One of the ways we can create space in our day is by automating certain aspects of our practice.
The concept is simple: identify the tasks or processes you handle repeatedly and regularly, and create a system that removes you from the decision-making process as much as possible.
Every lawyer can work on implementing automation in at least three areas of their practice: documents, tasks, and scheduling.
Think about documents, emails or forms that generally contain the same information and that you frequently use within the office or with clients. Things like client forms, email templates, inbound discovery or discovery responses, letters, contracts, or any other documents that are part of your practice that you have to create or write consistently but that generally contain the same components, terms or language.
Look closely at your day. How many of the emails you send, directions you give to staff or clients, or documents your draft could be be simplified by creating a template or a system?
The goal is to eliminate as much of the decision-making and review process as possible. Every decision you make drains your willpower and takes up time, so if you can come up with a template or a form that you’ve already vetted, then that’s several less decisions to be made every day.
A second easy target for automation are tasks that you currently are a part of that either (1) don’t really require your attention, or (2) your response could be reduced to a set of rules that, if followed, require LITTLE IF ANY of your input or attention.
In other words, you remove yourself from the equation by setting up a procedure, a system, or set of rules so that you no longer have to be a part of the process. You no longer become the bottleneck that prevents projects or tasks from moving forward.
Here's a few examples:
Think about things that staff or secretaries or paralegals you work with ask for your input on that interrupt your day and that ultimately causes a project or task to stall out because someone is waiting for you to respond.
Think about how often you're interrupted by client calls, questions on administrative work, and file management.
Think about when discovery or motions or letters that need responses come in the door. Can you set up a system so that your team knows exactly what to do next, with little or no input or directions from you?
If you examine these areas of your practice closely, you’ll find that a lot of decisions you are making that could be systematized. Empower your staff with directions for how to take action so that you’re not involved in these kinds of decisions.
Identify the tasks or processes you handle repeatedly and regularly, and create a system that removes you from the decision-making process as much as possible.
Scheduling is one of the easiest and most effective candidates for automation.
Let’s say part of what your secretary handles is scheduling appointments for you or client meetings (and you should have someone else in charge of your scheduling). Instead of having to tell your assistant every time a meeting gets scheduled when you want it, where to have it, what to send to the client, what times you’re available, and how long the meeting should be, you can automate that process by working with him or her to establish a set of rules.
For example, you can set times in your day that are blocked off specifically for client meetings, client calls, or calls with opposing counsel. Your assistant could also know that a certain kind of meeting with a client—maybe one before a hearing, for example—should automatically get scheduled for 1 hour, while a routine update call gets 15 minutes. If you’ve made a GUIDE OR AN FAQ SHEET that gets sent to the client ahead of a certain kind of meeting, then the secretary knows to send that, too.
Taking this example further, maybe one of the things you always do is schedule a call with a client before their first court appearance to explain the process and what to expect. And maybe in advance you send A ONE PAGE FAQ SHEET with the meeting invitation that lays out things you want them to know before you get on the call with them.
You can easily automate this process with your assistant. Not only will it save you mounds of time, it’s a great way to add value to your client relationship–because the communication is timely, uniform, and provides them with helpful information in advance of the meeting.
HERE'S THE MAIN TAKEAWAY: By taking yourself out of the process as much as possible, you eliminate the bottlenecks that stall routine tasks from moving forward, save yourself the time and energy it takes to make countless administrative decisions, and empower your team with the tools to make a decision on their own without your input.