Volume 3, Number 2 • April 2005

How to Manage Your Caseload

 By Brie Ann Hopkins

I grew up in a legal household, so I thought I had a handle on the day-to-day life of practicing law. Then I became a lawyer and learned there is a lot of more work coming in than a mortal human being can handle. Today I have it under control (sort of). Here are a few things I figured out that help me to keep it all organized. This helps my sanity, helps me keep reasonable hours at the office, and helps me to provide quality work to my clients.

First, and foremost, have an ethical practice. Do not compromise your ethics as a lawyer or a person. If the case does not smell good, trust your instincts. Do not be influenced by your client or others in the legal profession. For example, I once had a “cold call” client come in and meet with me for a consultation. She claimed she had not been served with a lawsuit. Her story appeared to be solid with some documentation she provided and other family members backing her up. I had a feeling that the case was not that simple—that it did not “smell good.” I checked out the story before I took that case and found out that she and her family were not telling the truth. I am always careful to check things out whether or not it be a client’s story or a court rule or statute rather than depending on the interpretation and reading of another attorney—then, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Second, keep on top of things. Never let your cases get out of control. This is easier said than done, but is very important. I always make a list of things that I need to accomplish in the day and what needs to be done first and what can wait. There are certain days where the sky falls—take it as it comes and reprioritize your list.

Third, don’t let your clients dictate your practice. Client control is something that you learn how to handle over time—and I am still learning. Your client will make it seem like things cannot wait and are an emergency. You need to communicate with your client. Be honest. And always keep them informed. Do not make promises that you cannot keep. And don’t let your client’s influence the way you conduct your practice. I once had a client who would basically make homemade pleadings and demand that we sign and file them without making any changes. We had to tighten the reins on that client in terms of making it clear what were attorney decisions and what were client decisions. Remember: it is your name and bar number on those pleadings, and you are ultimately responsible.

Finally, try to create a healthy balance. I try to exercise every day at lunch. This gives me a break, and lets me re-energize. Keeping a balance between your work and social life will only make you a better attorney, and just as important, a happy person.

Brie Ann Hopkins practices at the law firm of Curran Mendoza, P.S., in Kent, Washington. Her practice is mostly real estate litigation involving boundary disputes, adverse possession claims, misrepresentation claims, condemnations, construction defects and contractor claims, and landlord/tenant disputes.

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