As many readers already know from firsthand experience, attorneys are usually very busy professionals. Lawyers usually have dozens — if not hundreds — of files, and need to juggle filings, client interactions, research, and numerous other work tasks. However, sometimes lawyers are less busy since litigation and transactional matters often have an ebb and flow, and sometimes many of these matters are in a slow period at the same time. Although attorneys may get nervous when they are slow with work, lawyers should take advantage of such times as much as possible.
When I was working as an associate at various small and larger law firms, I was usually pretty busy. The firm made more money when I was able to log as many billable hours as possible, so my workflow was often managed such that I had enough work to fill my days. However, sometimes, I was not that busy. I mostly handle litigation, and usually in lawsuits, there are times when you respond to discovery demands and other times when you wait for other attorneys to respond to different demands. In addition, during a motion cycle, there is usually a time when you prepare your papers and a significant amount of time when you just wait for the other side to prepare papers or when you wait for a court to decide on a matter.
When many cases hit a lull at the same time, an attorney may not have as much work to handle. During these times, lawyers may have more free time and might bill less hours. Often, lawyers can ask that a partner refer work to them, but this might make the lawyer too busy when their current files become more active, and associates may not want to broadcast to a partner that they do not have enough to do since this might indicate that people are not referring sufficient projects to the associate.
Lawyers who run their own practices might also experience extended periods when they have less work to complete. Sometimes, small firm lawyers spend significant time on a few matters such as contingency fee cases. When such matters are resolved, this can leave a vacuum in the attorney’s calendar. In addition, certain periods, such as around the holidays, are naturally slower since people have other things on their minds besides dealing with legal issues and might not be reaching out to prospective counsel.
Attorneys may be paranoid about being slow with work. If an attorney works at another law firm, they may think that being slower will mean that the attorney will be fired since they are not billing enough hours and because they might not be a valued member of a team worthy of receiving assignments. In addition, lawyers who work for themselves may fear being slow since they may not be able to generate sufficient money to meet their expenses if they do not have enough work to handle.
However, lawyers should take advantage of times when they are slower rather than be nervous about such times in most instances. More often than not, being slow is just a temporary situation. Sure, being slow can rarely be a sign that there are employment issues with an associate, or a small firm lawyer might face financial issues, but this is rare. Most of the time, being slow is just temporary since cases invariably become more active, associates get assigned additional files, and attorneys have enough work to meet their employment expectations.
Lawyers can use the times they are slower for a number of purposes. For instance, lawyers can go home early and enjoy more time with family or pursue personal endeavors. It is possible that there is a period when the lawyer will be slammed with work, and they will need to sacrifice their personal life for the benefit of the client. If people take advantage of the time that they are slow, they can recharge the batteries for when they have a significant amount of work to handle.
Moreover, being slow is the perfect time to complete long-term projects that most lawyers invariably have. For instance, most lawyers have business development projects, case organization work, and other tasks that they put off while they are too busy since billing hours is the primary goal of lawyers. When lawyers are slower with work, they can handle long-term projects that they did not have time to complete while they were busier, which can have a positive impact on an attorney’s practice.
All told, being slow with work can be a scary time, since this can sometimes mean that a lawyer will face employment issues. However, in most instances, lawyers should take full advantage of the times that they are slow so that they can recharge their batteries and prepare themselves for when they are more active with work.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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