Slow at Work? Don’t Panic. The Year is Young.

If you are one of many lawyers who bill their time, each year starts anew. One associate may have billed 2,500 hours last year and another billed only 1,500, but on January 1, they both start at zero.

So we’re now a month into the new year. If you find yourself behind target, don’t panic. [Don’t know what your target is? I walk you through how to figure it out here.]

Depending on your practice group, a slow start to the year is totally normal. Some corporate groups are very busy at the end of the year, so the first quarter is slow. Some litigation groups experience lower hours at the end of the year (judges take time off and nobody wants to set deadlines for the end of December) and then cases pick up again in January.

If you are a brand new attorney who started work in the fall of 2017, remember that you were not the only associate who started work that day. Your firm didn’t necessarily have tons of extra work sitting around waiting for newly minted lawyers to pick up the slack.  In addition, the firm’s current associates were trying to hit their hours for the end of the year, so work may have been a little slow to trickle down to you.

So what should you do?

First and obviously, ask for work. Go through your firm’s assignment process but also reach out to your mentors and attorneys you have worked with in the past. Even if they don’t have work for you immediately, you will stay on their radar.

Second, think about the kind of work you want to do. Slow periods are great times to take a step back and think critically about your career trajectory. Itching to work on an antitrust case? Approach partners in that group and ask for work. Or take some time to read up on current antitrust news and get in touch with your business development team and offer to write an article or a client alert.

Third, get on a pro bono case. Do some good and get some great skills on a case.

Photo:  Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

Dragging at Work? How to Stay Motivated

We’ve talked before about giving yourself a plan for the week to stay productive.  But sometimes, you just don’t feel like doing anything.

I find myself lagging when I have work to do but no pressing deadlines. It’s hard to get motivated to get stuff done without a sense of urgency, but it’s also not that fun having projects hanging over my head.

My solution is twofold:

  1. I block out time in my calendar for each task I need to get done.
  2. I make up smaller, internal deadlines.

Let’s say I have to research and draft an argument in a brief.

First, I take a look at my calendar for the day and block out the time I think I need to research and write it. For this project, I will assign myself 4 hours in total.

Second, I break out the project into smaller steps. I give myself 2 hours to research, 30 minutes to outline the argument, 1.25 hours to write it, and 15 minutes to proof it.

As the afternoon ticks by, my calendar notifications remind me where I should be in the process. As I complete each step, I also like to cross that item off my to do list, giving me an additional (if minor) sense of accomplishment which in turn motivates me to continue.

What do you do if following these steps isn’t enough – if you’re still struggling to get anything done?

As a last ditch effort, I set a timer on my phone for fifteen minutes and just start writing the argument. No research, no plan, just pure stream of consciousness. At the end of the fifteen minutes, what I’ve written is probably not great, in fact, it’s often pretty bad! But at least I’ve gotten something on the page, and after fifteen minutes of constant work, I usually find that I can drum up enough motivation to keep at it for a while longer.

Photo: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Bottom Photo: ThisLawyerLife

A Case Study: Attention to Detail

One of the key qualities strong associates demonstrate is attention to detail. Your job is to sweat the small stuff. But it’s not always clear what this means in practice. Let’s take a look at an example.

The task: Junior attorney is asked to turn comments on a draft brief. Senior attorney has already entered comments into the brief using tracked changes.

Junior attorney does the following:

  • Reviews the changes one by one, accepting them and making necessary edits as she reviews: deletes an extra space here, fixes a typo there, etc.
  • After accepting all comments, junior attorney double checks her work by looking back at the edited draft from senior attorney to make sure she addressed all the tracked changes.
  • Junior attorney sends the revised draft back to senior attorney.

The grade: How would you grade junior attorney’s attention to detail here?

Continue reading “A Case Study: Attention to Detail”

My Top 10 Email Tips

1. Include the case name in the subject line.

  • Receiving an email with an unhelpful subject line is almost as annoying as receiving an email with no subject. I like to use the name of the case plus a word or two describing the reason for the email (e.g., “Brady – research question”).  It will help you keep your emails organized and provide a frame of reference for your reader.

2. Follow office norms.

  • Do your colleagues skip email greetings and just get to the point? You should too. Is everyone very polite, prefacing each request with a please and closing with a thank you? You should too.  Pay attention and follow suit. If there don’t seem to be many dos or don’ts in your office, follow these: avoid overuse of exclamation points and never use weird fonts or backgrounds.

3. Skip read receipts.

  • Unless, of course, they’re the norm in your office (in which case: ugh).  Personally I hate getting emails with read receipts. It makes me feel like a clock has started on my response. Generally, assume that your intended recipient got your message.

4. Acknowledge receipt when appropriate.

  • This goes hand-in-hand with number three. If you receive an important email from a client or an assignment from a supervisor, or another email to which the sender can reasonably expect a response, send one.  Even if it’s just to say “Will do” in response to an assignment.

5. Use the “important” flag sparingly.

  • We have all worked with somebody who cannot resist adding the little red flag to all or almost all of their emails, rendering it essentially worthless. If something is truly urgent, try picking up the phone.

