Small Law Firms

The Practice: Creating Time

There is nothing more important to lawyers than time. Time spent on cases (especially if you’re in trying to win the “most billable hours” contest award at your funeral), time in the day to “do everything,” time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Everything comes down to time. The reason you don’t do certain things is because you claim to “have no time.”

Lawyers base their entire lives on time. Many try to figure out the latest time when they can roll out of bed to be on time to the office or court. We live on deadlines. We appear in court when told, file documents on certain dates (or fax them on certain dates at 4:59), and we set appointments for things. There are other things we want to do -– other things we need to do, but we use the excuse of “no time” as a crutch.

Truth is, we have plenty of time, we just don’t use it well. We let our practices control us, instead of trying to control our practices. Clients and cases will run lives, if you let them. Some lawyers believe the essence of being a lawyer is letting clients run their lives, we must let clients know we are available 24/7.

You can call me 24/7, but I’m no longer answering the phone when I’m doing something I consider more important than making money…

Things I consider more important than making more money include: sleeping, being with my family, and about 400 other things.

I know, I may miss the big case or piss off a client. I don’t care. I have a life, you should get one too. Sometimes getting a life as a small law lawyer takes time, as when you’re young, building a practice requires your constant availability. After a while, if the client is going to go down the street because you didn’t call him back in 23 seconds, you learn to appreciate that this type of client would suck anyway. If you work for someone who believes you should have no life, you should get a new one as well, a new boss that is.

You need to take control of your time. As “time” goes on, you either want to or are asked to do other things –- network, join bar associations, fire the marketer and actually write your own crap on the internet, play with your kids (those little people tugging at your dress shirt), spend less time anonymously commenting on blogs about your misery and actually talk to your significant other, but you use the “have no time” excuse every time.

This is my advice for those that think they have no time. It may work for you, it may not. Your life may not be as wonderful and fulfilling as mine, your spouse and family may not want you around more because you’re such a miserable human being, and maybe all you want to do is play civil discovery all your life. I can only tell you what works for me. If it doesn’t work for you, complain to Lat.

1. Losers wake up at the sound of the beginning of the Today Show.

There is nothing like 5:30 a.m., especially if you’re married with kids. The dog even gives you the half-nod and goes back to sleep. You want to write, read, think, prepare, I give you those precious moments before “MOMMY WHERE’S MY PINK BOW” starts. (I have daughters). Even if you’re single or don’t have kids, you know as a lawyer that waking up well before the start of emails and phone calls is the best way to beat the man. It also gives you an extra hour or so that you can have later in the day to do something you want to do. Working without email dings or phone calls makes an hour seem like 3 (and that’s awesome for those that like to fraudulently bill).

2. T.V. makes you stupid.

I don’t watch much T.V. I’ll catch some sports and news, an occasional documentary, and sometimes an episode of Pawn Stars (I think I relate to the old man.) But I’ve never watched The Sopranos, or the other 45 HBO series. I couldn’t tell you what’s on at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays, and I’m the guy who walks away from the staff chat in the kitchen when the “did you see ____________ last night” conversation starts. Apparently I’m missing out on life by not watching Mad Men.

You all are addicted to mindless television. You are wasting your time watching this crap. Some of you could retire if you could bill for the T.V. shows you watch routinely every week. Maybe spend that time working, or going to a networking event, or bar association committee meeting, or otherwise have a conversation with a real person. When you get old you can sit around and watch TV and not talk to anyone. If you can’t get away from this garbage, DVR it. That will guarantee you’ll never watch it.

3. Take a break (a real one) from work, every week.

I may have mentioned before (if I have, the unemployed person that reads my column and knows everything I’ve ever said anywhere will report back shortly) that I take Friday nights off to be with my family. I started doing this a couple years ago. Yeah, it’s the Sabbath, but that’s not the reason (sorry fellow Jews). It’s the end of the week. I’m done. I don’t go to any events unless it’s essential – like a good friend getting an award, or some other obligatory event, and I don’t make plans that don’t involve my family. Phone calls and emails get returned Saturday.

Maybe Friday night doesn’t work for you. It’s OK, I think there are 6 other choices. Pick one. You lawyers that think there’s a badge of honor for working every night and on the weekends, probably also know which episode of Game of Thrones you’ve missed.

Be efficient, take control, and you’ll have the time to do the things you want and need to do. I understand to many of you this sounds impossible because you work for miserable, lifeless people and accept every bad client that walks in the door because they have a few bucks, but hey, I can’t fix stupid.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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