To Grow to Be a Successful Lawyer: Respect Deadlines and Include Time for Feedback

Being a lawyer means being a slave to deadlines. A deadline is always looming, and often more than one. On television shows and in movies, lawyers are working on only one case. In real life, this is rarely true. And having more than one case or client request makes time management all the more important. For me, time management was one of the most important skills I had to learn as a young lawyer.

The calendar is the lawyer’s friend. Or it can be, if used properly. I try to remember to put every date on the calendar. Some dates are obvious, such as when court session is appointed or certain deadline expires. But I also include self-imposed deadlines, such as a date for a first draft of a client document to be ready. In an earlier blog, I mentioned that I calendar dates on which to give status reports to clients. I find that I work more efficiently when I calendar items, because it is like it is “carving in stone” that I must get these things done on those dates. I also try to refer to these self-imposed dates as “deadlines,” rather than “targets.” Deadlines are honored more seriously than targets are.

Of course if I am working with an associate, I discuss a deadline that builds in enough time for me to review and revise the draft. After working with a young associate a few times, I am usually able to gauge how much editing guidance I must give, and I can take that into account when setting a deadline. It is just as important for me to honor my deadline commitment as it is for the associate to do so. That means that the deadline must be a “real” deadline for both of us. If we call these dates simply “targets,” the chance that they are met is reduced and we may all be left scrambling at the last minute.

I try to use my calendar with colleagues in the office so we can all stay on track, as well as maintaining my own personal calendar (which of course includes all of the shared dates and my own dates). I know some big firms have a designated person whose job is to handle the “master calendar,” but in our firm we each contribute. Of course this system is only as good as the process to ensure that all dates are entered. This is another reason why internal communication (which I also mentioned in a previous blog) is essential.

What ideas have helped you keep on track? Do you use any apps for deadlines and targets? Please add your comments, ideas, and impressions.