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Posts published in “Time Management & Organization”

Holiday Tips for Solo or Small Firm Lawyers (Before Closing Office for Holidays)

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The holiday season should be relaxing, worry-free and most of all, safe. That's why it is a good idea to prepare your office before you close for the holidays. Below are a few tips from the Practice Management Assistance Program to help you get started.

Several Weeks Prior to the Holiday

  1. If at all possible, ask another lawyer to be your back up or successor in case of emergencies. You can execute an authorization and consent to enter the law firm offices or adapt the Bar’s “Agreement to Close a Law Practice” to formalize your agreement with the emergency attorney. The agreement includes Power of Attorney language and a section on specific powers granted to the backup lawyer. (The Bar strongly recommends solos have a full agreement regardless of whether you are going on vacation. Also, you can designate a successor on the Bar’s website.) When you are out of the office for vacation or other reasons, and you are unable to find another lawyer to be your backup, you may choose to entrust a trusted staff member or family member. (The book, “Being Prepared: A Lawyer’s Guide for Dealing with Disability or Unexpected Events” by Cohen and Cohen is recommended for forms and checklists.)
  2. Let your backup know how to reach you and set expectations as to what constitutes an emergency warranting your intervention.
  3. Prepare an envelope to be opened by your backup with information to be used in emergencies. Include crucial passwords, the key to your mailbox, locked office/file cabinets, and information about bank accounts/trusts. Put this envelope in a safe location or give to your backup.
  4. Plan your schedule carefully. Share your plans with coworkers or with your successor. Make sure any office personnel have all the information they need to assist clients and reach you.
  5. Notify current clients in writing of your holiday schedule and emergency contact person.
  6. Post a holiday office hours schedule in your office, on your website, or in your email signature line so clients know in advance when you plan to be closed.
  7. Request protection from all courts you may be called before while you are away.
  8. Set clear goals for what you need to accomplish before you leave and what remains unfinished for when you return.
  9. Make sure security software and backups are working properly.

 

One Week Prior to the Holiday

  1. Review all client files and prepare a client summary of each matter.
  2. Attempt to resolve any potential issues or questions with clients or other counsel early. Talk to your back up lawyer about on-going matters and any potential problems to be aware of.
  3. Monitor your email inbox and physical mail and categorize high priority messages.
  4. Set automatic payments for operating expenses if necessary.
  5. Send outstanding invoices.
  6. Test your data backups and make sure all your data is backed up to an external location.
  7. Check physical locks to all windows, doors, access points.
  8. Test locks to client files, file closets, and office.
  9. Clean off your desk.

 

Last Day at Work

  1. Set an out of office greeting on voicemail and email. Include contact information for your emergency contact.
  2. Remove perishable food items from refrigerator and cabinets.
  3. Organize desk and prepare a checklist so you’ll know what you need to do when you return.
  4. Remind staff where you would like your mail and messages to go while you are out.
  5. Be sure your back up lawyer has all the information they need before you leave.
  6. Remind staff to set out of office greetings if they are on vacation too.
  7. Lock up client files, file closets, and your office

 

When You Return from Holiday

  1. Turn off holiday voicemail greeting/email out of office (if not automatic).
  2. Talk to your back-up lawyer to determine if you need to resolve any issues.
  3. Meet with staff to see what issues have come up while they were out and work to answer questions, solve problems, and delegate.
  4. Set aside 1-2 hours to sort through urgent messages, priorities, etc.
  5. Return calls and emails promptly and open snail mail and respond.

Contact pmap@scbar.org with any questions or if you need additional assistance.

Time Management Tips

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Are you a good time manager? If you are thinking “no,” then you are not alone. Here are 14 tips to help you manage your time better:

  • Carry a schedule or find a good calendar app for your phone. Record all thoughts and activities for the week.
  • Write a to-do checklist. Break down tasks into categories like URGENT, TODAY, THIS WEEK, THIS MONTH, THIS YEAR. Spend time first thing in the morning to plan your day.
  • Assign every activity or task with an appointment time. Leave enough time for interruptions.
  • Eat a frog. Whatever is your most dreaded task of the day, do that one first.
  • Learn to say no to commitments you do not care about or don’t have time for.
  • Purchase your favorite case management software and put it to work for you.
  • Put up a “do not disturb” sign when you have to get work done.
  • Close out of email and place your phone on mute. Make appointment times during the day to answer email and phone calls (9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m.). Think of those as people walking into your office without an appointment.
  • Cut your smartphone on silent or if the option is available, set your phone to automatically send out a text message or voicemail to texters/callers when you are unavailable.
  • Avoid social media websites. Make appointments to check those during the morning or evening.
  • Set a timer or your stopwatch to challenge yourself to do a certain task in a certain amount of time.
  • Ask your staff to follow these tips for their own schedules and encourage them to meet these goals.
  • Review what you did not get done and reevaluate your checklist.
  • Remember Rome was not conquered in a day.

