Monday, February 11, 2008

Staying on Top of Your Cases

Handling 30, 40 or more cases is not unusual for a litigator. How do you stay on top of all them? How do you make sure you meet all the deadlines, prevent things from falling through the cracks and push your cases toward a successful resolution? Consider the following tips.

The most important fifteen minutes of the day. After pouring your morning joe and settling into your office, you are about to embark upon the most important fifteen minutes of the day.

Whether you squander them or not is entirely up to you.
In the next fifteen minutes, you can either jump into the day’s work without a thought of how you want the day to unfold or you can develop a plan for the day (as well as the days and weeks to come). Take fifteen minutes to do the following:

Review your calender. See what is on your calender for the day, the week and the month ahead. Think about what needs to be done that day and what needs to be started upon to meet deadlines that are days or weeks away. Planning your day based solely on what is on the immediate horizon is a recipe for having a career driven by emergencies.

Keep a case list.
Keep a list of all your cases, adding new ones as they come across your desk and removing ones as you close them out. First thing every morning, review the list to evaluate what phone calls you need to make, what e-mails you need to send and whatever else you need to do.

Keep a to do list. Keep a running list of assignments on a Word or Word Perfect document which you add to as you receive new assignment and shorten as you complete assignments. After you look at your calender and case list, look at your to do list, and see what else needs to be done.

Keep a short to do list close at hand. On a post it, write down the things "you must" finish today. On a second post it, write down a few more things you "would like" to get done today. Those post its will direct your activity for the day.

Keep a clean desk.
Nothing should stay on your desk except for what you are currently working on. Everything else needs to be passed onto your secretary, another attorney in the office or the file room. To the extent you have several outstanding projects, develop a filing system in your office where you keep these documents somewhere other than in piles on your desk. For example, I use a stack of trays I keep behind me on a book shelf, where I keep documents related to outstanding projects I am working on. Once I am done with one, those documents leave my office immediately.

If it takes less than five minutes, do it! Get in the habit of doing things immediately, whether returning phone calls, responding to e-mails, or answers questions or requests by clients or others at the firm. This way, you tackle the project when it is freshest in your mind and you avoid your to do list from growing and further avoid paper from accumulating on your desk.

Staying on top of your cases can be challenging. However, by developing a system that works for you and sticking to it, you can ensure to reduce surprises and emergencies to a minimum.

1 comment:

Rob said...

This is excellent advice and as a mentor to associates I strongly advocate this thoughtful approach. I will run off my calendar for at least the next month and see what appointments I have and think about what I need to do to be ready for that appointment. I have a list of projects that need to be accomplished, and I have a daily calendar for the work week. I then start plugging into my weekly calendar the tasks I have identified as the priorites for the day. I have a block of at two hours in the a.m. and another block in the p.m. that are devoted to production. My door is closed and I take no calls and avoid e-mails. I also schedule time to return calls, e-mails and meet with others in the office to respond to questions. Granted, the law practice is not always that neat and tidy, but at least by thinking ahead I have identified my priorities. Otherwise, I find myself picking up a project and then putting it aside because maybe this other project is more urgent. I end up wasting time and worrying.
You are never too busy to stop working to think first and organize.