New Year’s Revolution

January 3, 2017 § 1 Comment

The new year. A time when one chapter is closed and another is opened, with 365 glorious blank pages on which you can write the next installment of your life. It’s a time when you can change the plot, add and subtract characters, and even make your hero (you) even more phenomenal.

Most people think in terms of New Year’s resolutions. Those are the seldom-kept self-promises that most people think will somehow turn their lives around.

Why not think instead in terms of a New Year’s Revolution. Declare your independence from some of the old ways of doing things and adopt a new constitution that spells out better, more effective ways.

Here is a handful, just to get you started:

  • Be more efficient. Stop putting everything off until you have an insurmountable mountain of work deadlines all coming due at the same time, usually when you can least afford to deflect attention from even more important tasks. Delegate non-essential and repetitive tasks to your staff. Implement  a file diary system and follow it diligently. Remember that the only way to eat an elephant is one spoonful at a time. Likewise, you will find your life easier if you break complex tasks down to their component parts, address the parts in order of importance, and let your staff help you. That does not mean that you sacrifice attention to detail. A juggler who pays attention can keep may objects flying at once; a juggler who does not pay attention breaks a lot of plates and loses a lot of paying customers.
  • Keep up with your probate practice. Make it your goal in 2017 to be one of those attorneys who file inventories and accountings on time and correctly, who keep up with fiduciaries and wards, and who never let things spin out of control. It takes some attention and the will to create workable systems to manage a probate practice, but it can be done with some effort. It’s not rocket science. Look around you; some of the most ineffective lawyers in other areas somehow manage to stay on top of their probate matters, while even brilliant lawyers get summoned to show cause for not keeping theirs in line. All it takes is the determination to come up with a systematic approach, and then to stick to it.
  • Make time for your life. The law is not your life; it’s only a part of your life. If you are being smothered by the demands of your caseload, you probably (1) are not being efficient (see above); or (2) are not doing a good job deciding which cases to accept and which to turn away, so you are overloaded. You need to have leisure time to share with family and friends, to hunt and fish, or take a walk, or work out, or read a good book, or listen to music, or go to a movie.
  • Be more professional. The new year is a perfect opportunity to evaluate your professionalism. Ask yourself whether your pleadings and other filings look like they were prepared by a top-notch lawyer, or were slopped together by a hobo. Ask yourself whether the way you greet and interact with your clients reflects sincerity, knowledge, and concern for the client’s best interest, or impatience, sloppiness, and overriding concern for fees. Ask yourself whether your interaction with judges, clerks and courtroom staff is courteous and empathetic, or whether you come across as an arrogant, demanding jackass. Ask yourself whether you treat opposing counsel and party with respect and professional courtesy, or whether you treat them like an enemy to be destroyed. The positives can be polished and improved on. The negatives need to be eliminated.
  • Be on time. If lack of punctuality is your vice, take the opportunity of the new year to change your ways. When a lawyer is late in my court, I take it that the lawyer is telling me and everyone else there that whatever she was doing when docket call or hearing started was far more important to her. Being late is being unprofessional. Clients recognize it as such, and so do the other lawyers. Judges certainly do, and unprofessional lawyers find it much more difficult and time-consuming to have their matters concluded by the judge because the judge feels that she has to check to be sure that every i is dotted and every t is crossed. If you are chronically late, you need to come up with some strategies for being timely. Whenever you are late, whether for the first time or twentieth, you need to apologize to the judge and others who were inconvenienced by your tardiness, and give a brief explanation of what held you up.

That’s a meager few, but if you can’t come up with some on your own, they are at least a starting point.

Oh, and every day is another start to the rest of the year. So if you fall short one day you can recover the next.

Every day is an opportunity to be a better person, spouse, parent, lawyer, friend.

A TICKLISH SUBJECT

June 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

How do you keep track of the deadlines and scheduled matters that are ticking away among your client files?

Most grizzled veterans know that the answer lies in a reliable “tickler” systam — some call it a “diary” system — that will call your attention to those matters.

When I practiced, the secretaries would create a card for every case file. I would examine the file and note a date on the front cover, like “7-12-12,” and return it to the secretary. She would then note the date on the file card and deposit the card in an index-card box that contained monthly tabs with numbered sub-tabs 1-31 between them. That file card would go in the July 2012 tab, between the 7-11-12 cards and the 7-13-12 cards. The file itself was then filed in its proper, alphabetical place. Each morning, the secretary would extract the cards for that day, pull the corresponding files and place them on my desk. I would then examine the files and do the work that needed to be done to keep those files current, like prepare pleadings, write letters, schedule an event, or respond to discovery. Before I returned the file to the secretary I would notate it with a later tickler date, and the secretary would process it back into the file system as described above. Sometimes a tickler date was only to make me look at the file to check its status. In any event, no file went into the system without a current tickler date unless it was finally closed. Once a month the secratary was responsible to go through the tickler cards to ensure that no card was misfiled, or that a card had been overlooked. This was the system for handling files only. There were two separate, redundant calendaring systems for court appearances, appointments, and important deadlines.

That’s a rudimentary tickler and calendaring system, and I am sure that many attorneys out there have more elaborate or more effective systems or ways of doing things.

Not all lawyers are effective at organization. New lawyers are understandably helter-skelter as they discover the intricate pitfalls of practice that await the naive. Even veterans, however, who become complacent and careless, can fall into a snare.

The point is, if you are a young lawyer starting out, you have got to get yourself organized so that you do not miss deadlines and court appointments, or fail to do it at your peril. It’s not so hard when you first open your law office and have only three files leading to litigation among a dozen or so other miscellaneous matters that don’t require scheduling. As your practice grows, however, you have got to systematize or face the wrath of a judge or a client.

And if you are a more experienced lawyer who finds yourself chronically late or a no-show, or who misses deadlines, or who can’t keep track of your probate practice, you’d better come up with a way to do it. Or else.

There are law practice managament software programs available that can do the task for you in a more streamlined way than the 19th-century system described above. Here’s a link to an article that describes some of them.

When it comes to managing your time, workload and deadlines, don’t just sit there; do something. The success or failure of your career depends on it.

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