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Reducing Lawyer Stress by working ON your business.

“I can’t take a day off or a vacation. Someone has to get the work done.” 

If you are a lawyer and that is the reason you are not taking a vacation, or at least a day off, then you are bailing water from a sinking ship.

Working to keep from drowning has become your purpose.

Getting yourself out of that position, and reducing your level of stress, need not be difficult. 

The path out of all that stress depends on your goals as a lawyer and/or a business owner.

In other words, what is your "end-game", your purpose as a lawyer, and what are you trying to do? 

If you are seeking to organically grow your law firm beyond just one person (i.e., YOU!) this post contains the tool that I have used many, many times to escape my own sinking ships. That process is about changing the way we as lawyers work when we are also the business owner.

First, track your time. Spend 1 month tracking as much of your time as you possibly can. 

In a spreadsheet, or a piece of paper, write down the case, or the project, the total time spent, and a rough description of the work you did. Nothing complicated. These entries are meant to quickly tally your time and provide memory jogs later, not catalog your time for a fee petition.

At the end of the 30 days, tally up your time, and assign each entry into one of 3 categories.

Category A is work that required your attorney brain, your business owner brain, or your unique skillsets.

Category B is work that someone else could probably do once you build trust and provide supervision and training.

Category C is bullshit work, for example, checking emails, shuffling papers, scheduling appointments, preparing mail and faxes, etc. It's bullshit work because it is the kind of bullshit lawyers pretend justifies their busy-ness. 

Attorneys who own businesses, and law firm partners, should not do this kind of work.

Not because we are better than that, or somehow above it, but because the primary job of the law firm partner or law firm owner in the legal profession is not "practicing law," but generating revenue. Calendaring your own appointments does not directly generate revenue.

I bet you are doing at least 5 - 10 hours of “bullshit work” every single week.

So take all the "Category C" work that you tallied over the past month, and lump into general sub-categories. One category might be time spent faxing. Another might be time spent on mail and correspondence. Time spent scanning. Time spent emailing. Time spent manipulating your calendar.

This becomes the list of tasks for your first hire.

Hire someone with the skillset to handle those tasks. Usually a secretary or executive assistant type will do just fine.

Train them what you want done, and let them learn how to do it.

Repeat this process every time you find yourself working too hard, or just working too much. I didn't learn this process in law school, but I should have. It has proved way more useful to me than the Rule against Perpetuities.

Your primary goal, as a business owner, should be to continuously replace yourself from the performance of the lowest category tasks you do.

So first, remove yourself from all Category C work. 

Then remove yourself from Category B work. 

Then decide just how much Category A work you want to do. 

These paths are not necessarily sequential.

For example, I have removed myself from many Category A and B jobs, but I’m still answering my own emails. Because it is my life dream to never look at an email again, I'm exploring the type of employee I need to do that kind of work.

A good rule of thumb is that performance of any Category C tasks by you, as a lawyer or business owner, should be by conscious choice and not by default.

Bottom line: Eliminate high levels of stress and unsustainable workloads by replacing yourself from the ground up. 

Use the time to take a day, or a week, off. 

Go on a damn vacation already. 

While on vacation, take time to listen to this episode of the Happy Lawyer Project password, for some great tips on how to start reprogramming the "Lawyer Brain."

And when you come back, use the time to work ON your practice, not IN or FOR your practice.

More on that later!

Until then, I hope you have an easy, yet productive, week!

Categories: The Business of Law

About the "VA Form 21” Blog

Written by attorneys, for attorneys, VSOs and agents, the VA Form 21 Blog will keep you current on changes in veterans law, teach you the advocacy skills you need to get better results for your client, and teach you the business skills you need to operate a financially viable law firm representing veterans.