Looming deadlines and juggling dozens of open cases are a constant source of stress for associates.
If you’re looking for a simple way to decrease your stress level and increase your practice management efficiency, start by creating a master case or matter list that includes every single active matter or task you’re managing.
Here's the idea: create a single place (maybe an excel spreadsheet, or a tool on your firm's practice management software) that lists the key information, case name/number, deadlines, major filing dates, etc., for each matter you handle. Once the list is created, review it regularly. Bring it with you to every case or staff meeting. Make reviewing it one of the first 5 things you do every morning (BEFORE you crack open your email), and one of the last 5 things you do before you leave for the day.
Here's why a Master List is a must have tool for every associate:
Full Picture of Your Responsibilities. The major deadlines and action items for every case you manage are in one location, not spread out on random pieces of paper or in emails. When every deadline you're responsible for is at your fingertips, you won't be sitting up at night worrying whether something is slipping through the cracks.
Prioritize. Having the key information for each of your cases in front of you allows you to prioritize. Sometimes we decide to do work based on the fact that it’s simply sitting at the top of our inbox, or because it’s an easy task we can knock out quickly. But that’s a dangerous and inefficient way to organize your practice. Instead, make a decision about the importance of the task based on hard deadlines, and relative to the other matters you’re handling.=
Avoid Fire-drills. How often do you have a last minute fire drill that involves a deadline that you knew has been coming for weeks or months? A master case list, checked regularly, will help eliminate the bad habit of doing everything last minute.
Ease of Access. Have you ever gotten an email asking “When is this due?” or “What’s going on in this case?” Make this list and you’ve got that answer at your fingertips, immediately.
Peace of Mind. At one point in my career I was responsible for managing 70+ active litigation matters–and many associates have case loads that are equal to or exceed that number. Having that list saved me dozens of hours of work and worry. And reviewing the list before I went home was my permission to relax and know things were under control.