Time Management for Associates

We used to call it multi-tasking. You probably think of it as maxi-tasking.  Get ready to juggle six or seven assignments while appearing responsive to clients, senior attorneys, and partners. It comes with the profession! A law firm’s inventory is time—as evidenced by activities that can be billed to clients. Developing good time-management skills as an associate will help you now and as your career progresses.
 
Where to begin?
Learn to keep an accurate daily log. It will help you determine how you are actually spending your time. Every five minutes, record exactly what you did. Log your activities this way for at least a couple of weeks. Yes, it’s tedious, but it will help you get in the habit of tracking your time and help you identify non-productive, water-cooler kinds of activity. Since a certain amount of downtime is probably essential to a healthy work life, the goal is not to eliminate this time, but to learn to control it and meet your billable-hour goals.
 
What next?
Follow proven time-management guidelines that apply across professions: plan your day, set priorities, delegate, control interruptions, set aside time for concentrated work, return phone calls in batches, and so on. Also, consider these law firm–specific tips:
 
·         Report all your timeDon’t try to appear more efficient by reporting less than the actual time you spent on a project. Big mistake. You’ll create expectations that will be increasingly difficult to meet while still performing quality work. Also, you put yourself in the position of giving away a firm asset—your time. This is overstepping your authority.
 
·         Keep up with your time logsKeep contemporaneous records of your work. If you reconstruct a record of your work on a project days or weeks after the work is completed, you’re sure to either overlook or overestimate time spent. The result will be unfair either to the firm or to the client.
 
·         Know client billing policies and proceduresLet’s say a partner pops in after you’ve worked on a matter for Client A for 30 minutes and talks to you for 15 minutes about Client B. Then you go back to working on Client A’s project for another 15 minutes. Do you report 45 minutes for Client A and 15 minutes for Client B? What if the reporting increment is 30 minutes? Find out what your firm requires and stick with it.
 
·         Familiarize yourself with your billing systemA large client may have a general billing code along with three, four, or even 100 subordinate billing codes for different kinds of work and different components of a company. You must accurately account for the amount of time spent and properly record how and for whom that time was spent.
 
·         Manage your billables goal dailyDivide up your annual billable-hour goal and manage it on a daily basis. You don’t want to find yourself so far behind that it’s literally impossible to catch up by the end of the year.
 
·         Ask for time and research budgets up frontYou need to know more than the deadline and the form (memo, client letter, etc.) for an end-product. Ask how many hours you may spend on the task. You won’t know at first how much time it normally takes to do many of the things you’ll be asked to do.
 
Likewise, ask how much money you can spend on online research. Take time to understand your firm’s pricing and billing arrangements. Does the firm have a flat-rate or transactional subscription? How do those charges translate to client billings? With a full understanding, you can assess more easily where you stand relative to budget.