Man behind a desk covered in paperWelcome to day 21. As we’ve continued to increase business in your law firm it’s important that you will be efficient enough to handle more cases without dramatically increasing overhead. Today we’ll improve efficiency further by eliminating a few more of the distractions that regularly pop-up in law firms. We’ll do this by looking at how attorneys approach their incoming documents and mail, otherwise known as their inbox.

On day 17 we discussed the amount of time wasted in law firms due to distractions/having to put out fires. The best way for attorneys to avoid these situations is to not have the “fire” start in the first place. We eliminated some of the distractions lawyers deal with through better email management. We also spent day 14 discussing how conducting weekly calendar audits will help lawyers reduce distractions. I’ve found another source of distraction in the way attorneys handle their inboxes; the worst part is that this poor inbox management wastes additional time in addition to the distractions it creates. It’s time to fix this.

Attorneys can improve efficiency and increase profits through better inbox management

On day 17 we applied the O.H.I.O. (Only Handle It Once) method to your email. Now we’re going to apply it to your inbox. Before we dive into your inbox though let’s deal with one thing. Many lawyers have said they “don’t have time” to deal with their inbox in the way we’re going to discuss. The problem with that argument is that they don’t have time because they’re busy putting out fires created by poor inbox management. Every hour you devote to inbox management is going to save you several hours in time-wasting distractions and dealing with last minute emergencies.

Most attorneys don’t clear out their inbox on a daily basis. The glance at all those incoming motions, discovery, letters, etc. and say “I’ll deal with this later.” The problem is that the “later” turns into the day before something is due which means a massive distraction/last-minute emergency on that day. By dealing with items each day, you will find yourself working at a much more methodical pace without as many interruptions. In other words, you’ll feel free like this guy:

Man throwing paper up from his desk

Devote a portion of your day to tackling your inbox. I typically did this after I tackled all of my email using the tricks we discussed on day 17. When you pick up that incoming letter from the top of the pile don’t just toss it to the side or, worse, write a response saying “I’ll get back to you.” Instead, you will only handle it once (O.H.I.O.). Do whatever work needs to be done on the case so that you can substantively respond to the letter and send the response. Now that letter is out of your life. Suppose the second item in your inbox is incoming discovery. Rather than tossing it to the side you need to analyze it, look at your file, and determine what information you need from the client to get it answered and request that information from the client.  Then put a plan in place to make sure that obtaining the information is followed up on and that the answers go out on time. Doing this saves you the time of asking for extensions as well as the distractions caused by trying to get discovery answered at the last minute. Take a similar approach for every item in your inbox, every day, until you’ve deal with every document in it.

Tackling your inbox in this way can take several hours a day. It’s important to recognize though that you didn’t “just go through your inbox” when you did this. You performed substantive work on a case and responded to a letter. You got the ball rolling on responding to discovery and ensured it’s not a headache in 30 days. You did the same for all those other incoming documents. In other words, all those things which would have become emergencies in the near future are now dealt with. You will now be able to go about your work methodically as opposed to constantly being in the “crisis mode” which most attorneys seem to find normal. Remember that by devoting 2-3 hours today to “inbox management” you are saving many more hours of time, over the next month that would otherwise be devoted to crisis management.

One more thing is that managing your inbox, in this way, results in case tasks being completed sooner.   This means cases wrap up quicker and that you can handle more cases with less people/overhead. It also leads to your clients seeing things get done quicker which improves client satisfaction. This improved client satisfaction leads to more referrals which is a good thing.

Day 21 action items for attorneys who wish to increase profits

It’s time for you to work smarter instead of harder in your law firm. This requires that you improve efficiency. Applying the O.H.I.O. method to your inbox, as described above, and going through your inbox every day is crucial to this. It’s important that you stick to this method and complete your inbox every day. As soon as you start to ignore it then it becomes impossible to get through in one sitting and emergencies start to pop up because you didn’t deal with them immediately. Today your action item is simple. Start applying this method to your inbox every day and you’ll make your life much easier.