Lawyers often take on too much. Regardless of how much we want to help or how difficult it can be to say no to a potential client, there are only so many hours in the day that we can dedicate to our jobs. This overload often leads to some common causes of malpractice claims, including failure to properly review and analyze documents, neglect, and lack of attention to detail. Admittedly, it can be challenging to predict how many hours each case will require and at what point you may become overwhelmed. Especially with litigation, you don’t always know when your cases will be scheduled for court appearances. Some may be postponed, and you could end up with a large bundle of hearings or deadlines in a short window of time. Try some of these ways to better manage your calendar before things get out of control.
Do your best before taking on a case to ascertain how long it will take and draft a timeline for duties throughout the matter. While you can’t always accurately predict at the beginning stages what will occur, this exercise can give you a better understanding of what work will be needed and when. Use checklists specific to your practice area to help you make these assessments.
1. Create case timelines before agreeing to representation
2. Set aside time in your calendar to work on each matter
In addition to meetings, administrative work, deadlines, and court appearances, block out time in your calendar to complete the necessary tasks — everything from gathering documents to legal research to trial preparation. Populate these activities into your calendar to ensure you have the time to complete them.
3. Maintain an updated active case list
Keep a current active case list so you always know how many cases you have — and their respective stages of the representation — at any given point. Consulting this list will help you determine how busy you are before taking on new clients, personal projects, or other professional commitments. Many options exist to help you generate your case list, ranging from a legal pad to an Excel spreadsheet to practice management software. Choose the best fit for you, and periodically evaluate whether it’s working.
4. Schedule regular reviews of your active cases
In addition to maintaining an active case list, consider weekly appointments to assess all active cases to ensure all issues are being addressed and your calendar is up to date.
5. Get comfortable with saying no
Lawyers can feel pressure to accept responsibility for cases and other personal and professional obligations, often because they want to help people, or the potential client is in a bind. However, it is in everyone’s best interest to say no rather than risk taking on more than you can handle effectively. Consider referring them to another attorney who may be able to assist.
Thoughtful scheduling coupled with diligent organization can help both your caseload and your clients. By taking a more strategic and proactive approach to case screening and workload management, you will be better prepared to combat overload. In short, take control of your calendar before you feel like it is taking control of you.