Check out these helpful website tips to help you manage your time wisely:

Also, stop by the Lending Library to check out the latest resources in time management plus much more! Visit the Lending Library page online or stop by the South Carolina Bar main building located at 950 Taylor Street, Columbia, SC and browse our collection.

Email pmap@scbar.org with any questions. We're here to help you with resources to manage your practice!

Don’t Blink: It’s Time to Prepare!

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If a natural disaster, freak accident, or unexpected illness were to happen, would you and your office be prepared?

Hurricanes, Floods, Tornadoes, Natural Disasters,  Freak Accidents, Unexpected Situations - OH MY!

June 1 marks the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season. However, now, is the perfect time to start thinking about other unexpected situations as well. What can you and your firm do to be prepared? Here are 12 important tips to help you:

  1. Determine your risk. Secure an insurance check up.
  2. Develop an evacuation plan.
  3. Put together a disaster supply kit.
  4. Develop an emergency contact list of your office staff and of individuals/businesses/entities, etc. that you or your staff contact on a regular basis. Store in a safe location both onsite and offsite.
  5. Strengthen your office. Make sure your office is in good repair of any physical issues or damages (examples: check trees, windows, doors, roofs, flooring, ceilings, etc. for any physical damages). Move filing systems to a higher location in the event of flooding. Create several backup systems in the event of physical or electronic file damage and do test restores to make sure they fully work. Always have a secured offsite backup in a safe location. Also, develop an inventory of all office contents.
  6. Complete your disaster plan, go over with all employees in your firm (so they know what to do in the event of a disaster), and store a copy in a safe location onsite and offsite.
  7. Review resources like Ready.govthe National Weather Servicethe National Hurricane Center and South Carolina Emergency Management Division.
  8. Download your copy of the South Carolina Hurricane Guide or pick up a copy at any S.C. Welcome Center, Walgreens or coastal DMV offices.
  9. Check out the Practice Management Assistance Program’s Disaster and Emergency Preparedness web page
  10. Check out the Practice Management Assistance Program's Lawyers in Transition in a Variety of Situations for resources on how to prepare for freak accidents, unexpected illnesses, or death of a lawyer).
  11. Request a copy of PREPARE, a free booklet, from the South Carolina Bar's Practice Management Assistance program.
  12. Remind your colleagues to do the same. It's great to be a good neighbor and lawyer who cares!

Remember, it only takes one event or unexpected situation to change your life and community forever.

Don't Blink: be prepared! Contact pmap@scbar.org if we can help.

9 PMAP Website Resources to Help You Manage your Law Firm

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In recognition of National Small Business Week, check out a few of our favorite practice management and technology website resources to help you manage your small firm (or large firm):

  1. Start a Practice - Are you planning to start a practice? Navigate these resources to find tools to help you develop a business plan, create a budget, decide on an entity and firm name, find the right location, get the proper licenses/insurance, market, prepare for emergencies, choose technology, plus much more!
  2. Close a Practice - You're thinking about winding down your practice...but you have no clue where to begin. Check out the PMA's guide to close your office plus how to transition out of practice based on a variety of situations. We even have resources for succession planning!
  3. Firm or Law Partner Changes - Things happen: Lawyers decide to leave in order to form new partnerships, go solo, or dissolve practices. Our lawyers in transition section will help you navigate through a variety of situations. If you cannot locate a particular situation, contact pmap@scbar.org for assistance.
  4. Build Your Practice - Whether you want to explore client development or learn how to build your business, our business development resources provide a variety of tips from a variety of marketing resources.
  5. Prepare for the Worst - With Atlantic Hurricane Season kicking off officially June 1st and manmade or natural disasters happening every day, it is important for law firms to create a disaster and emergency preparedness plan. Check out our Prepare page for tips and also request a free copy of our disaster handbook, if you do not one.
  6. Time and Business Management - How should you manage your time and stay organized in your business? Check out a few great tips here. (P.S. Don't forget to check out our SC Small Firm blog for more organization/time management tips and the PMAP Forms Bank for correspondence, checklists, plus more.)
  7. Technology Tips - Whether you are interested in learning more about technology or looking for a specific tech topic (software, security, consultants, etc.), our tech tips section will help you navigate through some of the most important decisions in managing your practice.
  8. Legal Research (for South Carolina Bar members) - Looking to conduct research for a particular case or cases? Check out the South Carolina Bar's free legal research member benefit Fastcase by logging into the Bar's website. Our FAQ's page will help show you how.
  9. Resources- Can't find a specific resource you're looking for? Don't forget the South Carolina Bar has over 160 resources available to active Bar members in good standing via the Lending Library. Also, check out the PMAP Videos Bank and the FAQ Bank for helpful tips and information.

