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Lawyers and GTD

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  • Lawyers and GTD

    Lawyers are notoriously disorganized and relentlessly procrastinate. I recently adopted GTD and have found the sense of peace and mind-like-water that I longed for. Things get done; I hold others accountable for things I've delegated to them; I actually have more time.

    This article was posted recently on the ABA's website. Whether through strict application of GTD or through some other process, it describes the level of calm that one lawyer attained and the benefits others see in being organized. If only we all saw the light.

    Seattle, WA

  • #2
    A System for Sanity


    there is a series of three articles that explain it all:



    • #3
      Lawyers and GTD

      So please share what exactly are you doing to keep this peace as a practicing lawyer. Please explain in detail. There are certain requirements double calendaring, records of details, time spent etc that are different from some other uses for GTD. Do you intregrate it all on one system. What are you doing to get this sense of peace?


      • #4
        Hi Mardo. I'm a lawyer, but I'm not as blackbelt as some (Randy, you out there?). Anyway, here is some of the stuff I do to adapt GTD to my job. (For clarification, I'm an estate planner, and hence have a constant procession of clients coming through. Each client may have 3 or 4 "projects" at a time, or just one.)

        The biggest change I make is the following. I was using plain vanilla palm/desktop, so I'll describe in terms of that, but it's the same thing as a "task" in outlook.

        Each client gets a memo (I don't like todos - they don't sort alphabetically) titled CLIENT: project - next action. Like JONES: Revocable Trust - make revisions.

        In the bottom of the memo, each time I do something, I make a note with the date and what I did. This helps me pick up the project immediately and see what the status is, as well as seeing the next action, client and project without actually opening the memo/task. I can easily report to the client (or disorganized boss) "We sent drafts to you on 12/26, and are still waiting for your response" (or whatever). A memo/task is never deleted until I'm all done with that client, when I print the memo and file it -- instead, I just change the next action in the top line. It helps prevent anything from falling through the cracks.

        The memos bounce back and forth between @calls, @work, @waiting for, etc, as their status changes.

        With the alpha sort, all the projects for a particular client will sort together. This makes the weekly review easy. I don't have to keep a separate project list, because all the projects are encompassed in my memos/tasks. And since I never delete a memo until the project is done, I never end up with a project with no next actions. It may have an un-updated next action in the top line of the memo, but this will be caught on teh weekly review. If I have a project with two next actions, I just make two memos.

        Here is a cut/paste of a typical memo. Hope this helps a bit - the system isn't perfect yet, and I don't use due dates, but it's getting very close. Also, with outlook, my boss can immediately see the status of any of his clients.

        JONES: Sale to Grantor Trust - Revise Cover letter.
        12/18/03: gave to Sandi to redline joint against single and make new singles.

        12/30/03: trusts are done, need to revise cl to talk about whole transaction, not just trusts.

        Atty2 said to send one step at a time.

        1/14/04: Updated Financial Advisor. 818-123-3456

        Need to revise CL and send to Jim. Send Jim first then John. Jim is older brother.

        Hope this helps. Taxgeek


        • #5
          Lawyers & GTD

          This thread has been one of the most useful i've seen on this posting board. I appreciate the links to the "chawkin articles"

          many many thanks!!


          • #6

            Thanks for the links to the Chakwin articles. I just spent some time perusing the whole site, and it was well worth my time.



            • #7
              My GTD implementation (long, long post)


              I'll do my best to explain my implementation, especially focusing on the docketing, timekeeping, and recordkeeping issues you brought up.

              First, the equipment, tools, and setup.

              I have a Sony Clie running Palm OS 4.1. I use DA's plain vanilla approach with some slight modifications. I use DateBk5 because I just can't shake my need for a week view; that's all I use it for. I use AddressPlus simply because it was the first app I bought, and after 9 months of seeing the screen, I'm used to it. I no longer use categories with my contact list, though - everything's in one list. I use Cryptopad because I keep some sensitive info on my PDA and I just don't quite trust Palm's security.

              At work, I use Outlook 2002; on my home computer, the Palm Desktop. I sync the PDA to both, using PocketMirror at work and the Palm conduits at home. PocketMirror lets me keep truly private information off of my computer at work. I have implemented most, but not all, of the strategies discussed the the GTD Outlook White Paper, not the add-in.

              At work, I have an inbox and a filing box. My inbox gets processed continuously throughout the day, and rarely has something in it. My filing box only gets the things that I'm done with; they go to our central filing repository. I have a corner of my desk, soon to be a box or tray, for things that I give to my assistant: documents to copy, documents to send, documents to edit, etc.

              I also have three Read/Review files at work: Actionable Read/Review for things I need to read that I know will require action on my part; FYI Read/Review for journals, articles, new cases that someone thought I should know about; and Junk/Shopping for the catalogs I get and for my favorite rags, Washington Law & Politics and the ABA Journal.

              I have bookshelves, which hold my books and my current project files. And I have a lateral cabinet, which holds my reference material. I don't have, but desperately need, my own printer.

              In my PDA and in Outlook, I have the following categories for tasks or to dos:
              @Waiting For

              I have an email category because I can, with my PDA and my phone, email from almost anywhere. I do like to keep them separate from the anywhere category, though. The rest are as DA describes in the book or in the Tips & Tools on setting up a Palm.

              My memo categories are:
              Focus: 20k & up

              "Lists" gets a period at the beginning to put it at the top. Most of my lists in this category are inspired by those found on this site. Focus is where I plan to keep my 20k-50k information, once I take some time to really develop it. Notes is my miscellaneous. Right now in there is a tip from my mother on the latest herbal cold remedy, instructions for receiving faxes on my cell phone that I don't know where to file but I know I need to keep, etc. Work is all of my work information: holiday schedule, a list of all client codes that I bill to, our firm's calling-card information, etc. Reference has articles or information that I want to keep handier than in a reference folder at home. The rest, I hope, are self-explanatory.

