with your assistant if and how they can take on the tasks on your list.”
With a little more time on your hands due to delegating, you will find organising far much simpler and your workload easier to stay on top of. Ros from The Career Coach shares her thoughts on the importance of delegating:
“All professionals find delegating hard because of their desire for quality and accuracy. But if you don’t learn this you won’t be able to progress your career, or you will be perceived as being a micromanager or unable to develop your people if given a team. Identify the risks, learn to coach others in a way that you plan together - how the task will be done and when it’ll be reviewed. If you can learn to trust others, they will trust you. If you need to have a contingency plan for if it does go pear-shaped, then do. They may not do it your way but as long as it is good enough for the client/reader, that’s fine.”
A disorganised personal life often makes for a disorganised law professional. If you are finding that your work is suffering it might be the case that you need to start looking after yourself a bit more. Practising self-care can help with this, such as knowing when to take a break and not overworking, carving out time to relax in the evenings, and getting regular exercise. Everything from eating healthily to pampering yourself from time to time can help improve your mental state and therefore benefit your work-mindset.
Also try and become more organised at home, keep your home tidy, practice time management in your personal life etc. These skills will then transfer to your career.
How to be an organised law student
If you are a law student and looking for ways to become more organised, much of the above will be a big help and you can also check out the below video:
Tips for being organised as a lawyer
- Time management
- Go paperless where possible
- Utilise your assistant
- Use the right technology
- Practice self-care
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