Contact the Practice Management Assistance Program for further assistance in managing your law practice.

How to Manage your Overworked Inbox

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Is that overloaded inbox unworkable? Do you wish there was a magical email fairy that would clean it up for you? There are online services that can reduce your stress and get you to inbox zero.

Unroll.me is a service that helps you find all the “subscription-based” emails. It helps you roll them into one email and unsubscribe from the ones you do not want.

Sanebox and Alto are two other services that clean up your inbox by filtering what’s important to you and what isn’t.

What other ways can you use to get to inbox zero?  Here are a few tips to help you better manage your inbox:

  • Set aside a time every day to check and review email.  Email experts suggest a specific time in the morning, a specific time before or after lunch (optional), and then a specific time in the late afternoon. Setting aside a specific time allows you to calendar other important tasks and projects. It also enables your mind to think of email management like an appointment on your calendar rather than an entire day project. Professionals who utilize this logic also suggest newbies (new email managers) set an auto reply (until your internal/external contacts get used to your email management/project schedule) that basically says, "Our office is experiencing a higher volume of workload, therefore, I will be checking my e-mail at 8:00 a.m. and at 3:00 p.m. If you require immediate assistance, please call 555-555-5555."

  • Establish the 4 D's Action Model when checking email:
    • Delete (unwanted, unnecessary, and spam emails)
    • Delegate (emails that can be given to an assistant or other staff members in your office)
    • Do (respond to emails that can be taken care of immediately)
    • Delay (emails that you have to complete research prior to responding to or are waiting for a response from other parties)
    • Repeat the cycle often.
  • Use email tools like categories, labels, folders, etc. to help you organize, filter, and find emails.
    • Set up a simple filing system (if you're able to stay on top of checking your folders). An example folder system might be the 4 D's (Delete, Delegate, Do, Delay) or Handle Now, Handle Later, Pending Emails, etc. Be sure to also set up your archives folder if you don't have one (most email management systems do or you just have to turn the feature on if not already established). Law firms might also find it helpful to set up folders by client's last name, the first name for the organization (or check your practice management system to see what way they suggest or what way works for you best).
    • Set up categories or labels by the type of matter. For example, personal injury, domestic, workers compensation, real estate/transactional, social security, etc.
  • Use rules (if available with your email management software/program) to establish a system for delegation (either by the sender's email address, subject matter, or recipient's email address). Depending on the email management system, rules may or may not be able to delegate and send emails for you (research shows this depends on whether the email management software has a timer system established with the rules feature).
  • Use integrated features like Calendar, Tasks, Contacts, etc. to help you organize your other tools you use to set appointments (from email), tasks (from email), save new contacts, etc.
  • If you still want/plan to receive several subscription based emails but don't want them coming to your inbox, you can use a service like Feedly to manage what blogs/subscription services you want to subscribe to under one tool organized by categories/feeds. You can also use social media tools like Twitter to follow what accounts to subscriptions you are interested in (if they are on Twitter) and read what you want to at your own pace.
  • Encourage staff in your firm to send less email OR to condense email into one or two daily emails (if possible).  This may not be that effective when it comes to specific client matters but this may help reduce general office messages, etc. Consider making morning rounds at 8:30 or whatever time works for you/your firm to meet with team members briefly (you can answer questions for them and reduce your workload).

Do you have questions about a tip above or email management, in general? Email pmap@scbar.org or call (803)799-6653, x. 183 or 118 for assistance.