jGoodClock.jpg“Time is a unique resource. It cannot be accumulated like money or stockpiled like raw materials. We are forced to spend it, whether we choose to or not, and at a fixed rate of sixty seconds every minute. It cannot be turned on and off like a machine or replaced like a man. It is irretrievable.”  -- R. Alec Mackenzie

About Time Management for Lawyers

Good time management is an essential skill for the successful lawyer.  Lawyers who are organized and manage their time well are likely to find information more quickly, think more clearly, work more productively, utilize their legal skills more effectively, and make a better impression on clients and colleagues than lawyers who are disorganized or demonstrate other poor time management habits. 

Good organization and time management skills are not only crucial elements of a successful and satisfying legal career, but are also critical skills lawyers need to meet important ethical obligations to their clients.  A lawyer's duty to exercise good time management skills in professional matters is mandated by the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which have been adopted by many state bars.  Specifically, Rule 1.3 on Diligence states "A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client."  Comment [2] to this Rule provides, "A lawyer’s work load must be controlled so that each matter can be handled competently."  This comment implicitly requires a lawyer to exercise competent time management skills such as monitoring the status of multiple projects, defining and prioritizing a project's sub-tasks, tracking and meeting deadlines, and estimating the time required for the adequate completion of all the various components of the lawyer's workload.  Comment [3] to this rule warns lawyers to avoid procrastination as "A client’s interests often can be adversely affected by the passage of time or the change in conditions; in extreme instances, as when a lawyer overlooks a statute of limitations, the client’s legal position may be destroyed…."  And Rule 1.4 on Communication requires that "A lawyer shall keep a client informed about the status of a matter" and "promptly comply with reasonable requests for information…."

In addition to the ethical aspects, disorganization and other poor time management habits have many other drawbacks for lawyers: stress from working in a crisis mode unnecessarily; frustration from being unable to locate important documents and information quickly; dissatisfaction from feeling unproductive; and even potential exposure to malpractice claims.  For example, the following traits have been identified as malpractice warning signals:*

  • "Fails to make and follow a priority task list"
  • "Disorganized office"
  • "Disorganized files"
  • "Fails to keep personal calendar"
  • "Sloppy timekeeper."

How much does disorganization cost? Even a few minutes a day spent searching for files, papers, telephone numbers, books, and supplies add up to a significant amount over the course of a year. If a lawyer has an hourly billing rate of only $100, and the lawyer loses only six minutes a day to disorganization, that loss adds up to $2,200 annual in lost billings. See the chart below to estimate how much disorganization affects your bottom line.

                                        Lost          Hourly Billing Rate
                                        Daily     $100       $150       $200   
                                          6       $2,200    $3,300    $4,400
                                         15      $5,500    $8,250  $11,000
                                         30    $11,000  $16,500  $22,000

                                       (based on 220 workdays per year)

For all of these reasons, lawyers should strive to attain and maintain good organization and time management skills.


* "Malpractice Warning Signals," Bar Association of the District of Columbia Monthly Newsletter (Vol. I, Issue 4, April 1996), citing Nancy Byerly Jones, Director and Practice Management Counsel for the North Carolina State Bar).

For more information about time management for lawyers, please e-mail MegSpencerDixon@TimeManagementForLawyers.com.