Law practice is a high pressure, fast-paced field that exposes practitioners to stress and other adverse health problems. Legal practitioners who lack good time management techniques are susceptible to lawyer stress, depression, anxiety and stress-related complications.
They feel irritable, are easily fatigued, have difficulty concentrating, and are very forgetful. In most cases, their relationships suffer.
A 2017 study of the Law Society, Junior Lawyers Division’s (JLD) survey revealed that 82% of young lawyers in England and Wales admitted to being under some kind of stress.
Another research by LexisNexis revealed that 66% of solicitors were under high levels of—what some experts refer to as—lawyer stress.
In legal practice, time is usually crucial. The rules of the court provide time limits for the completion for every procedure. No respectable lawyer wants to be on the wrong side of the deadline. This explains why lawyers have incredibly tight work schedules.
Before we delve into the time management techniques that can reduce lawyers’ stress, let’s define the term.
What is Lawyer Stress?
Stress is the body’s response to dealing with difficult situations, but prolonged exposure of the body to stress can cause irreparable damage to the body’s organs.
Lawyer stress is the term used to describe the classic symptoms of stress lawyers experience as a result of the challenges of the legal profession. Depression, anxiety, insomnia and migraines are some of the most common symptoms of lawyers’ stress.
Apart from the health effects on your body, extended exposure to stress can affect your professional and personal life.
Poor time management is the major cause of stress among lawyers. The demands to deliver on time and meet deadlines leave little time for rest, recreation and other essential activities.
Understanding Time Management
In simple terms, time management is how to utilize our time best to achieve the most efficient goals. Time Management is all about doing the right things at the right time, so as to accomplish more in less time.
For lawyers, the application of time management techniques in legal practice yields the best results.
Unfortunately, the concept of time management is still very confusing for a lot of lawyers.
You often hear some lawyers complain about being too busy and not having enough time to complete their work.
While most lawyers are meticulous in planning their finances, many hardly give a thought to how they spend their time.
But like your finances, time is also a resource. Experts say that time is our greatest resource.
You can lose your finances and get them back, but once you waste or lose any time, it is difficult to get it back.
How Stress affects Lawyers
Stress reduces productivity. Research shows that workers, including lawyers are 45% less likely to think up a new idea or solve a problem.
Stress is becoming a pandemic around the world. A recent Gallop Poll showed that about 80% of workers are stressed on the job.
In Australia and New Zealand between 2013 and 2017, a study of 200 lawyers showed that 60% of the respondents experienced depression.
Stress can lead to inappropriate behavior. According to Caravan Opinion Research in 2000, 13% of surveyed workers admitted to having committed or have witnessed a fellow worker commit destructive behavior.
Time Management Techniques for Lawyers
If you are under the pressure, the following time management techniques will help you keep your head above the water.
1. Avoid Toxic Briefs
There’s a temptation for lawyers to accept any brief as long as the fee is okay. However, smart lawyers have learned to avoid some briefs like the plague.
Toxic briefs will steal your time, keep you awake at night, and make you spend much more to extricate yourself from them.
To live a more productive life, stay away from jobs that will leave you with little or no time for other things in your life.
2. Keep Your Desk Decluttered and Organized
In his NY Times bestseller, How To Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie addressed this topic. He wrote about a man whose desk was so disorganized, the sight of it filled him with angst and stress. He couldn’t find his tools, documents and files when he needed them. His productivity kept plummeting.
When, eventually, he decided to do some office cleaning, he found the typewriter he’d allegedly lost three years ago. Yes, he had no idea the typewriter had been hidden underneath the pile of clutter on his desk. Imagine all the anxiety and stress the clutter must have caused him!
Many people, especially lawyers, find it difficult to clear their tables for fear of losing any important document.
According to the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation, between 700,000 to 1.4 million Americans have compulsive disorder syndrome. Extrapolate this figure against the global population and you’ll have millions of people suffering from OCD.
But the cost in terms of working hours lost can be high. According to Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, a person who works on a cluttered desk loses an average of one and a half hours every day either looking for things or being distracted.
For better time management, only have on your table, items you need for the work you are doing at any particular moment. Every other thing should be on the shelf, cabinet, file, or any other storage device.
The National Soap and Detergent Association reported that getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40% of the housework. This is also true of law offices.
Although every work in the lawyers’ office is essential, some are more important than others.
By delegating some of your work, you create enough time to focus on other jobs. This reduces pressure and allows you to focus on the job at hand.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep disorder is becoming an epidemic. Nearly a third of working adults in the US get less than the required amount of sleep recommended for optimal health.
Most of this lack of adequate sleep is a result of long hours spent doing work in the office.
Research published in the Learning and Memory magazine in November 2008 showed the importance of sleep in stabilizing and protecting memory.
According to the study, there was a 10% increase in performance after a good night’s rest.
Scheduling is an effective way to manage your time. Creating a schedule is like having a plan of action.
A list of things to do and when to do them will keep you focused and help you prioritize your tasks.
Those without a schedule often lose focus on the essential things they need to do. Successful lawyers manage their time by making a list of what’s most important in the office.
6. Ask for Help
One of the best time management techniques is asking for help. You will be amazed at the time and resources you will save if you ask for help.
Whenever you have a job or issue that stresses you and takes most of your time, always find time to talk to a professional colleague who can give you tips on how to solve the problem.
According to William Somerset Maugham, “You learn more quickly under the guidance of experienced teachers. You waste a lot of time going down blind alleys if you have no one to guide you”.
