Lawyers Can Capitalize on Time
An Analysis on How Lawyers & Law Students Can Manage Their Time Effectively
By Isabella Roman-Secor, 2L, FSU College of Law
“There are just not enough hours in the day.” This is a frequent phrase stated by lawyers who complain about time famine.[i] Time famine is the feeling that there is never enough time for everything.[ii] This is not a new phenomenon. Issues with time management have been a top complaint in the legal field. Both lawyers and law students tend to struggle with time management for variety of reasons.
To fully understand the time management problem in the legal field, I surveyed a group of Florida lawyers and law students. The surveyed revealed that:
85% use a planner, calendar, or scheduling device daily (see Figure 1).
44% acknowledge that they take time for themselves every day, 41% only take time for themselves on the weekends, 11% take time for themselves on vacation, and about 4% stated they never take time for themselves (see Figure 2).
46.15% strongly agree that they complete tasks in order of priority (see Figure 3).
7.69% strongly agree that they can accomplish what needs to be done during the day (see Figure 4).
42.31% strongly agree that they can always get their assignments done on time (see Figure 5).
53.85% strongly agree that they prepare a daily or weekly to-do list (see Figure 6).
15.38% strongly agree that they prevent interruptions from distracting them (see Figure 7).
3.85% strongly agree that they can say no to others when they ask for help (see Figure 8).
These results reveal the main areas lawyers and law students fail with time management. Most of the issues with time management can be improved but the reality is that most lawyers neglect to change their lifestyle to maximize their time. Lawyers develop most of their time management skills during law school, since law school is usually the first time these high performing students or employees face time management demands they cannot strategically avoid.[iii] Even though the time demands are high in the legal field there are practices lawyers and law students should adopt to minimize stress and maximize their time.
Tip #1: Manage Your Schedule Like a Pro
An effective calendar is the number one tool lawyers and law students should use to capitalize on time. Planning and following a routine makes a huge difference in time management.[iv] At the end of the survey every individual was asked what advice they would give to another lawyer on how to manage time. Nearly everyone surveyed reflected that a to-do list or calendar must be maintained to keep track of tasks and deadlines. It is recommended that each week you set a designated time to sit down and review your calendar to mark upcoming deadlines.[v] While doing this, it is imperative to block time to adhere to your schedule.[vi] Some of the most effective lawyers block out time on their calendars to work on specific assignments.[vii] Treat these blocks of times as you would appointments and court appearances so you are unavailable to take phone calls and answer emails. These blocks of times enable an environment of intense concentration, and it is less likely you will be distracted by the constant interruptions.
Tip#2: Busy Lawyers Must Learn to Say No
A major mistake lawyers and law students make is saying yes to everything because that leads to burnout, stress, anxiety, and depression.[viii] In the legal field it is hard to say no because lawyers are expected to handle their cases and be active in their community and the profession.[ix] But lawyers are not machines and, at some point, must say no.[x] The first step in saying no is being self-aware.[xi] You need to be aware on whether the workload has become too much and is impacting your personal and professional life. The second step in saying no is being socially aware of your environment and other individuals in your organization. There will be some assignments you cannot say no to, therefore it is imperative to know your boss and organization. The third step in saying no is declining a request in a polite and direct manner.[xii] For example phrases like “not at this time,” “that is not my expertise,” or “I would like to help you in the future” can all be said to reflect your no.[xiii]
Tip #3: The Most Effective Lawyers Delegate
The reality is that there are only 24 hours in a day. This means to be effective in your career you must delegate. The first step in delegation is to determine what assignments can be delegated.[xiv] Work that is low complexity and low importance should be delegated. The second step is deciding to whom you should delegate.[xv] Support staff or co-workers that are available and competent should receive the work.[xvi] A crucial question to consider is how much supervision or support the person would require to take on the assignment.[xvii] The third step in delegation is providing proper instructions about the task.[xviii] Delegation when utilized properly can save time and allow more tasks to be done within a day.
Overall, time management is the key to being an effective lawyer and law student. The three tips explained above can reduce stress and help ensure you are capitalizing on all the hours available in a day.
[i] Christine P. Bartholomew, Time: An Empirical Analysis of Law Student Time Management Deficiencies, 81 U. Cin. L. Rev. (2013) Available at: https://scholarship.law.uc.edu/uclr/vol81/iss3/3. [ii] Id. at 900. [iii] Id. at 904. [iv] Alex Iskold, 7 Tips for Managing Your Schedule Like a Pro, Entrepreneur, https://www.entrepreneur.com/living/7-tips-for-managing-your-schedule-like-a-pro/243962. [v] Maria Vigilante, Five Time Management Tips for Young Lawyers, The Florida Bar Young Lawyer Division, https://flayld.org/2016/09/five-time-management-tips-for-young-lawyers/. [vi] Id. [vii] Id. [viii] Lora Korpar, The Importance of Saying No At Work, LinkedIn (Aug. 9, 2022), https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-saying-work-get-ahead-by-linkedin-news. [ix] Zachary Horn, Busy Lawyers Must Learn to Say No, Attorney at Work (May 9, 2018), https://www.attorneyatwork.com/busy-lawyers-must-learn-to-say-no/. [x] Irene Leonard, 7 lawyer time management issues and how to avoid them, Thomson Reuters, https://legal.thomsonreuters.com/en/insights/articles/lawyer-time-management-issues (last visited on Oct 25, 2022). [xi] Lora Korpar, The Importance of Saying No At Work, LinkedIn (Aug. 9, 2022), https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-saying-work-get-ahead-by-linkedin-news. [xii] Id. [xiii]Id. [xiv] Yuliya LaRoe, Three Steps to effective delegation: what, who and how, Attorney at Work (Aug. 17, 2021), https://www.attorneyatwork.com/how-to-delegate-effectively/. [xv] Id. [xvi] Id. [xvii]Id. [xviii]Id.