Now that I have your (and the Disciplinary Commission’s) attention, let me explain what I mean. In the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey talks about the principle of beginning with the end in mind. The concept? Fast forward to the end of your life and look back to answer the question, “What do you want people to say about your life?”
I suggest a smaller version of the concept. Ask yourself each week, “what do I want/need to accomplish this week?” Write down the items. As you look at the list, think of how you would bill your client for accomplishing that task. What language would you use to communicate the value you have added to the client?
Now, type (or dictate) your task list as a billing entry in your task tracking software. It is important to note that I did not say enter this into your billing software. You are not yet billing the client for any work, only creating what will eventually become the entries.
If it wasn’t clear, I am not advocating actually billing your time before you start the week. I am suggesting that you write your tasks as if they are billing entries. Maybe I should have cleared this article with my lawyer.
Here are some examples.
Time block the tasks using your calendar
Enter your task as a description for an event and schedule it on your calendar. Suppose you need to draft a summary judgment motion and the first step is to prepare the statement of facts. Write your calendar description as “Prepare Statement of Facts in support of Motion for Summary Judgment.” Add a date and time duration to the event on your calendar.
When that day and time comes, do the work and track the time. Simply copy and paste the description, add any appropriate changes, and add the time actually spent doing the work in your billing program.
Here’s the benefit: you have scheduled a block of time to do the work. You probably got a calendar reminder to get the work done. If you did this in conjunction with the other tasks to complete this week, you have a pretty good idea of how full your week is.
Track your list using a task manager
There are many task manager applications, and you can spend lots of time trying to figure out the perfect system instead of actually getting work done. Consider yourself warned.
Get started using Microsoft Outlook’s tasks. Click File | New Task. Type in one of the items you created above. Enter the description/name of the task and, if you want, the due date. You can also set reminders for a task. Then, after completing the task, copy and paste the task name into your billing application and make the necessary changes.
Create reusable and adjustable checklists
Many law practice management tools come with the ability to make checklists or workflows. If you have similar types of cases, you can already think of the steps it takes to open and manage the case. These checklists/workflows allow you to enter those steps once and use them again for each case.
For example, if you have a case in litigation, you may have to respond to discovery. Some of the basic steps are: (1) receive and review the request(s); (2) calendar the response deadline; (3) request the electronic version from sending counsel; (4) send to client with instructions for initial response; (5) receive drafts from clients; (6) finalize client responses; (7) meet with clients to execute; (8) serve on sending counsel, etc.
The overall process is largely the same for each set of discovery. Write the list once and set up the normal time frames between the tasks. For example, you might set up the “send to client…” for one date and then have “receive drafts from clients” show up 10 days after the first task is completed.
Again, if you write each task as a billing entry, the task itself can become your billing entry. Most LPM systems allow you to click some version of “send to billing,” with the billing entry pre-populated using the task name. Simply add the appropriate details and you have billed your time for completing the task.
Spend a few minutes thinking about your task list for the week. Try the steps above. If you look at an entry and don’t like what you see, would the person or company who is paying for that service?
Finally, after you are comfortable with this process, extend it to your practice as a whole. This gives you a starting point for many of your time entries, and you can always make the appropriate changes before entering into your billing system.•
• Seth R. Wilson is an attorney with Adler Tesnar & Whalin in Noblesville. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage the day-to-day technology operations of the firm. Seth writes about legal technology at sethrwilson.com and is a frequent speaker on the subject. The opinions expressed are those of the author.