I just mailed a birthday present to my aunt Marguerite. I know what some of you are thinking: Ho, hum, where’s the remote? Time to change this channel. The more charitable may be thinking: How sweet, but what does this possibly have to do with managing your practice? Well, here’s the deal. My aunt’s birthday was two months ago—which should make the direction we’re going a bit clearer.
Getting things done on time really boils down to developing the ability to accurately record deadlines and then act effectively in anticipation of them. And this skill, or the lack thereof, can make or break a lawyer’s reputation. Lawyers who successfully manage deadlines are the darlings of the courts, not to mention their clients. Like the cool kids in high school, they have toothpaste-white smiles, every hair is always in place, their clothes never wrinkle, and they have a great date for the prom. Okay, maybe not all that, but their practices do seem to be more organized and serene.
Unfortunately, many lawyers never get the hang of anticipating deadlines—starting to act sufficiently in advance to get the work done with a little grace and a day or two to spare. Instead, it’s a never-ending game of “whack-a-mole,” or constantly fighting today’s fires with no time to think about tomorrow’s fires, much less plan to prevent them. Laboring under the weight of everything they should have already done, they are always showing up a day late and a dollar short, no matter how hard they try.
If this describes you, don’t despair. A few simple steps can help tame the deadline demons.
Let Your Calendar Manage Your Deadlines
Here’s how you do it:
Determining what steps to take in a particular matter, and setting aside enough time to do the kind of work that you can be proud of, is an exercise in professional judgment. Most lawyers run into trouble meeting deadlines when they simply create a list of what should “probably” be done on a given day, without reference to everything else that’s already scheduled, or the distractions that can arise. But if you calendar “real” appointments with your work and strive to keep them, you’ll be much more likely to complete the work on time and without stress, even if it turns out to be more complicated than you initially anticipated.Try this for a few weeks. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that work is getting done on time, and that you’re enjoying it.
Laura A. Calloway is Director of the Alabama State Bar’s Practice Management Assistance Program.