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Five tips for working smarter, not harder

Too many lawyers are clocking in long hours without the kind of results that should come from such hard work. To help, attorney coaches Mark Chinn and Mark Powers share useful strategies to help you work fewer hours (with less stress!) – while also boosting your profits.

Chinn of Chinn & Associates, a family law practice in Jackson, Miss., and Powers, president and shareholder of the Atticus Advantage Attorney Coaching Firm in Mt. Dora, Fla., teamed up as speakers for the On Demand ABA webinar “Make 2019 Your Best Year Ever: Work Smarter, Not Harder.”  

Powers and Chinn offer these ways to help you achieve a better work-life balance and improve your business:

Kill the hero. Powers says 80 percent of law firms are led by what he calls the Heroic Leadership Style. These organizations are highly dependent on a leader who is too involved in the business.

These lawyers are typically “crisis-driven” and have very few boundaries. For these lawyers, work is all-consuming.

“For the heroic leader there is no problem too small that they can’t get involved in,” says Powers, who notes that such a style makes it difficult to find the time to work on the practice and grow it. “If you’re not careful, then you’ll find that the business owns you.”

To “kill” the hero leadership style, set boundaries in your schedule and limit the disruptions that could lead to long hours at the office. Intentionally allot blocks of time for lunch, when you are going to start and end your day, to meet with clients, hold staff meetings and answer email.

Become a catalyst for team development, Powers says. Focus on mentoring to groom other heroes in the firm and on strategic direction.

First things first. “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities,” Powers warns.

He says to start with a focus and direction — outline personal goals, 3- to 5-year strategic objectives, annual objectives and then have quarterly reviews to adjust and establish boundaries.

Doing this “allows you to make sure that you get things moving and implemented,” Powers explains.

Chinn says when setting priorities, “begin with the end in mind.” He suggests a daily one-page checklist of what you want to accomplish that day.

Just say no. Being able to say no when it comes to unprofitable clients is the biggest problem most firms have, says Powers.  He says you must let go of what he terms “C and D” level cases.

Powers says you want to keep the 20 to 40 percent of client files that generate 60 to 80 percent of the revenue and not so much the 20 to 40 percent of client files that take up 60 to 80 percent of your time with stress and worries. Those are the C and D level cases.

Both Powers and Chinn caution you must be judicious and ethical in filtering out these cases. They suggest building a client-intake matrix, which is sort of a scorecard with decision criteria such as cooperation and credibility, animosity between parties, availability of income, opposing counsel, openness to settlement and difficulty of the case. Such a matrix will give you an objective look at whether you should you take a case or not, Powers says.

Chinn says those cases that he turns away get steered to other lawyers who need work. Next time, those lawyers will think of you as a referral source, Chinn says.

Hire slow – fire fast. Be selective with your team. Bad hiring decisions, Powers says, leads to “headaches, lost revenue and enormous stress.”

Don’t rush the hiring process, and focus on employees with the three Cs – character, competency and chemistry. Give 90-day success criteria and stop tolerating underperformers.

Use time-saving technology and intelligent integration. Don’t be afraid of technological developments and artificial intelligence – embrace them, says Chinn.

Among these are:

  • Go paperless. Doing so means every document can be accessed from your computer.  Tools like Dropbox and Evernote have made it easier to convert and use digital documents – at the office or on the go.
  • Use case management software. Doing so can better organize your cases, offering digital file access, calendar reminders, contact management and more.
  • Try voice recognition software. Speech recognition programs can handle 120 words per minute at 98 percent accuracy with proper training. “And, if you know how to use it, you don’t need to pay a secretary,’’ Chinn says.
  • Use document assembly software. Such software reduces the time in creating model forms, while also reducing errors typically made in production.

Chinn says he no longer has a secretary and that his workstation is equipped with a computer connected to three monitors– one for emails, one for his case management system and another for his scanned documents. “It’s all right at your desk and it makes your day so much easier,” he says.

This On-Demand CLE was sponsored by ABACLE, Center for Public Interest Law, Law Practice Division, Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, Section of Family Law and Senior Lawyers Division.

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