              I have traveling folders that stay in my briefcase:
              Return to Work
              Return to Home

              I use these pretty much as DA does. I empty them constantly, though. If I put something in my R/R folder, took it home, but didn't read it, when I get to work the next day, it comes out and goes into the appropriate R/R folder at work.

              Now, here's how this all works for me.

              I'm a litigator, so my work is case driven. I'm also an associate, so I work on several cases, assisting several partners. I visualize and record most cases that I'm on as a 20k area of responsibility, rather than a project. My projects are the components of each case that I'm responsible, such as drafting or responding to certain discovery, drafting motions, taking depositions, interviewing witnesses or experts, and other activities on that level. I say most cases are a 20k area of responsibility: sometimes someone will ask me to do a truly discrete project for a case, so the case isn't really an area of responsibility for me.

              Each project gets a file. It could be a file folder, or it could be a 2-5 inch redwell or bucket, depending on what you call them. I'm not shy about having lots of them on my shelves. For example, today I drafted three types of discovery for one case, all to the same party. Each got its own folder. Inside the folder are all of the reference materials I need for the project. Reference materials might include a copy of the complaint in the case, a copy of a letter someone wrote, my notes from a meeting, etc. If the project requires anything other than a couple of actions, I plan the project, even on a rudimentary level.

              When projects are completed, I purge the file. Copies of documents get tossed because the originals are in central filing. My notes, if they are completely processed, go to central filing. If the project creates a hard deadline or a waiting-for next action, I record it. I do my best to keep only current projects on my shelves, and I do my best to keep the materials for only one project on my desk at any one time. Fewer disctrations = mind like water.

              I duplicate my firm's calendaring and docketing on my own calendar. My firm keeps a central calendar system; I take the time to monitor and double-check deadlines from it and put them on my own calendar.

              For timekeeping, I do it the old-fashioned way. I have a piece of paper at my desk or with me if I'm out, and I write down my time and work description as I go. I enter my time at the end of the day, or at the start of the next day. Trying to modify various journal applications or other ways was far too complicated.

              Email has been tough for me. After trying several methods, I've come up with a relatively simple use of Outlook for it. I keep one Inbox, and within it are folders for each case I'm on. (I also have folders for firm admin and personal.) I fully use the two-minute rule. I found that I can, in two minutes, sometimes read, digest, and respond to some fairly complex emails. For those that I can't, I still process them. Rather than keep read/review, action, and waiting-for email folders, I've put them into other places. Read/review emails get printed out and put into a R/R folder. If they are case related, they get dragged to the appropriate case folder. If not, they're deleted. For emails that require action, I drag them to the Tasks icon, which opens up a new task with the entire email as the associated note. I formulate the next action, file the task, and then file the email in the case folder. I bcc myself on all outgoing emails; most become waiting-for tasks once they pop into my inbox. It's not as complex as it sounds, and I've found that it works.

              How does this keep me calm and make me more effective? Right now I can tell you all of the projects I'm currently working on. I can also tell you what all of my next actions are. I know where my cases are, where they are going, and what needs to be done, simply by looking at my PDA, my Outlook screens. I can tell you every person that I'm waiting on, and what they owe me. When I'm at my desk, working on a project, I'm comfortable knowing that everything else is patiently waiting for me, with an appropriate reminder in a place that will give me the right reminder.

              Today I had a relatively quiet block of time at my desk. I pulled up my @Calls list and started dialing. I made an appointment to have my car repaired, contacted 4 possible experts in one case, contacted 2 possible experts in another case, and talked with a client about a suit they want to file. Took less than an hour. It was so invigorating to have accomplished so much in so little time.

              My system isn't perfect. I'm one of those people who does a monthly weekly review. But I do a mini-review every couple of days when I have time. I go through all of my next-action lists to mark things off or move things around (an email goes to a waiting-for; a waiting-for goes to a call). I look through my projects and think about each one. I glance through my someday/maybes to see if I can make any a project. I do it to the level that I need to in order to feel comfortable that everything is accounted for.

              I hope that helps, at least a little. And if it didn't, ask.



              • #8

                Although I am not an attorney, reading your post inspired me.



                • #9
                  And me as well! I have also copied and emailed it to me husband, who is an attorney and suffers from the disorganization and procrastination that inspired this thread. Thanks, all.


                  • #10
                    Lawyers and GTD

                    Thanks to everyone who replied. It's terrific to hear the details of how people really intergrate GTD into the details of their job. I have been keeping GTD on my Palm and all other stuff on Amicus. As I have posted Amicus isn't updating on the Mac so I am starting from scratch. Palm isn't enough for the full data base I need to keep. I am now really looking into daylite and hope soon to have my own working model of GTD and law to share.


                    • #11
                      Great thread. My husband is an attorney and I am a legal technology consultant. I have just read David Allen's book and am hoping to implement many of his suggestions into Time Matters.



                      • #12
                        I 'm not an attorney, but a while ago I ran across this blog
                        Ernie the Attorney -->

                        Also, his articles on PDF documents are very interesting.
                        PDF for Lawyers -->


                        • #13
                          Top 20 Wealthiest Soccer clubs

                          Topics containing links to people's sites are unneeded and contribute nothing as a whole, much like topics containing content like this one. You could have PMed a moderator and asked this same question and received the same 4 0student response. Please do so in the future.


                          • #14
                            Time Matters


                            I also am implementing GTD with Time Matters. I'd love to hear how you are doing so. Are you using version 5 or 6?