Personal Productivity for Lawyers
This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.
My partner and I recently sat down and did a self-audit of our firm’s productivity. We looked at where our time and money have gone since we started the firm. We found that we spend a lot of time doing menial tasks, and as a result we end up struggling to meet deadlines and taking longer to complete substantive projects (like writing a brief, drafting client opinion letters, etc.) Three major things were taking up our time, so we found outsourcing solutions for each of them.
Dealing with Paper
We have a paperless law office. In theory. Unfortunately, nobody else in the county believes in this idea. As a result, we get almost everything via mail. One of the areas we handle is dependency work, dealing with children who were taken from their parents. For each hearing we go to (dozens in a week) we get a court packet that can be anywhere from five to fifty pages long. That amounts to hundreds of pages a week to scan, file appropriately, and shred. Everything has minors’ names on it, so it has to go in the shredder.
This whole process was eating away our time. Sure, we could do other things while the documents were scanning, but it still took up a lot of time. We also had trouble keeping ahead of all the shredding. Even with a really good shredder, it became time consuming.
To fix the problem we ended up hiring someone to come in twice a week and scan/file/shred all of our paper. It’s great. Now I can open the mail, address anything I need to, and throw the paper in a pile for our assistant. If I think I will need something for reference in the next week, I will still scan it myself. But this has cut down on about 95% of the time we spent scanning, filing, and shredding. My weekly billing has gone up since we hired our assistant. But more importantly, I’m able to finish things much quicker.
Writing Form Letters
I try to send clients a letter before and after each hearing. As our client base has grown, this is something that has fallen to the wayside. Our practice management software can use a template and produce a nearly finished letter, but it still takes time to add in the information I need. Also, sometimes the template needs to be switched around depending on the circumstances.
I have a friend who lives in another country. As a result she wakes up at about three in the morning our time. So we gave her our templates for our form letters. Now we dictate the letters and share them via Dropbox. She gets up in the morning, types the letters, and saves them to a folder. By the time I get back to the office in the morning they’re just waiting for my signature. Again, I’ve been able to increase the number of letters I send but not get bogged down in writing each one.
Answering the Phone
I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating. If you can afford it, an answering service is the best money a solo or small firm can spend. There have been countless times where Ruby has allowed me to stay focused on a task while the service takes messages. Then I can set time aside during the day to return calls.
I mentioned in my last post about Ruby that I had outsourced my call screening to RingCentral. Unfortunately, RingCentral and Google Voice just don’t play well together. But with the help of the folks over at Ruby, I discovered that you can use Google Groups to perform screening on that end. As a result I am able to screen certain calls before they ever get to Ruby, and return those calls as needed.