The Wall Street Journal recently focused on the decreasing reliance on bank debt by large law firms to finance their operations, with capital contributions by partners being used in its place. The rationale cited by those quoted in the piece relates to the perceived risk of debt, i.e., the desire for the partners to “sleep at night.” I would submit, however, that risk is created by the business decisions made by the firms, and not the means by which they finance their operations. [Read more…]
One of the most-discussed trends in the workplace in recent years is the growing number of people who make a career out of accepting a series of freelance assignments, rather than simply taking on a full-time job as an employee. A prominent example is the Uber car driver, who takes on jobs at times as determined by the driver, rather than agreeing to work particular shifts in advance. There are significant concerns with the development of the “gig” economy, since freelancers don’t have many of the legal protections available to employees, and these concerns will need to be addressed. However, the flexibility that these arrangements give to those to participate is undeniably appealing.
Last Sunday’s New York Times had an interesting profile of a Washington, D.C. area six-woman virtual law firm, the Geller Law Group. I recommend you read it in its entirety. I have some thoughts. [Read more…]
Over my almost 18 years of practicing transactional law, I’ve often been mildly (or sometimes not so mildly) exasperated by common inconsiderate behaviors by opposing counsel on my deals. Of course, our primary job as attorneys is to represent our clients, but unnecessarily agitating other attorneys does not, in the long run, serve our clients’ interests. The following are some frequently-occurring examples of bad corporate attorney etiquette to avoid:
Sending Uneditable Drafts. Often I will receive initial drafts of an agreement in PDF or read-only form. In other words, I can’t easily get into the document to provide edits. Of course, I can provide the comments in other ways, but the point is that you’ve made it harder for me to do my job. The signal you’re sending by doing this is the opposite of transparency, and if anything, it predisposes me to think you’re trying to hide something. The time to create PDF versions is when both sides are in agreement and ready to execute the agreement.
Law is a service business. Whether we like it or not, our clients tend to assess our performance based on our reliability in returning calls and emails and keeping tabs on how a project is proceeding, and less so on the actual quality of our work. Many highly intelligent and skilled attorneys are tripped up by, for example, failing to keep up with the barrage of incoming emails.
The popular professor and non-fiction writer Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational) has devoted much of his professional attention to work productivity issues. He has helped to develop a time management app called Timeful, which I haven’t tried, but to the extent it implements his ideas, it’s surely helpful. I wanted to focus here on just one of his tips, described in this Reddit thread, which is to try to get important tasks done in the morning, pretty soon after getting up, which is when most people are by far the most productive.
I’ve tried to implement this idea in a manner that works with the demands of my practice. Here’s the basic challenge: corporate attorneys have a mix of tasks that can be done in a couple of minutes or so, e.g., responding to a straightforward email, and ones that take longer, e.g., reviewing or drafting a long agreement. If you try to do one of the longer tasks while monitoring incoming email, each time you interrupt what you’re doing to attend to the email, you’re taken out of the flow of the longer task. And before you know it, you’ve been in email-responding mode for three hours, and you haven’t made discernable progress on the big item.
I deal with this by setting attainable goals for the time-consuming tasks in advance for a particular day, and then seek to get them done before lunch. So when I start work at 8am, I just take a few minutes to scan emails received overnight to make sure nothing is urgent, but then I get right down to the big tasks (like this post, which I’m writing at 11am). I keep my email screen off most of the time, and while I do check periodically to make sure nothing urgent has come in, I try to avoid responding to them while I’m focusing on what I planned to do. Then, if all goes well, I can spend the rest of the day in “reactive” mode, responding to emails that are in my inbox and that continue to come in during the afternoon, with the satisfying feeling that I’ve plowed through my to do list.
Needless to say, I can’t impose complete control over client demands. Sometimes there are meetings or calls that take up the productive morning hours, sometimes I can’t get everything done in the morning that needs to get done, and sometimes things come up in the afternoon that need to get done that day or night. However, I’ve found that at least trying to organize my day in this manner has helped me both with productivity and my job satisfaction.