Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Thanks for the great insights on the questions that start this column; here is another one: How do you manage stress? Just send an e-mail here, tweet to @babysharklaw, or post a comment here. Easy! I will compile a roundup for a future column. I thank you, and your fellow lawyers thank you!

Q: It is hard for me to track all my time. I can be in the office for long days, and I end up without much billable time. Do you have any time-tracking suggestions?

A: Yes. Tracking time is one of the less fulfilling aspects of law practice. And wishful thinking has led to many false prognostications about the death of the billable hour. But the billable hour is alive and well. And you have to learn to tame time.  Here are some tips:

1.  Pick one method – and practice. Technology is your friend, and timers can simplify the tracking process. But whatever method you use, you want time tracking to become second nature. That means picking one method (assuming you have a choice), and sticking with it. And make sure you start tracking as soon as you start working.

2.  Set reminders. If you forget to track time or forget to switch a timer when you switch a task, set regular reminders during the day. A gentle bell or pop-up notification can help you stay on track with tracking.

3.  Track all your time. Even if tracking time becomes second nature, it’s easy to start working without turning on a timer or noting the time. And that means time can escape. One solution is to track all of your time. Create timers for your billable time, non-billable time – everything. Then just switch from one to the next; a timer is always on. If you don’t use timers, come up with another way to allocate every increment of time during the day.

4.  Double check. At the end of the day, you should know how you spent all your time from when you started working until you stopped. That way if you spent 10 hours in the office and billed only 7.5, you will at least know what happened to the rest of the time. Reviewing your e-mails can help you make sure you have recorded your time accurately.

5.  Be extra vigilant when you are extra busy. When you are under stress and moving at a million miles an hour, it is even harder to slow down to make sure you are tracking your time. When you are buried in work, use that as a reminder that you need to pay extra attention to tracking. At regular intervals, stop for a moment to make sure you are capturing your time. Make this part of your routine – an essential part of doing the work. Otherwise, you can end up exhausted at the end of a long day, having performed many miracles, yet the “official record” of your day says you only worked 4.5 hours.

6.  Work in blocks. Multi-tasking can make tracking time more challenging. The problem with bouncing from task to task is that it’s easy to forget to track each one. You have to be hyper-vigilant, and you burn up lots of time on the tracking process. Start on a project and keep working for a set amount of time – or until you get to a logical stopping point. Make sure you have tracked your time, and then tackle something else. With all of the juggling you may have to do, working in blocks may not be possible. But when you can, it will simplify your life.

Good luck!

Join the conversation by submitting questions on Twitter @Babysharklaw or here. Get the new Second Edition of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks here.

Grover E. Cleveland is a Seattle lawyer, speaker and author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer (West 2d. 2016). Grover specializes in programs to help law students and new lawyers successfully transition to practice, helping them provide more value and avoid common mistakes. He is a former partner at Foster Pepper PLLC, one of the Northwest’s larger firms. His clients included the Seattle Seahawks and other entities owned by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. Grover is a frequent presenter on lawyer career success and generational issues at leading law firms and schools nationwide. Many questions in this column come from those programs. Readers may submit questions here or follow him on Twitter @Babysharklaw. He is not related to the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.

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