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8 Time Management Tips For Young Lawyers
As an associate, you often have limited control over your own schedule -- but there are still some actions you can take to improve your use of time and cut out unnecessary stress.
March 12, 2021 at 12:12 PM
March 12, 2021 at 11:58 AM
If you’re an associate, you’re probably thinking, “What?! As if I have any control over my own schedule!” And you’re right, your ability to manage your time will never be perfect.
I understand. I was an associate myself for seven-plus years. But there are still some actions you can take to improve your use of time and cut out some of the unnecessary stress.
When you are given a new assignment, always ask right away what the deadline is. I can’t tell you how many times as an associate I failed to ask this important question because I said to myself, “This will take no time at all, I can do it right away,” only to have a more urgent task land on my desk — and I wished I’d asked upfront instead of begging for more time later on.
Many of us lawyers are Type A personalities, and we love that feeling of completing a task and checking it off the “to do” list. But I find the easiest way to prevent procrastinating about the next task is to start it right away. Just get three minutes in, then you can take that coffee or bathroom break. When I’m jumping back into an established rhythm instead of getting my mind around a new project, it’s much easier to get back to work.
Believe that there is no such thing as a huge, daunting project. Everything can be broken down into smaller, bite-sized morsels. Take on one mini-project at a time.
Put everything on your calendar. I assume I won’t remember anything. I include project deadlines and my to-do list items as 30-minute calendar entries. I have repeating calendar reminders to pay my credit card bills, renew my dog’s license annually… there is nothing in my life not on my calendar because the last thing I want to be stressed about is that I may have forgotten something I need to be stressed about!
I also block time for work (and personal) projects on my calendar. Even if I end up changing the start and end times multiple times, it helps me to be able to eyeball my projects for the day, estimate how long they will take, and plan accordingly.
Find ways to use your down time productively. What down time? Even law firm associates have down time. Mine often came at 1 a.m. as I was waiting on a senior lawyer to send me the next mark-up. But I was determined to reclaim this time for myself. So what did I do? I started a travel blog. It was a creative outlet I could turn to even at my desk in the middle of the night. So those late nights in the office were not a complete waste in terms of my personal life. I also made a point of having dinner with a work friend almost every night, even if it was for 10 minutes at their desk or mine. If you’re not inclined to start a blog or write a novel or screenplay, use your scarce breaks to update your resume and deal sheet, work on a business plan, keep in touch with contacts ( build relationships! ). Or research for your next vacation! Have a plan for how you’ll use your free time so it doesn’t go to waste.
Whatever your goal may be — hitting the gym a few times a week, putting together a business plan, catching up with one law school classmate each day — establish an accountability partner. It could be a friend, a colleague or even a journal. Keeping track will help keep you honest!
If you’re truly feeling underwater, ask for help. Firms are investing more and more into associate life and associate development resources. Even if you’re not comfortable talking with a partner, there is likely someone you can talk with. And you can always reach out to a trusted recruiter to learn what your realistic options might be for a new job offering a better work-life balance.
Making small changes to your daily routines may buy you only a few extra minutes each day at this stage in your career, but these actions will help you build good habits for when you do gradually take on more control of your schedule. I’d love to hear what time management tricks have worked for you!
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by Abby Gordon , Senior Director at Lateral Link, who works with attorney candidates on law firm and in-house searches, primarily in Boston, New York, and Europe. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Abby spent seven years as a corporate associate with Cleary Gottlieb , focusing on capital markets transactions for Latin American clients in New York and for the last five years for European clients in Paris. A native of Boston, Abby holds a J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. in government and romance languages, magna cum laude, from Dartmouth College. Abby also worked with the International Rescue Committee as a Fulbright Scholar in Madrid, Spain. She is a member of the New York, Massachusetts and Maine Bars and is fluent in French and Spanish (and dabbles in Portuguese and Italian). You can view additional articles by Abby here .
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