6. Be aware of email archiving rules.

  • You probably receive dozens if not 100+ emails a day. Make sure you know how your office handles old emails – are they deleted after a year or two? If so, put some kind of foldering system into place.  Deletion or archiving rules may also apply to your sent box. For this reason, you may notice that some people CC themselves on key emails so they can then folder them for the future.

7. Keep it short and sweet.

  • Get to the point quickly and clearly. Occasionally, long emails are necessary. If so, break them up with paragraphs or even headers. Just avoid a wall of text.

8. Proofread

  • This seems obvious, but make sure your email program is set up to spell check the body of your email AND the subject line.

9. Fill in the “to” field LAST, after drafting and proofing your email.

  • This decreases the chance that you will accidentally hit send on a draft or before adding an attachment.

10. Always include an email signature.

  • Do this for reply emails too, even if it is just your name and direct phone number. Make it easy for people to reach you.

Readers: Any more tips to share?

Pic Credit: Thomas Lefebvre (via Unsplash)

Friday – How to Be Productive: A daily plan for a more efficient and relaxed week.

This week, I’m discussing how to increase your productivity.

It’s Friday! You made it through the week.

Your main goal today is to wrap up your urgent matters for the week. After following the system, everything you need to get done today is already on your list. Just follow the usual practice of checking your list once in the morning and again post-lunch to stay on track.

Before you leave for the weekend: write up your to do list for next week. Put it somewhere you can access it on Sunday. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Remember, you will spend time on Sunday cleaning it up. But having it down in writing helps you to mentally close out this week and give yourself a pat on the back for getting so many tasks accomplished. In the worst case, it will also alert you to any task you forgot about. As always, think about future case needs and how future you will be feeling if you leave a project to another week.

Then on Sunday, you will open up your list, make any necessary tweaks, and head into Monday with a plan in place.

So that’s it! This may look like a lot to do when you see it all in writing, but in practice, putting your list together should be a quick and painless process. Staying on top of your daily and weekly tasks will help you plan your week, assess your schedule if new work pops up, and help you feel a sense of control even if, as a junior lawyer, you don’t actually have that much control over what work is assigned to you.

Let’s quickly recap the week:

Continue reading “Friday – How to Be Productive: A daily plan for a more efficient and relaxed week.”

Thursday – How to Be Productive: A daily plan for a more efficient and relaxed week.

This week, I’m discussing how to increase your productivity.

On Thursday, focus on wrapping up this week’s time-sensitive projects.

Follow the same schedule as before: check your list in the morning and after lunch.  This is a time to make tough decisions about where things stand and stay late if needed. Think about future you – is it worth staying an extra hour tonight in order to wrap up a project that would otherwise be weighing on your mind over the weekend?

Friday: End this week on a great note and do some prep for the week ahead.

Pic Credit: Glenn Carstens Peters (via Unsplash)

Wednesday – How to Be Productive: A daily plan for a more efficient and relaxed week.

This week, I’m discussing how to increase your productivity.

We’ve made it to Wednesday. Hopefully you’re getting into a groove with your list.  You check it once in the morning to plan out your day and again after lunch to assess your afternoon.

Before you leave for the day today, assess your list, just like you did on Monday and Tuesday, but with one key fact in mind: the end of the week is rapidly approaching. So, on Wednesday evening look at your list with an eye toward completing urgent projects by the end of the week.

Are you working on a client letter or a filing that needs to go out the door by the end of the week? Make sure you build in time to meet internal deadlines. You should have done this on Sunday, but you might need to refresh your list in light of the approaching Friday deadlines.

So how do you build in that time?

Let’s say that on Wednesday, you are asked to write a letter to the client.  The partner wants to send it out by 5pm Friday and will need to approve it first. This means you need to allow time for the partner to give you comments on the draft.  (In a perfect world, you would discuss this with the partner but we all know that doesn’t always happen, so you need to be proactive about planning ahead.) Depending on the length and complexity of the letter, a reasonable goal would be for you to send your draft to the partner by lunchtime Thursday. That way you can make any edits on Friday with enough time for the partner to give final approval.

When making an assessment about what needs to get done this week, don’t forget to think about:

  • Future you: Sure, deadline X is not until Tuesday, but will future you have time on Monday to knock it out? Or will you end up spending the weekend stressing about it?
  • The future of your matters: Is there oral argument scheduled for one of your cases in the next 2 weeks? Will you need to help the partner prep for it? Even if you don’t have the assignment yet, you can anticipate that you will have something to do, so try to keep some time clear.

This is also a time to reassess how much work is out of your control. As new work comes in, make sure you can keep up with what you already have on your plate. If not, reach out to your supervisors for help prioritizing. (As an aside, turning down work and juggling deadlines is another one of the trickiest things for junior lawyers to handle. I’ll be focusing on that in a future post.)

Tomorrow: Stay on track Thursday to wrap up your pressing projects on Friday.

Pic Credit: Glenn Carstens Peters (via Unsplash)

Tuesday – How to Be Productive: A daily plan for a more efficient and relaxed week.

