by Hal L. Pearmann, Guest Writer
Originally published in MBA Lawyer’s Journal
You attended law school to learn about law, then did your time as an associate to discover the practice of law. Quite suddenly, now it seems, you rose to partner, or set out on your own. But, with the advance of your career, there was a counterpoint of sacrifice that, though at first hardly noticeable, now consumes you. You dread the legions of files that confront you; the daily fires that only you can put out; the adrenaline panic as you catch a hidden deadline; the un-returned phone calls resounding long after the day ends.
Could it be possible to bring this runaway train back under control? Can you have a more productive practice while spending fewer hours at work and more time with your family?
We are about to find out. Eighteen Massachusetts attorneys started a year-long program in January to recapture control of their practices and bring balance to their lives. The Forum, led by Atticus®, offers ongoing support through quarterly training sessions and weekly telephone conferences. The program emphasizes goal setting, skill development and accountability.
Lawyers Journal is following four attorneys through their journeys to determine their successes and setbacks. Here are their stories:
Salem-based Attorney Christopher Plunkett wanted his solo real property and estate planning practice to become more of a business. “Going from where I have been in my practice to where I want to go is a long haul,” says Plunkett. “But, The Forum is helping me break it down into smaller segments and tackle each one.”
“The coaching program takes a practical approach. It’s caused me to focus on what I want to accomplish and implement things that I’ve thought of doing for years, but haven’t.” “I now delegate tasks to other people and work to teach them,” continues Plunkett. “It’s often difficult to let go of what you’ve been doing for 23 years, but I’ve learned that it takes time and patience. After a while it starts to click and I can see that the investment of time and money now will pay off later.”
“There’s support in The Forum,” says Plunkett. “Not only can you call Atticus® if you have a question, but you can call your team members.”
Dustin Cole of Atticus®, who leads The Forum, explains, “The team becomes an unofficial board of directors, comprised of colleagues who hold each other accountable.” “I realize that it will take time to get the systems running properly,” says Plunkett. “By staying focused, I’m confident it will work.”
Eileen Z. Sorrentino
Egan, Flanagan and Cohen, P.C.
Eileen Z. Sorrentino, with the Springfield litigation and general practice law firm of Egan, Flanagan and Cohen, P.C., wasn’t running her practice as much as it was running her. “Everything I was working on stayed piled up on my desk, so I wasted time searching for pieces of paper,” says Sorrentino. “I was always putting out the next fire.”
Sorrentino then implemented time management techniques learned in The Forum. “The Time Template allows you to sketch out an outline of your week when you’re going to have undisturbed production time; conduct meetings; work on your practice; take phone calls, and so forth.”
The next step for Sorrentino was to develop job descriptions for her staff. “We laid out everything that each person will do, starting from the bottom up,” says Sorrentino. “If a staff member in a lower-level position can handle something, then they should do it. You shouldn’t have higher-paid employees doing work that requires only the skills of someone at the lower level.”
“My desk is clean now and I know the status of each of my cases. I have systematized as many tasks as possible so I can delegate more effectively. This saves time and confusion and staff members feel more confident talking to clients because they know our policies and procedures.”
“Any practice is full of unexpected events,” Sorrentino points out. “But before it was as if everything was an emergency. Now I have a smooth-running practice with room for more business and for the special things that happen.”
Richard N. Gottlieb
Richard N. Gottlieb, a Boston-based attorney specializing in bankruptcy and collections, formed his own firm in 1996. “I was doing everything by myself,” says Gottlieb. “I soon realized that I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Although I was an accomplished technician, I was a so-so manager and entrepreneur.”
“The Forum helped me realize that bringing in an associate was a necessity. With my associate on board, I’m able to spend more time with my clients, my colleagues and my friends,” remarks Gottlieb. “I can enjoy the practice of law, rather than scurrying to get it all done. I’ve also gotten rid of a number of ‘tolerations,’ such as leaving files on my desk. That may not sound like much, but when you see this huge stack of files staring at you every day it can be demoralizing.”
William D. Norman
Metaxas Norman and Pidgeon
Attorney William D. Norman, with the business law and commercial litigation firm of Metaxas Norman and Pidgeon, recently came to some clarity about his practice. “I have been able to see what I want out of my life, and how my practice could meet those needs,” says Norman. “I want more free time and for the quality of that time to be better.” “Before, my focus was directed toward rendering services and producing a product, whether in the form of a document or otherwise. The Forum has helped me think about managing the practice as a business.” “In the short time that I’ve been in The Forum, I’ve improved the practice technologically. I’ve systematized certain aspects of the practice so that they produce a consistent result.”
“Actions suggested in the program, such as a new computer business management system, have made my practice more efficient. I turn work around more quickly, deal with client issues more effectively and still have time to manage the peripheral matters that are required in a practice.”
“What I stand to gain from this program is worth the work put into it,” adds Norman. “Even now, I can see how what I’ve implemented has improved the quality of my practice and my life.”