There is no doubt that law firms are busy places. If you ask a legal professional when the busiest time of year is, however, the answer would likely be “it depends.”
Litigation teams are swamped in the months leading up to trial. Corporate and real estate attorneys tend to find themselves underwater as major deals are about to close. Firms with summer associate programs are often overwhelmed in the summer months, when work demands are compounded by the social calendar required to lure top law students into permanent positions.
During the highest volume times, everyone from partners to paralegals can find themselves stressed out and overworked. So we’ve compiled some tips for surviving and thriving during the busy seasons in your law firm.
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Build a strategy for managing your time
When you’re overwhelmed with work, taking the time to strategize time management can seem like just one more thing you don’t have time for. Do it anyway. Once you lay out all the tasks, deadlines, and personal obligations you’re facing, you can create a path for getting through it all.
For example, determine whether some tasks can be delegated and let yourself hand off projects whenever possible. If it’s not, then make yourself an hour-by-hour schedule for your week and stick to it! Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by water cooler chats, cell phones, or emails. In fact, when you’re building your schedule, set specific times for checking emails and don’t even peek at your phone until it is time to do so. The same can be done with voicemails. It is amazing how much time can be saved by avoiding these common distractions.
Set deadlines for your deadlines
Perhaps more than any other industry, law firms operate on deadlines. There’s nothing worse than an entire team running around chaotically on the day of a deadline, trying to get a document out the door. The best remedy for that, of course, is to create your own deadlines that are at least two days before the actual deadlines. This gives you time to follow up with those you need input from and to make last-minute edits.
It’s one thing to set personal deadlines, but you also have to honor them. Avoid the temptation to treat your deadlines as a buffer, or else you may still find yourself rushing around when the hard deadline hits. However, if you stick to your deadlines, you will avoid the stress of that last-minute rush. Imagine how much more pleasant life could be if you never had to face that chaos!
Put an end to useless meetings
Law firms are notorious for hosting an endless number of meetings. There are partner meetings, department meetings, paralegal meetings, client meetings, strategy meetings, team meetings, and so on. Often, however, those meetings are unhelpful and counterproductive.
To avoid this trap, give some careful thought to the meetings you attend and host each week. Are they really necessary? Do they produce a desired outcome (e.g., increased productivity)? Could a weekly meeting be changed to a semi-weekly meeting? By analyzing these questions, you may be surprised how much time you can save over the course of a year.
If you can’t avoid meetings, at least make sure they are worthwhile. Tips for productive meetings include distributing relevant materials in advance, sticking to pre-determined topics, and setting hard start and end times. If you employ these simple methods, at least your time in the conference room won’t be entirely wasted.
Let smart resources make life easier
No matter what we do, there are times when our to-do lists are simply larger than we can handle. While it is good to be busy, life can quickly spin out of control if you start getting behind on things. So, when you find yourself with too much to do and not enough time to do it, why not get help?
Of course, one of the dangers in hiring during busy times is that there won’t be enough work to justify the new employee’s salary once things slow down. A simple way around that dilemma is to hire experienced temps who can get you through the storm. Or try working with a virtual paralegal whose time can be flexible in slower seasons.
You could also enlist concierge services like those offered by One Legal. These do-it-for-you services let you pass off filing court documents or ordering service of process to experts who do it all the time. Whether you need help to make sure your document complies with local court rules or get it filed correctly and quickly, our team of document specialists can help manage your time and your stress levels.
How does your firm handle the busy seasons? Share your tips in the comments.