Author: Gary Richards

Publisher: Thriving in Law Institute

I wanted to hate what I thought might be a brash American book. I have really great people working with me. I have to say that for two reasons. One is they might read this; and second, they are. One of the good things is they know when to interrupt me and when not. If I am seeing a client I do not particularly want to be told there is someone on the phone asking if I am happy with my photocopier. This is all about time management, and part of that is having time when you are left alone.

The main pillar of good time management is the to-do list. This is something I use most days because as you get older you cannot remember many things, and you get the simple pleasure of crossing things out when they have been done. Sometimes I write something and cross it out immediately because it makes me look as though I have done more than I have. A to-do list is essential, mainly for those vital things in a lawyer’s life like buying cat food on the way home. In addition to making a list on the back of an envelope, we can also use computer diaries. Write a reminder in a week’s time to look at that difficult file. Nothing procrastinates better than a computer.

Lawyers, of course, are obsessed with time, not value. It will take a trainee an hour to draft a document, which their supervisor would do in a quarter of the time. Who gets more money? Yes I know the supervisor’s hourly rate is higher, but in legal aid it is not always possible to charge different rates. As a profession we need to move away from billing by time. The public hates it because of the obvious temptations (to them) to overcharge. We should charge by value, if not results.

How do you measure time? Some do it in hours, most lawyers probably use six-minute units, and some doctors work in minute slots. The more important the professional, the more exact the measurement. I knew a firm of solicitors that costed work in progress by piling files up and charging so much per inch with a ruler.

We are not only ruled by time but by deadlines, the client’s objectives, the decision-maker’s timetable and resources available. We know there is pressure to do more and more for less and less.

Time Management Handbook for Lawyers is not brash and its advice is valuable to lawyers in the UK. It is sensible and non-preachy. I like the way it does not throw away paper lists but develops the idea. It makes you think about billing, staff training and client expectations. It goes beyond the to-do list and encourages us to prioritise, allocate time and delegate (whatever that is).

I liked the idea of ‘meetings x 3’ – that is, allow time to prepare, have the meeting and then debrief. What we need is the time to plan and the patience to realise our days are not our own anyway. We need good staff to know when to interrupt and which calls are important, and the courage to find what the author called ‘hideaway’ time.

This book is very good value and highly recommended. If you have a moment, get one of your staff to buy it for you.

David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott