Presented on behalf of the Puget Sound Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators Business Skills for Attorneys CLE Series October 16, 2007


Practicing good time management skills will allow you to be more productive and reduce stress in your practice. Developing and maintaining good time management skills is a continual process. It takes on-going practice to change any bad habits you may have.

Evidence of enhanced time management skills will result in immediate improvement to your profitability. You will bill more hours. If you capture just 30 minutes more a day at a billing rate of $250 an hour you will add approximately $30,000 to your revenue. Not a small number for a little more time.


In order to improvement your time management skills, it helps to know at what level you are currently operating. Use the Time Management Assessment Wheel to determine your satisfaction with time management skills. Here is an example of how to complete the Time Management Wheel.


2.1 Planning

Planning is essential to making effective, productive use of your time. When you receive an assignment, spend some time planning or thinking through the components. Break the objective down into small steps or tasks. Solicit enough details or information by asking relevant open ended questions from the delegator or client before you begin work. Be willing to ask stupid questions. Ask others how they have done something similar.

Writing 'To Do' lists that list all your projects and project components are essential to an efficient use of your time and are a way to reduce stress in your practice. 'To do' lists help in situations of overwhelm because they bring perspective and planning back to the situation and put you back in control.

Most of us have times in the day when we are more productive than other times. Determine when you are most productive and plan your day accordingly.

When delegating to others, plan your projects so that you give them plenty of time to do what they need to do. Don't leave your assignments to the last minute. This just adds to your stress and theirs too. By efficiently planning your time you can complete projects early.

2.1.1 Estimating Time to Complete Projects

Use a Project "To Do" list that lists all components as well as estimated time for each component. You are more likely to get a realistic estimate if you break the project down and add up the individual time components. Consider doubling or tripling your time estimate.

Don't overpromise, but rather underpromise and overdeliver.

2.2 Setting Priorities

Good time management skills require understanding how the 80/20 rule impacts you. The 80/20 rule, or Pareto principal, states that the relationship between input and output is rarely, if ever, balanced. When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results. Learning how to recognize and then focus on that 20 percent is the key to setting priorities and making the most effective use of your time.

2.3 Completing Projects: Defeating procrastination

Most common difficulties in managing assignments come from procrastination. Here are some suggestions to help you defeat procrastination.

Notice what you are afraid of and then decide to move through the fear and do what you need to do in order to accomplish the matter. Defeating procrastination will help you reduce your stress.

If you are procrastinating, it is very important to inform clients or partners at the first opportunity that you realize you will not be able to complete something in the expected time frame.

2.4 Saying No

Your ability to say no is an important component of your time management skills. It determines how much of your time will be spent doing things you don't want or need to do. Staying focused on a project requires saying no to distractions, interruptions, and other work. Interruptions are time wasters and create billing problems, so learn how to reduce and minimize interruptions by saying no.

Saying no is critical when you have too much on your plate. Say no as early as possible in order to reduce stress for you and the client.

2.4.1 Examples of Saying No

Scripts are important to develop and adopt when you have not done or said something before. Here are some handy scripts to help you say no:

2.5 Being Organized

Being organized means using effective, efficient systems that help you manage your practice's information flow. Efficient systems are the foundation for managing your time more efficiently.

2.5.1 Organizing Paper

If you have piles of paper in your office:

Maintain confidentiality of your files: 2.5.2 Managing Communications

Control your email, correspondence and voice mail by coming up with boundaries and rules regarding them.

2.6 Tracking Time

If you are busy it is easier to bill hours. Keep yourself busy by letting partners or clients know of your availability. When you learn of a matter in which you are interested, approach the lead attorney and offer your assistance.

2.6.1 Daily Time Entry

Track and record your time compulsively. No matter how busy you are don't start the next matter until you have recorded your time. Your time is a very valuable commodity - only give it away intentionally. It's important to submit timely, accurate and complete time reports daily. Make it easy on yourself and the accounting department by adhering to this rule.

2.6.2 Billing All Your Time

Are you comfortable billing all your time spent on a client matter? If not, you might need to improve your legal skills in the area for which you are rendering services. What do you need to learn in order to reduce the amount of unbillable time you spend? What do you need to do to increase your confidence regarding your ability to do your work?

2.6.3 Writing Client Bills

Clients like bills that help them understand not just how much time you spent, but what value you provided. Ask yourself if you were paying this bill "What would I want to know?"

Keeping track of your time in the moment helps you write bills for your clients with more ease and accuracy than trying to recreate the amount of time you spent on their matter at a later date. Doing so reduces stress as well.

Your bills are an area where you can create trust and respect, or lose it. So commit to making your timekeeping one of those things you do well.


Changing habits takes time and continual practice. Here are a few structures that can help you change your habits.

The earlier you adopt new behaviors or habits the easier it will be in your practice going forward. Examine your completed Time Management Wheel (see links above) to help you decide how and what new habits you will implement.

Bibliography, Resources and Suggested Readings

You may read reviews and purchase these books at my Amazon store using the links proivided.

Allen, David, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, Viking Penguin, 2001.

Covey, Stephen R., First Things First, Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Elwork, Amiram. Stress Management for Lawyers: How to Increase Personal & Professional Satisfaction in the Law, The Vorkell Group, 1997.

Morgenstern, Julie. Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of your Schedule - and Your Life, Henry Holt, 2000.

Sanitate, Frank. Don't Got to Work Unless It's Fun! State-of-the-Heart Time Management, Santa Barbara Press, 1994.

Smith, Hyrum. The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management: Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace. Warner Books, Inc., 1994.

Koch, Richard. The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Success by Achieving More with Less, Currency, 1999)

Breitman, Patti and Hatch, Connie. How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, and What Matters Most to You, Broadway, 2001


After more than 19 years as a business lawyer, Irene Leonard offers practice development coaching services as an executive business coach. She helps lawyers improve their ability to manage and market. Go to her website www.CoachingForChange.com or contact her at 206-723-9900 for more information.