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3 Time Management Tips for New Lawyers

The average lawyer bills 2,200 hours a year, or about 42 hours a week. But this is just your billable hours. Lawyers often work an 8-to-6 or 9-to-7 day with a few exceptions. Some firms will expect you to bill 2,000 to 2,400 hours annually, but there are other firms that are more relaxed, with a 1,600 billable hour requirement per year.

New associates at large firms will have a lot of intense work hours, and because these new associates have fewer responsibilities and lower skill levels, they do more of the grunt work. You can expect to work 50 to 70 hours a week in the office.

Outside of the office, this figure is likely even higher.

Efficiency is what matters most, so if someone is 20% more efficient than you, they may cut their 50-hour week down to 40 hours, or they may bill higher numbers and impress the law firm’s partners.

New lawyers would do well to learn about time management skills and start incorporating them as best they can when they’re in their “grunt” years as an associate.

1. Finish One Task at a Time

Multitasking is a good skill to hone, but it will also lead to you making more errors or doing mediocre work. Engross yourself in the task that you want to complete. If you do have to multitask, break down each task into goals so that you can switch when each goal is met.

But keep in mind that there’s time lost when switching tasks.

When you switch tasks, you’re going to lose productive time to some extent. There will be times when you have to juggle a dozen tasks before lunch, and completing these tasks in order of importance is best.

2. Schedule Times for Email Responses

A lot of attorneys will sit down at their desk every morning, open up their emails and start reading away as they sip coffee. This is a great idea when you have few tasks on your list, but there comes a point when email is detrimental to your productivity.

I learned a tip from a Toronto personal injury lawyer that would only check their email after 3 o’clock, once per day. What I learned was that unless you’re waiting on an important email, it’s often a major time sink to go from email to productive work. If someone sends in a complaint in the morning, it can interrupt your entire schedule.

New associates need to be on the ball, so it’s best to check email first thing in the morning and before leaving the office. Just keep alerts on for important emails from partners who demand a quick response.

3. Start Educating Yourself on Time Management

Time management will always evolve and change depending on your project, but you have a lot of people that you can learn from. Learn from others inside of your firm, but also take the time to read a few books on the topic.

A few books that are a must-read for attorneys are:

  • Pamela Woldow’s Demystifying Legal Project Management
  • Nora Riva Bergman’s 50 Lessons for Lawyers

There are dozens of time management books, but Woldow offers a great insight into project management that a lot of the other books don’t consider.

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