7. Focus on One Job at a Time
Many lawyers are always looking for a way to kill two or more birds with one stone. Multitasking has become the new normal.
But a growing body of research is showing that only a tiny fraction of the population, called the super multi-taskers can effectively multitask. For the rest of the population, it is tough to focus on more than one thing at once.
A study by Mayo Clinic in 2011 showed the speed of typing among transcriptionists dropped by 16% when walking instead of sitting.
A similar study by the University of Tennessee found that treadmill walking resulted in an 11% drop in fine motor skills.
A mistake is another reason why multitasking is bad. Errors in the legal profession can come at a high cost. Lawyers should avoid multitasking and focus on one thing at a time.
Focusing on one task at a time increases your efficiency as a lawyer and helps you manage your time effectively.
8. Remove Distractions
We now live in a fast paced world where avoiding distractions is easier said than done.
Our generation has become the most informed and the most distracted in the history of humanity.
For lawyers to succeed and perform their jobs efficiently, they must pay the utmost concentration to the task at hand.
Many lawyers find themselves spending too much time on a few tasks all because of surrounding distractions.
For those who carry out mental tasks that require concentration like lawyers, a break in focus will require more time to regain it.
One of the ways to avoid distractions is to switch off all electronic gadgets like phones and computers.
Interruptions that come from your constantly ringing phones can take some hours off your working day.
Moreover, lawyers are always distracted by intermittently seeing clients while working on a case. Working without interruption is when lawyers are the most productive.
According to a study by a New York research firm, Basex, distractions in the office eliminated about 2.1 hours a day for the worker.
Another study by Gloria Mark and Victor Gonsalez of the University of California found that many workers abandoned their tasks when distracted. For those who returned, it took about 25 minutes to get back to their original task.
Also, an article in the New York Times in 2007 reported that it took an average of 16 minutes for a group of Microsoft workers to get back to their mental tasks after dealing with intervening tasks.
Lawyers lose a lot of working hours from lack of exercise. Most lawyers are so busy that they consider the time spent exercising as a waste of time.
But research has shown that exercise saves time spent handling tasks. A study by the University of Bristol in 2008 showed that 72% of employees reported improvements in time management when they exercised.
A similar study by Nielsen Survey in 2010 for the University of Bristol found that three-quarters of workers surveyed saw an improvement in their time management after they exercised.
If you want to reduce lawyer stress, stay physically active and get the recommended amount of daily exercise.
10. Have Boundaries
For many of us, saying no is difficult. We are concerned about hurting other people’s feelings that we sometimes go overboard in helping them.
Some lawyers are so involved with their clients’ problems that they have little or no time for other productive activities.
The constant demands from clients and employers make most lawyers work round the clock.
There is no doubt that lawyers honestly care for the welfare of their clients, and many are paying a high price for this.
According to Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, the most powerful word in our time management vocabulary is “no.”
Being able to say no is an essential time management skill that will help you avoid the things you do not want to do or do at the wrong time.
Lawyers should avoid saying yes to briefs and matters that will not lead to the realization of set goals.
Although lawyers come across as calm, cool, and collected all the time, the truth is that they are humans and cannot do it all.
Recognizing your limit means not biting more than you can chew, which will help you have time for essential things.
11. Take a Break
Another great time management technique for lawyers is to break their difficult jobs into chunks.
Studies have shown that taking breaks in-between tasks will help you complete tasks on time with fewer mistakes.
Many lawyers stay on their tasks and will not budge until they finish the job. But our brains begin to slow down when subjected to long periods of uninterrupted work.
12. Use Tech-Powered Time Management Tools
If you are a lawyer who spends hours working on one task, you need to start using tech-powered tools for better results.
One of the significant benefits of using these tools is that it makes your work easier and faster.
The lawyer’s work involves a lot of research, and there are software analytical tools that make research work easy.
Automating processes such as communication allows law firms to save time and money. Without lifting a finger, SMS notifications and reminders can be set up in advance to ensure stakeholders and clients receive vital information on time; for example, appointment details, important deadlines, and case updates.
Sometimes lawyers get carried away while performing a particular task that they lose track of time. Time management tools are an excellent way for lawyers to monitor and manage their time.
Lawyers can also use time management tools to stay focused and avoid distractions. Law firms can employ some of these tools to manage their time effectively.
Many law firms complain of lost hours due to distractions from other sources. According to research published by Salary.com in 2007, workers spent 34% of their office time on personal internet use, and 20.3% socializing with co-workers.
Also, a study by Tom Pisello, in 2008, found that organizations spent about $1800 dealing with unnecessary emails from co-workers.
Using these tech tools is an effective time management strategy that simplifies your work processes and maximizes your output.
As human beings, we sometimes forget our dates, meetings, and appointments, which causes a lot of stress.
But successful business people have cut down their stress by employing tech tools to manage their time.
It is one thing to know about lawyers’ stress. But it is another thing to try out the most effective strategies that can help you overcome this scourge.
Poor time management is the major reason for the stress among workers and lawyers in particular.
Lawyers are some of the most susceptible to chronic stress with its attendant medical conditions like depression, heart disease, cancer, etc.
If you want to stay healthy and happy, try out the time management techniques on our list. They will definitely help you to overcome lawyer stress.
In addition, they’ll also help you to maximize time and to boost your levels of productivity.
So implement these time management techniques in your law practice today.
About the Author:
Nonyerem Ibiam is a lawyer and legal consultant to small and medium scale businesses. He also writes well-researched contents, centered around law, technology, business, and finance. He is the founder of Law Truly.