This week, I’m discussing how to increase your productivity and maintain some sense of control over your schedule, which can be hard to do as a junior lawyer.

Welcome to Tuesday, which for purposes of our productivity plan, looks a lot like Monday! This morning when you get to work, you should check out your to do list and adjust as necessary. Did any emails come in late last night? Were you too tired to re-order and update your list before leaving work on Monday? Spend a few minutes thinking about your day and re-work your list if needed.

Then do it again after lunch.  Before you leave work, make sure your list is up-to-date and re-prioritized for tomorrow.

Now that you’re getting into the groove of your daily to do list, a few notes:

  • Regular reassessments will take just a minute or two if you’re on the right track and should never really take you longer than 5 minutes.
    • Avoid the trap of using time spent updating your to do list as an excuse to procrastinate on the real substantive work on your plate.
  • Use your list to gauge your ability to take on more work. If it’s Tuesday, and you’re at full capacity for the week, use that knowledge to your advantage.
    • Example: if you get an urgent assignment on one of your cases, confirm with your supervisor that it takes priority over tasks A and B on your list, which you had been planning to wrap up this week.

Tomorrow: Updating your list with an eye toward ending the week on a high note.

Pic Credit: Glenn Carstens Peters (via Unsplash)

How to be Productive: A daily plan for a more efficient and relaxed week.

This week, let’s talk about productivity.

Much of the stress I felt as a young lawyer stemmed from the feeling that I had little control over my days.  I would love to tell you that I devised a system to eradicate that feeling completely.  In reality, that’s just life as a junior attorney. It can take a while for work to trickle down to you. And when it does, you will have little or no input in the deadlines imposed.

But! Over time, I developed a system to help organize my schedule and take control where I could. It’s super easy to implement and in about fifteen minutes a day, you can enjoy more focused days, productive weeks, and relaxed weekends.

So what’s my grand plan? It’s simple, really: (1) a detailed to do list and (2) a commitment to reevaluate your priorities on a regular basis throughout the week, starting on Sunday.

Stay with me: I know nobody wants to think about work on the weekend. But let’s get real, you probably already do. Maybe because you had to work over the weekend. Or because on Sunday evening, emails about the next week start filling your inbox.  Or you’re still stressing about projects you didn’t finish last week.

Whatever the reason, I want you to set aside 10-15 minutes every Sunday and create a to do list for the week. Here are some guidelines:

  • Draft a bulleted list of all of the matters you anticipate working on that week.
    • Under each matter, list the specific tasks you need to accomplish.
    • Break out each project into chunks. So you are not just writing a memo, your tasks are: (1) research the issue, (2) draft the memo, and (3) finalize and submit the memo to your boss. If you’re really having trouble motivating yourself, make the tasks super specific, like “draft legal standard section of memo.”
    • Include meetings and calls from your calendar. They eat up time in your day.
    • Are you working on a long-term project like a document review? Break it out into smaller steps. Think about your pace – how many documents do you want to review per hour? Or how many assignment batches do you need to review per day in order to meet the project targets? If you have trouble staying motivated in the face of unending doc review, focus on billable hours. Set a goal of 3 hours billed on the review by lunch. Whatever your barrier to efficiency is, your to do list can help overcome it.
  • Break up your list by day.
    • What tasks do you want to or need to finish on Monday? Tuesday?
    • If you are having trouble figuring out how much you can get done in a day, estimate how much time you think a given task will take and jot it down on your list. You don’t necessarily need to stick to it, but it can help you structure your day.
  • Order each day’s list by priority of task or the order in which you need to get things done.
  • Keep the list somewhere you can access and edit it easily.
    • I keep my list in a draft email in my inbox. Keeping an electronic file allows me to shift things around as I draft it or as my priorities change.
    • Sometimes I also put each day’s tasks on a post-it note on my desk. I can reference it easily, and as I complete tasks, bask in the minor joy of physically crossing items off my list. I also jot down my time next to each task so I can track my billable hours more easily.

That’s all there is to it! On Monday morning, just take a look at your list and get to work.

Feeling a little lost? Here’s a sample list for a few days, following the above guidelines:

Monday

  • Smith v. Doe
    • Team meeting to discuss privilege review (9am-10am)
    • Review two document review batches (2 hrs.)
  • Jones v. Lee
    • Draft update letter to client and send to partner for review (2 hrs.)
  • Green v. Red
    • Client memo: research issues X and Y (3 hrs.)

Tuesday

  • Smith v. Doe
    • Review two document batches (2 hrs.)
  • Jones v. Lee
    • Finalize client letter and send (1 hr.)
  • Green v. Red
    • Client memo: Draft memo (5 hrs.)

Wednesday

  • Green v. Red
    • Client memo: Review and finalize memo and send to partner (1 hr.)
  • Smith v. Doe
    • Review two document batches (2 hrs.)
  • Attend litigation department training (2 hrs.)

Tomorrow: check back here for tips about how to follow through on your list and adjust to new demands as they arise.  Because life as a junior lawyer is nothing if not unpredictable.

Pic Credit: Glenn Carstens Peters (via Unsplash)