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July 17, 2013

Book review: Time Management Handbook for Lawyers

In the good old days of few fixed fees and many billable hours, firms had little reason to care if lawyers were inefficient, as long as they billed their 1800 or 2000 or 2200 hours per year.  If they might have found a way of doing something faster… well, why would they even try if they were being paid by the hour?

But all that has changed in the “new normal.”  When clients demand efficiency, all of a sudden personal time management matters. 

When we first designed our project management coaching, and the Certified Legal Project Manager® program, we felt that this would be a very important topic for some lawyers.  So we not only included a section on this topic in my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide, we also identified supplementary readings for lawyers who were interested. 

Several years ago, when we searched Amazon for “time management books,” we came up with hundreds of options.  We did not read them all, but we did buy quite a few of the top ones to see which we thought would be most useful to lawyers.  A separate Amazon search on “time management books for lawyers” came up with a much smaller number.  But when we looked at the top sellers, we were not impressed.  We ended up picking a book written for a general audience for our coaching and certification:  The 25 best time management tools and techniques by Pamela Dodd and Doug Sundheim. 

The book is very easy to use quickly, because each of the 25 techniques is described in a separate chapter such as “minimize interruptions,” “delegate more/better,” and “hold better meetings.”  When lawyers in our coaching program express a special interest in improving personal time management, we buy them a copy of this book, tell them to scan the chapter titles for topics that could help them personally, and then come up with practical and immediate steps to improve one thing at a time.

But many lawyers prefer books written specifically for lawyers, so we’ve been keeping our eyes open for new books.  When I heard a few months ago that Gary Richards, one of our principals, was writing a new book called the Time Management Handbook for Lawyers, I couldn’t wait to see it.

Well, Gary’s book just came out, and since I work with him every day, of course I will understand if you think my review may be a bit biased.  But I can say in all honesty that Gary’s book is the best legal time management book that I’ve seen.  His subtitle says it all:  “How-to tactics that really work.” 

I especially liked the practical tools in the appendices, including “how to take and analyze a time log,” “the top 40 most common time barriers,” “typical complaints of associates and staff about how partners delegate,” and examples of a new client information letter and requirements for engagement letters.

Some of the material overlaps with concepts covered in my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide including chapters on meetings, delegation, and client communication.  (To see Of Counsel’s review of the Guide, published yesterday, click here.)  Gary and I took slightly different approaches in some cases, and have different writing styles.  But who knows, maybe you’ll like his more than mine.

If you need to improve your personal time management, would you benefit more from a book specifically written for lawyers or from one of the many written for a more general audience?  The answer depends on you. 

In the future, when we offer selected lawyers in our coaching program a free book on time management, we will give them two choices:  the Dodd book if they want a quick high level overview of common techniques or Gary’s book if they want a more detailed discussion of time management techniques specifically for lawyers.  If they want both, we will send both.

If you need help on time management, and are not sure which book sounds better, you might as well buy both.  The total cost of the two books on Amazon is just $24.40, so it’s hard to go wrong.  The first time you are able to bill just one more hour based on your reading, you will already be way ahead of the game.

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