Why Some Lawyers Fail To Be Productive

Productivity Part II

Productivity is a buzz word. It’s like a shiny new car that someone shows off to prove how valuable they are.

There are classifications of the “productive” and, unfortunately, the unproductive in a law firm. Many unproductive lawyers are shunned.

They walk around as if they are Hester Prynne from the SCARLET LETTER, wearing the label on their chest. And yes, lawyers and some law firms shun. When lawyers are perceived not to be productive enough, and they are indeed labeled.

What are some of the causes that some lawyers can fall into the “unproductive” category?

Here are a few:

  • Illness
  • Morning sickness (pregnancy)
  • Death in the family
  • Depression
  • Crisis in a marriage or relationship
  • Sick children
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Burnout
  • Addictions
  • Aging parents

A lawyer who feels shunned or judged can lapse further into the rabbit hole of unproductivity.

Meet Rita

Rita is a perfect example.

Rita’s mother had lapsed into dementia, and her father was not handling it well. He resisted her help and it made things really chaotic. She tried to keep food in the house and not let them get into serious problems. Rita took vacation time for a week during a very busy time at the office. She had to help her parents. Her senior lawyers frowned upon her taking this time off.

Rita returned after a week to a workload that she would never catch up on. Although she had shared some of the problems with her supervisor, no one understood the severity of the problem.

As time wore on, Rita became anxious and depressed. She was between a rock and a hard place. Needing to get things sorted out with her parents, Rita also needed to find a way to catch up on her work. I explained that she might not EVER completely catch up. However, she could move out of the “unproductive category” in her firm.

First, she had to hire someone to help her sort out her parent’s situation. She also had to get more help at home. As an only child, it was her responsibility. As a fiercely determined lawyer, she thought she could do everything on her own.

As a single parent with two small children, she had to guard against overwhelm and anxiety.

Here is how Rita gained control of her workload.

  1. She followed my suggestion and wrote down the top three tasks she intended to work on the following day.
  2. She stayed in communication with her senior lawyers to stay aware of which cases were priorities.
  3. She worked by a list but kept it to three doable tasks. She also had a master list with all tasks to be accomplished in a file.
  4. She took work on the most difficult tasks first thing in the morning while she was fresh and alert.
  5. She used the Pomodoro Technique using a timer for 90 minutes working and then ten minutes stretching, relaxing her brain.
  6. She limited checking and answering emails to three times per day.
  7. She stopped letting others distract her.
  8. She came in an hour early for a few months to catch up on the backlog.
  9. She stopped multi-tasking. She worked on one project at a time.
  10. She left the office no later than 7:00 pm.
  11. When she arrived home, she relaxed and left the office work at the office.
  12. She began meditating in the morning and evening to manage her stress and anxiety. It made a huge difference.

Mental State:

No matter what anyone says, the most critical asset a lawyer has is your mental state. Protect your mind. Find relaxation techniques, get support. Do not allow yourself to neglect your mental state.

Further, do not beat yourself up. When someone continually berates themselves in a condemning way, it leads to depression.

Find Your Cadence

Stop racing around trying to work so fast that you put pressure on yourself. Many times a lawyer’s worst critic is themselves. Incorporate a steady pace at work, that allows you to double-check yourself and catch mistakes, is time well spent.

Remember, a productive lawyer is a happy lawyer. Yet, a productive lawyer doesn’t mean that you are always working long hours.

Working at an unsustainable pace will lead to burnout. You will lose more than you gain.

Never leave the office feeling defeated, thinking that you haven’t done enough. If you thought you were off track, make a note of what you will do differently tomorrow. It is self-defeating to bring yesterday’s baggage into your next day.

With constant improvement, focus and a steady work ethic, you will win in your practice like Rita did.




Pamela DeNeuve - Lawyer, Solicitor & Law Firm Strategist to Increase Productivity, Profits & Engagement

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Pamela DeNeuve

Pamela DeNeuve

Pamela DeNeuve - Lawyer, Solicitor & Law Firm Strategist to Increase Productivity, Profits & Engagement

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