Caseloads are a big topic of conversation for law firms and with good reason. The optimal caseload allows firms to be profitable and lawyers to achieve that oh-so-elusive work-life balance.
But the reality is that it’s hard to achieve that perfect balance. In the meantime, you either hustle to build your book of business or you are swamped by an overload of work. And while the former can at least bring the excitement of generating business, the latter is characterized by burnout and stress.
But caseload stress can be managed! Here are some ways to help you work through the challenges of too much work.
Build a process (and stick to it)
No matter what industry you’re in, your process is everything when it comes to managing workload. A good process allows you to keep things manageable and organized and it helps you grow when the time is right.
Your process for caseload management should start with your onboarding process.
File organization should be part of this process
Got a new client? You might be groaning if you’re feeling overwhelmed. But make your first order of business to put them through your onboarding process.
Checklists make everything less overwhelming. Have a checklist that screens the client for approval and details necessary meetings, documentation, and strategies. Make sure your checklist involves deadlines and pinpoints who is involved in the process so you can loop key people in as needed.
Once you start receiving information as part of the onboarding process, make sure to input or file it immediately. (Or, even better, delegate this task!) When you build these steps into your relationship with each client, you save a lot of time down the road. Not only do you have all your client’s information structured, but by using a standardized system, you’ll know that all files will always look and be handled in the same way.
(And if you’re ever abducted by aliens, your colleagues can step in and take over without wondering what was going on!)
Use this information to help prioritize
Having a standardized process in place also is important for helping you to prioritize your time. Why? Because when everything is organized, it’s easy to assess your cases. It removes the guesswork of what’s important. It gives you a clear view of deadlines, parties involved, and helps you coordinate efforts in an effective and streamlined way.
Know your problem spots (and clients)
There are sticking points in anyone’s work life: tasks that you just don’t like doing, and people that are difficult to work with. Their existence is unavoidable, but finding productive ways to acknowledge the challenges can help keep them from gumming up the works.
For difficult tasks, document them in your workflow so you know when to expect delays. Building in extra time well in advance can keep your stress levels lower while allowing you to remain productive.
For difficult clients, in particular, establishing clear communication is important: with the client, with your colleagues, and with yourself. You may not be able to prevent a client from being unreasonable, but you can provide transparent expectations for everyone involved.
Delegate the deluge
Delegating – it’s not a dirty word. In fact, it’s one of the best words to have in your vocabulary when you’re operating a high-tempo workload. Lawyering is most manageable – and successful – when approached as a group activity.
But how do you know what to delegate? Here are some tips:
- If the task is routine, administrative, or support-oriented, then consider delegating
- If it involves a specialized skill set, like marketing, IT, or accounting, consider delegating
- If it costs you more to do it than to hire someone to do it, consider delegating
- If you really, really hate it, consider delegating
Be wary of burnout
Burnout in the legal industry is real and well-documented, yet much like the frog in the pot of water, it’s hard to know you’re overheating until the water is at a boil.
Intense caseloads are a major contributor to burnout among lawyers. However, approaching your work life with a balanced mindset can take some of the stress off your shoulders. For a more in-depth look at burnout, check out our article on the topic. Here are a few useful takeaways, though:
- Be excellent, not perfect: In a perfectionist workplace, it’s hard to accept that excellent is just as good as perfect if it means preserving your sanity.
- Be mindful: Daily mindfulness meditation has huge benefits. You can even practice from your phone with apps like Calm.
- Start today: It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ll get it together tomorrow. But you don’t need to change everything today to see improvement – even just one change can make a difference.
All lawyers want the optimal caseload. But until then, managing the caseload you have in a way that promotes the quality of ALL aspects of your life is the next best thing. What practices have you implemented to help you keep your caseload from feeling overwhelming?