Hacks for the In-House Lawyer’s Most Precious Resource: Time

Some small tweaks to work habits can save you valuable time and resources. Here are some of our favorites – and most impactful – that focus on time.

In-house lawyers have never been long on time. Association of Corporate Counsel benchmarks show that nearly a third work more than 50 hours per week, with an unlucky 7 percent averaging more than 60 hours per week.

That’s not likely to ease up anytime soon, as most Legal Departments now face a two-headed monster: In Thomson Reuters’ 2023 State of the Corporate Legal Department, 65 percent of in-house teams reported increasing matter volumes, while 59 percent say their budgets are flat (if not shrinking).

Indeed, it’s more important than ever for in-house lawyers to guard, prioritize and make the most efficient use of their time.

While we can all agree on the concept, achieving time savings is easier said than done. We recognize that you can’t just tell the Sales Department that they can’t have any more contracts, or tell the CEO there won’t be a report this quarter, or decline to meet a litigation or regulatory deadline.

When the work can’t go away, it’s time to go to work differently

Drawing on our experience advising, leading and serving inside corporate Legal Departments, we have created a bank of productivity hacks for in-house counsel – quick tweaks to work habits that can save valuable time and resources. Some of our favorites – and most impactful – focus on time.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Stop customizing everything

Take, for example, your nondisclosure agreement. Your desire for confidentiality is not unique. Save yourself time drafting and negotiating bespoke agreements, and adopt a well-developed standard form for most of your projects.

Woman reviewing contacts at her desk

Block your time

It’s impossible to get work done shuffling between meetings. Designate two to three “meeting days” per week, and block your calendar for uninterrupted work time on the other days. Protect this time fiercely.

Issue short and fast RFPs

You do not need or want to review 80 pages of propaganda from potential law firm partners that detail their history, array of services, office locations and more. Streamline the scouting process by asking for three reasons a firm is a fit; three examples of problems they have handled like yours; a basic fee schedule; and biographies of the lawyers who will actually work the matter.

Shift start days to Tuesdays for new hires

When new people start on Monday, you are likely unprepared and overextended; you are trying to onboard them (without frightening them), while also triaging your inbox and catching up on anything that came in over the weekend. This often has a domino effect on the rest of your week, and leaves both you and the new hire scrambling. Move start days to Tuesdays; start your week off right, then bring on your new colleague.

Guard your inbox

Structure your email flow so only truly relevant work messages hit your inbox during the workday. Two easy wins here:

  • Many IT Departments send myriad emails (neither actionable nor urgent) about system upgrades, planned maintenance and so on. Set up a rule to send notifications from the IT Department to a new “Tech News” folder, and review it periodically. (Do this for other repeat offenders at your organization; there’s always someone who is too eager to publicize snacks or other trivialities.)
  • When newsletters and promotional emails pile up, set up an email rule to capture anything with the word “Unsubscribe” – required by law for the senders – to a Newsletters folder you can check later.

Go radio silent (smartly)

Email and other internal communication channels (Slack, Teams, you name it) can hijack your day. Don’t constantly monitor them; instead, schedule a couple of 30-minute periods each day to review and respond to your correspondence. Keep these consistent, so your stakeholders know when to find you.

Person checking Slack channels on laptop

And one that may be a little unexpected, but will nonetheless deliver:

Learn to type (for real)

Written communication is the mainstay of the legal profession, but too many of us are doing little better than hunting-and-pecking the keyboard. The average person types at 40 words per minute; it’s absolutely possible to drive that to 70 to 80 words per minute. Drafting a document 20 to 50 percent faster, every time? Massive ROI.

Download the productivity hacks for in-house legal teams white paper

To learn about typing tutorials – and see some more conventional Legal Department hacks - download our latest white paper to learn more.

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