Top Three

  1. If you want a phone call, e-mail me to schedule it, even if you want to talk the same day.

    Some lawyers are on the phone all day. Some lawyers read and write all day. I read and write all day. My number one working priority is defending the long, uninterrupted time slots I need to get deep, demanding work done carefully and completely.

  2. Send a separate e-mail, with a different subject line, for each deal or project.

    I will get three things done faster if you send me three different e-mails, with three different subject lines, in three minutes, than I will if you send me one e-mail about all of them.

  3. If you spot a way we can improve how we work together, don’t hold back. Let me know.

    I wrote a whole webpage about this. It’s only fair.

Tasks

Most tasks coming my way from clients fall into a few rough categories:

Quick Asks

Small-scope questions and request that I can handle offhand, usually in just a few minutes. Questions about legal rules I know well. Requests for documents in my records. Status reports on projects.

I try to handle quick asks as soon as possible, as they come up. Even if I have other kinds of tasks on my to-do list for the day. My goal here is to prevent people waiting on me, and to prevent mounds and mounds of these piling up. If they pile up, it’s often as much work to track them as to do them, so it’s easy to drown.

This sometimes frustrate clients who see me answering unrelated questions when a much larger task is acknowledged first priority.

Shallow Tasks

These require some focus or concentration, but come in under half an hour or so. Quick reads of, or tweaks to, contracts and proposals. Small updates to forms and public policies already fresh in mind. That sort of thing.

I also try to clear these immediately. But I will postpone them to defend a morning, afternoon, or evening block needed for a larger task.

Deep Tasks

These require me to unplug from everything else and focus exclusively on one project for a substantial amount of time. Reviewing and turning drafts of long or complex contracts. Grappling with new developments in law or regulation. Researching a specific question of law.

I typically schedule deep tasks to large blocks of time—morning, afternoon, or evening. Then I have to “defend” that block from encroachment by other tasks. Some deep tasks take a whole working day or more. I try to work these as scheduled. However, “emergency” or highly time-sensitive items occasionally ruin my plans.

From experience, I’ve learned that if I do two deep tasks in a day—say, one full-morning job and one full-afternoon job—I can’t keep up quality for a third in the same day. The evening is good for quick and small tasks only. Same if I do a single large job spanning morning and afternoon or afternoon and evening. My chances of an oversight or significant mistake drop in a big way if I can postpone the third job to the next day.

Mornings, afternoons, and evenings free of commitments and interruptions are the precious coins of my realm. I fight to save up for them, and to defend them from my clients, so I can get heavy lifting done. Realistically, I only get a handful of open deep-tasks slots per week, for all my clients.

Appointments

Anything else that gets calendared. These work largely to disqualify large time blocks from assignment to deep tasks. If schedule a call on Tuesday morning, I can’t do a deep dive on a contract that morning. If I have to dial into a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, I can’t do a big job that takes two slows in a row—morning and afternoon, afternoon and evening—on that day.

Proofing

A quick note on re-reviews, proofreading, and “working on my own work” generally.

I can’t competently check my own work shortly after I’ve just done it. I need to set my work aside for some time—to focus on other, unrelated projects or clients—in order to come back to my prior work with anything like a fresh eye.

This primarily affects turnaround times on large contract, where my client has received a lengthy proposal on a form I’ve never seen before. I may complete a review, issue summary, and markup of a fifty page proposal on Monday. But if it’s sensitive, I’m really going to want to set it aside for a day or two and return to it again before finalizing. That review will be another large job, which means blocking off and defending another uninterrupted chunk of time.

I don’t usually tell clients when I’m doing this, because even though they almost always understand intellectually, it’s inherently frustrating waiting on your lawyer while they intentionally don’t think about your project. It’s also awkward admitting that I’m essentially incompetent to do so until I’ve forgot about the job for a while.

Other Resources

I’ve published some other guides and tips that migth come in handy: