It crept up on me, but I guess I’m busy now. Halfway through my first year of starting my own law practice, and I would never have imagined how quickly I would have gotten this busy. I have mostly stopped blogging and producing content for my website, pinellasfamilylawyer.com, because my time is being spent doing legal work and running a business. A business grows in an upward wave (if you're doing it correctly). As you grow, you have to take a minute to level out and make sure you have the right people and right procedures in place to be able to continue growing. If you try to grow too fast without taking the time to make corrections and implement procedures to prevent previous mistakes and optimize future results, you’ll either burn yourself out trying to do all the work yourself, or you won’t provide as good of service to your customers or clients as you would like…..which can ultimately lead to your upward wave turning into a downward spiral. In order to prevent that I've had to make some procedural changes and I'm looking to make my second hire.
I used to make work for myself by making sure I went to networking events, went to court to observe, studied rules of procedure, blogged, and handled general SEO and marketing. Now, it’s just a matter of looking at my calendar to see what has to be done today, and I mean HAS to be done today. People always tell me that as a lawyer you may legitimately not have time to work on certain things, but it’s only recently that I’ve understood what that means. There are strict procedural rules in every area of law and as a practicing attorney, you have to be familiar with the rules for your area of law. There are also local rules of procedure that apply to each individual judge, and of course there are always the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics) that overarch everything a lawyer does. All these rules form the basis for when something HAS to be done.
So everything else can wait or go on the back burner, right? Not really. There will inevitably be legal “emergencies” that happen from time to time. Emergency motions get filed and an emergency hearing may have to get squeezed into your already busy schedule on 24 hours’ notice. A client may have an emergency of their own that requires finding time to speak with the client about the details of their situation, drafting the necessary paperwork, filing it with the clerk, scheduling the hearing, AND attending the hearing within 24-48 hours. Ok, so procedural deadlines can be calendared a month in advance, pesky emergencies pop up now and then on short notice, what else could possibly HAVE to get done in a given day? Apparently responding to e-mails from opposing counsel……or is it?
I recently had a case where the other attorney filed a motion with the court because I did not respond to one of their hundreds of emails for almost a week. Was there a procedural rule that required me to answer them within a certain amount of time? No. Was there a rule of professional conduct that required me to answer their email within a certain amount of time? No. (I checked.) That doesn’t mean you can just avoid emails from the other party’s attorney indefinitely, and while I’m not too worried about upsetting opposing counsel, I try my best to respond to all e-mails within 24 hours because I know that some matters require more urgent attention than others. Occasionally though attorneys may have a truly full schedule for a few days especially if the attorney has a trial or long mediation. Even when important legal documents need to be drafted, it is necessary to avoid checking e-mails and getting distracted so you can focus on the project at hand. When things get busy, lawyers have to prioritize tasks and make sure deadlines are met. This may make clients or opposing counsel think you’re avoiding them, but I’m sure most experienced attorneys know that’s just not true. While it’s always my desire to get things done sooner rather than later, the fact is there are a limited amount of hours in a day and the day has to end at some point so you can allow some time to rest and collect your thoughts for the next day. So just remember, when your attorney doesn’t respond right away it doesn’t mean their ignoring you; it probably just means they’re busy working on another case (or maybe even your case).