Lawyers are some of the busiest people you may ever meet. The nature of time-based billing means that for most lawyers, time is quite literally money. Even for lawyers who structure their fees differently – for example, based on project or outcome – are incentivised to work as efficiently as possible, and move on to the next matter. This can lead all too easily into work creep, as unfinished tasks pile into personal time. In this article, Insights explores four workflow hacks designed to make your life easier – and help you go home on time.
Track and block your time to minimise distractions
Being disciplined with your time can help ensure you don’t find yourself swamped with work at home time. Tracking your time can be a helpful first step. There are a myriad of time-tracking apps which can help you better understand how your time is being spent, such as Smarter Time or Everhour, which tracks time across a team.
Some apps include specific ‘time blocks’ so you can focus on a task. For urgent tasks, considering using a ‘Pomodoro timer’ which sets a countdown to complete tasks during an intense work session – often twenty minutes followed by a short break.
“Carve out time and space for focus,” advised social scientist Joseph Grenny in a story for Harvard Business Review. “Learn what your most productive times of day are, then schedule blocks of time for concentrated work on complex tasks.”
Beyond merely setting aside dedicated time, Joseph encourages lawyers to establish a ritual for solitude.
“Turn off phones, alerts, and even internet access, if you can. Give yourself a temporal and spatial oasis and then enjoy the space.”
Master speed reading
Reading quickly will always be a skill essential for a productive and successful lawyer. While research tools can help identify relevant law, cases and commentaries and provide some analysis, the subtleties still need a human lawyer to read and synthesise large volumes of information.
Fortunately, it is possible to significantly improve your reading speed, retraining the mind to read and comprehend vast tracts of information swiftly. Some apps that might help develop your ability to speed read are ReadMe! And Spreeder.
Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour Work Week, has distilled speed reading to a science. Known as the ‘PX Project’, its techniques were taught to Princeton undergraduates; Tim claims it can increase reading speed by 300% after a simple 20-minute exercise.
To work, Tim said you need to achieve three shifts in how you read.
“You must minimise the number and duration of fixations per line to increase speed,” explained Tim. By this, he means the snapshot of text the human eye fixates upon. “You must eliminate regression and back-skipping to increase speed,” he continued, referring to re-reading that occurs to improve comprehension. Overall, it’s imperative to increase your overall peripheral vision to increase the number of words you can register.
Lawyers write through every work day, taking notes, drafting briefs, completing court documents, refining submissions, and sending emails. Writing is essentially the main work product of lawyers.
There are several ways lawyers can draft faster.
Grammarly is an indispensable tool for lawyers. Not only does it quickly catch grammatical errors, it makes suggestions to improve the flow, style and structure of your writing. This means greater clarity in all your communications, which can only make arguments more persuasive.
Note taking apps such as Google Keep or Evernote can help you record and track thoughts wherever you are. Some, like Google Keep, sync from your phone to your computer, and allow you to share notes with colleagues or set alarms for tasks to be done.
Expediting formal documents might call for a voice typing app or transcription services. According to the Australian Financial Review, Meridian Lawyers recently invested $2 million in automation technology including transcription services. Their next step – an automated online documentation system for wills, employment and commercial contracts. Keeping documents in a cloud-based system like Google Docs or LawConnect can also speed up the editing process.
Get practical tech
Many of these workflow hacks have been digitised by developers into legal technology. Some productivity boosters, such as automated drafting, pre-built precedent libraries or time tracking, are bundled in legal practice management software. Specific technology also exists to aid specific tasks - chatbots to help sell online legal products or take appointments, artificial intelligence tailored to assist legal research, analysis and drafting, or apps and client portals to keep clients informed regarding the progress of their legal matter.
Practically speaking, the real challenge lies in choosing the tech that works best for you. This tends to depend on two factors: the size of your firm and primary areas of practice. For example, large firms often invest in custom-built software solutions for high value, unique areas of law for which there is no available off-the-shelf technology. Most boutique firms can use off-the-shelf technology.
Technology is practical only when you use it. Test tech options that could work for you and keep what you don’t junk after a week.
You might also like to read