I passed the courthouse the other day and heard it sigh–it was actually exhaling in relief. An opponent of mine recently turned in a copy of my post Fortune and the Intrepid Lawyer with a legal pleading. In that post, I promised not to pull up my skirt in open court. While I don’t really understand the purpose of citing my post as part of a pleading (It’s not like I post stuff in public that I wouldn’t want to be . . . public!), I appreciated the hike in my site statistics and understood how many might feel relieved to know I would remain clothed in court. I was glad to have made my intentions clear and grateful for the help disseminating them.
Aside from this kind of relief, however, it is hard for lawyers and those that work with us to get a break. I regularly hear from colleagues that they are overworked. Certainly, court dates and deadlines are often imposed from outside, and sometimes there is little or no wiggle room. I just went through a period like this (and didn’t write a blog post for two months!); several due dates kept me writing legal briefs nearly around the clock just to keep up.
One thing I notice, though, among colleagues I know best is a failure to limit what cases we undertake. I have always been notorious for turning away many people who call me, and I’m especially happy when I can help someone with a quick phone call rather than taking on an entire case. Sometimes it is just a matter of providing the name of a HUD-Certified Housing Counseling Agency (searchable at www.hud.gov) or even placing a quick call to opposing counsel to see if a workout option is available–items handled so quickly it would be nearly impossible to calculate a bill.
In contrast, many lawyers tell me they cannot afford to turn away a single case. There’s probably nothing that is less true–we actually cannot afford to take the wrong case. These friends end up serving people who never intended to pay, who are never going to be happy with the outcome (even if we do get them that glitter-excreting unicorn), and are never going to hold up their end. Each such client means hours of uncompensated time, ethical risks, bounced checks, and wild goose chases looking for papers that never materialize or waiting for meetings that are never kept.
The best way for us to get to breathe is to schedule time for it. When a prospective client calls me, I check my calendar. If accepting representation would mean a filing deadline Friday and I have three things due by then, then I am not the best attorney for the client. This means every due date, every phone call, and every goal has to get onto my calendar so I take it into account when planning. I’m partial to the Badass Planner, but choosing a good one unique to you is important. I have worked effectively with dollar-store calendars.
I’ll soon roll up my sleeves (leaving my skirt intact) to share some tips on using the calendar effectively. However, here’s what I’ve found: nothing works in the law office unless I schedule several minutes each day with my calendar. Then, I have to make the hard decisions–often, turning away prospective clients–until my “to do” list is pared down to what I reasonably can do.