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IBA: How to Save Time and Increase Cash Flow

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By Mark Hershman, Hershman Associates

Time is money. You may not be able to detail it on a year-end balance sheet or claim a whiled away afternoon as a legitimate loss, but the old adage is still true. For lawyers dependent on hourly billing, managing time is one of the most essential professional practices to be mastered.

It is also one of the most difficult to master. Seasonal fluctuations and unpredictable clients make it nearly impossible to set a rigid daily schedule and keep to it throughout the year. Chaos often reigns over best intentions. Some very specific techniques are the key. Those who practice techniques in the Professional Practice program report a substantial savings in time and increase in cash flow.

Blocking your time into like tasks is a proven tactic for increasing productivity. Not only does it increase efficiency because less time is spent “getting back into the project,” but it is likely to also reduce errors and duplication of efforts. Multi-tasking may be the current norm, but it also is a source of stress and is, usually, the least effective use of time. If you actually stop to analyze what is being accomplished well, you’ll agree that juggling several balls only means that one is likely to be dropped. Your full attention is what clients expect and deserve.

Like multi-tasking, falling slave to electronic devices is another common mistake that is easy to remedy. Continually being interrupted by emails and cell phones results in your attention being divided and a very reactionary use request tends to get more of your time. One person’s urgent request tends to get your immediate attention, whether it really is a true priority task or not. Immediate response is simply not always the best way to address an issue. This, of course, requires discipline, and for many, a major change in mindset. Many times, it is simply as easy as letting phone calls go to voice mail or shutting off the cell phone.

Scheduling everyday activities into a routine time slot is another effective technique for managing your time. For example, setting aside a 2 to 4 p.m. window for a client meeting gives a predictable and organized structure of your day. Similarly, answering phone calls and emails during a set time period and having a designated time when the door is shut and the staff considers this a “do not disturb” time for other important steps in the process.

Encouraging your team to respect and support this system is also key. Once they understand the motivation and benefits, they are likely to cooperate and even implement their own time-management tactics into their day. The result is an entire office that operates more efficiently as a team.

Understanding why and how to set priorities is also essential. This step, although it sounds simple to some, is actually one of the hardest for most attorneys. “Emergency” questions and the last-minute client always seem to push their way to the top of the Must-Do-Now list. This reactionary type of work system makes it nearly impossible to devote ongoing, quality time to long-term issues such as client development and staff management.

A diagnostic look at your working habits and challenges is the first stop in identifying roadblocks and potential for increased efficiency. Then, working with an experienced coach to enact a Professional Practice Solution is the next step. Studies show that those who have used this time-management program have reduced their work time by up to 10 percent and increased revenue by up to 30 percent. Imagine how that kind of result would affect you!•

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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