a new way to look at and improve the way you work
A lawyer's time is the most valuable asset in any law practice of any size anywhere in the world. Yet, lawyers report an almost continuous sense of frustration that they are not as productive or efficient as they believe that they could be.
Here is a time-tested diagnostic way to look at your work and to find ways to leverage your time to be as productive and profitable as possible. It costs nothing but a little bit of your time and can produce dramatic improvements in your everyday work.
1. Review your own time records covering your most recent 30 days. (60 or 90 days would be better, but 30 days should be sufficient for purposes of demonstrating the principles.)
2. Classify each major task or activity as one of the following:
a. Value-added work
These are activities that produce measurable value, such as billable work and business development. If you can calculate a clear, measurable return on your investment of your time, then it's value-added work (even when it might not add very much value).
b. Necessary work
These are the tasks that do not add measurable value but nonetheless are necessary for the operation of your practice. Usually they do not require any legal training or knowledge, but also usually need some degree of lawyer participation or oversight.
These are activities that are not value-added work or necessary work. Although the term waste has a negative connotation, remember that waste, as we define it here, is a natural product of any business activity, even in the best-managed enterprises.
Waste is often subtle, but it can be lethal to profitability. In most of the practices in which our clients have identified and measured waste in lawyer work, they have found that, by far, the biggest form of waste throughout the organization -- among lawyers, paralegals, and staff alike -- is rework: the time and effort spent to correct errors in the work, ones that usually could have been avoided. Rework seldom can be billed to a client. It also diverts time and attention from billable work on other matters. In some law firms, we have measured rework to be almost 70% of the total time classified by the lawyers as waste.
3. Begin to take action
Look for necessary work that can be delegated. The immediate opportunities usually can be found in the area of necessary work. Ask yourself, Why am I spending so much time on this? Look for others in the firm to whom you could delegate some or most of your necessary work, someone who with a little instruction or guidance could perform those functions competently. Because it is necessary work, you might not be able to delegate all of it; but there usually are opportunities to reduce the time that you must spend on it.
Diagnose the causes of waste. This is the first step in a sustainable reduction of waste -- especially rework -- and a key component of quality management in legal services. Why are mistakes being made? Usually a relatively small number of causes account for a disproportionately large amount of waste and rework. The goal is not to fix mistakes after they are detected, but to eliminate the causes of those mistakes. Remember that every hour of rework that is avoided goes directly to the bottom line in terms of more fees or lower operating costs (or both) -- in other words, more profit at a very high return on your investment.
By delegating necessary work when you can and by identifying and attacking the causes of waste and rework, you can liberate a significant amount of time to focus more on value-added work, often almost immediately. You might even be able to allow yourself to go home at a reasonable hour.