Time Management Practice Management Guideline

The Guideline is not intended to replace a lawyer's professional judgment or to establish a one-size-fits-all approach to the practice of law. Subject to Guideline provisions that incorporate legal, By-Law or Rules of Professional Conduct requirements, a decision not to follow the Guideline will not, in and of itself, indicate that a member has failed to provide quality service. Conversely, use of the Guideline may not ensure that a lawyer has delivered quality service. Whether a lawyer has provided quality service will depend upon the circumstances of each case.

Table of Contents

The Guideline is not intended to replace a lawyer’s professional judgment or to establish a one-size-fits-all approach to the practice of law. Subject to Guideline provisions that incorporate legal, By-Law or Rules of Professional Conduct requirements, a decision not to follow the Guideline will not, in and of itself, indicate that a member has failed to provide quality service. Conversely, use of the Guideline may not ensure that a lawyer has delivered quality service. Whether a lawyer has provided quality service will depend upon the circumstances of each case.

7.1 Introduction

Timeliness is the cornerstone of client service. Lawyers who are effective time managers are more productive and more likely to meet a client’s need for timely service. The Time Management Guideline summarizes the essential features of effective time management systems. It offers suggestions on how to organize and make effective use of the time allocated to lawyers’ practices and outlines the basic features of time planning, reminder and docketing systems.

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7.2 Essential Features

Lawyers should implement and maintain the following systems

  • time planning systems
  • reminder systems
  • time docketing or recording system

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7.3 Time Allocated to Practice

Lawyers should organize the time allocated to their law practice.

Lawyers should consider maintaining regular office hours, allocating time to complete tasks in an efficient, timely and cost-effective manner.

Lawyers may consider specifically allocating blocks of time each day, depending on the nature of their practice, to

  • plan for that day to determine what must be accomplished
  • return phone calls and e-mails, particularly from clients
  • address and deal with correspondence
  • ensure docket entries are recorded or assigned to client files
  • address urgent or priority matters

each day, week or month, depending on the nature of their practice, to

  • plan for that week, month or longer period
  • meet with clients
  • work uninterrupted on client files including
    • drafting
    • researching
    • reviewing documentation
  • schedule out-of-office attendances such as
    • client meetings
    • examinations
    • court and tribunal appearances
    • closings
  • meet with firm personnel or colleagues
  • attend to administration or business aspects of the practice
  • attend to accounting, book keeping and filings requirements, pursuant to the Law Society Act, By-Laws or Rules of Professional Conduct
  • conduct periodic, usually monthly, reviews of all open client files

each month or year, to

  • attend continuing education relating to professional development.

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7.4 Effective Use of Time

Lawyers should develop skills and adopt policies and procedures to enable them to make efficient use of the time allocated to their law practice.

Lawyers may consider the following methods to improve efficiency:

7.4.1 Control interruptions

by accepting telephone or office contacts (unless urgent) at specific times of the work day and limiting “open door” policies, particularly during the most productive hours and when meeting with clients or other lawyers

7.4.2 Focus on one task at a time

trying to complete each task without interruption

7.4.3 Delegate

by assigning work to firm personnel or other professionals, ensuring proper supervision in accordance with Section 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct 

7.4.4 Cultivate effective time management skills

  • by learning to overcome or manage procrastination
  • by learning to place limits on or refuse unreasonable requests whether from potential clients, existing clients, or colleagues

7.4.5 Keep time records

for individual client matters and also consider keeping a personal time log of all activities, billable and non-billable, to determine what activities are non-productive or inefficient

7.4.6 Adopt procedures to eliminate inefficiencies

  • by avoiding meetings unless necessary, making use of telephone conferences and having and following meeting agendas
  • by keeping a record of what work was accomplished to avoid duplication of work
  • by keeping files organized and, when not in use, returning files to their proper cabinet or location to allow for easy and efficient access and to prevent loss
  • by ensuring that all documents are promptly dealt with and filed away, perhaps implementing a “never touch a document more than once” rule
  • by standardizing and systematizing routine tasks.

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7.5 Time Planning and Reminder Systems

Lawyers should consider maintaining all of the following systems:

7.5.1 To Do Lists

  • setting out what must be accomplished, daily or otherwise organized in order of importance

7.5.2 Desk Diaries or Calendars

  • to plan their time on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis
  • to act as reminders for
    • appointments
    • court, tribunal, closings or other attendances relating to client matters
    • crucial dates including
      • limitation periods
      • The Law Society of Upper Canada filing requirements.

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7.6 Centralized Tickler or Reminder Systems

These systems should assist in

  • flagging limitation periods and deadlines
  • follow up, to ensure lawyers respond to reminder notices on time
  • reminding lawyers of steps to be taken in particular files.

Lawyers should assume or assign, usually to their administrative assistants, responsibility for

  • diarising key dates in time management systems
  • ensuring compliance with deadlines.

Ultimate responsibility for meeting deadlines and limitation periods rests with lawyers.

Lawyers should conduct periodic, usually monthly, reviews of all open client files to ensure that work on all files is being completed in a timely and cost-effective manner.

7.6.1 Time Docketing or Recording Systems

Lawyers should record or docket all the time, billable and non-billable, on each client file or matter. For each client, lawyers should specifically record

  • client name
  • matter or file reference and code
  • activity or work performed, including all telephone attendances and correspondence
  • time spent on the activity or work.

Lawyers should use manual or electronic daily time sheets to

  • docket immediately after the activity or work is complete
  • ensure that docket entries are recorded or assigned to client files daily.

Lawyers should consider implementing time recording or time docketing systems that

  • explain services to be performed
  • accumulate the total time expended on the file by each lawyer
  • permit the recording of billable and non-billable time
  • produce interim and final statements of accounts for services rendered to clients
  • produce time data for monthly, quarterly and annual reports to assist in management of the law firm.

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