Lawyers and case managers: outcome centred vs categorical (file) centred GTD projects?

talundbl

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Hi all,

As I've posted here before, I'm an advocate/litigator in the labour sphere. I have about 50 to 60 cases on the go at any given time. Some take 2-3 years to resolve, some take several months, and some I'm just watching or advising on until that case comes to me (or is otherwise resolved). I have about 8 organizations that I represent and I deal with about 8 counterparts on a regular basis.

To date, I've been creating a numbered project in OmniFocus for each case file. Sometimes, if the file is big, I create a folder for the project which allows for subprojects. I also maintain numbered files in my computer for maintaining the record and reference material. But lately, it just seems like a pain to keep matched up and I dread going into omnifocus with all of these cases, some on hold, some waiting, some really active and time intensive, some active but less intensive. It just feels like my GTD system is not a place to "do" but a stalled vehicle.

So I've been thinking a lot lately about the natural planning model and outcome centred thinking and project naming. And I think I'm going to stop trying to overcategorize my file list, stop worrying so much about which "project (i.e. case) where a task goes and work more from contexts rather than projects, per se.

So, for example, "202001 Jim Jones Arbitration" is no longer a project in my system, but instead is found on my "list" of open files which I can review on my weekly review. The project becomes "Agree to arbitrator for Jim Jones Arbitration (202001)" or "Finish and submit draft brief for Jim Jones (20200). And, according to the natural planning model, I move that along through next actions and not plan too far ahead if I don't really have to. One-off tasks associated with all my files all go into one Area of Focus called "Work" rather than trying to ensure that I have a "project" for every case file in Omnifocus. I'm going to try to trust my reviews to move projects and their "files" forward and incorporate a new review of my open case files list into my weekly review. This way, outcome-centred projects may emerge for each file according to the natural planning model and as a result of a thorough review of my "files" outside Omnifocus rather than within it.

We'll see how this goes. I hope that this may help me in that everything in my OF has clear outcomes, that it is actionable and does not appear "stalled". In short, I'm going to test and see to what extent outcome centred naming matters and is superior to maintaining a list of all my open files in my "todo" system.

For those of you managing "files" rather than "projects" on regular ongoing basis, I'm curious to hear how you approach this - and if you yourself would feel comfortable pulling the case files out of your task/project system, and manage those files somewhere else as a separate list.

Any other thoughts or insights are welcome, thanks for reading.
 

Pgrady13

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Following. Just starting to use a modified GTD in my practice. Looking to incorporate ”capture” and “delegate” into my practice management software Clio. Any advice or other resources would be much appreciated.
 

Ger80C

Registered
Hello talundb,

First of all let me say that I am really happy to meet/read from other legal practitioners using GTD. There are not enough of us utilizing this systematic approach, to my mind!

I am a lawyer dealing with commercial contracts and commercial litigation and arbitration, and I feel your pain! As may every GTD practitioner that deals with larger "projects" and "customers".

I use a similar approach than you describe. I, however, only record subprojects with an intermediate step as outcome (such as brief drafting, review of draft v2, arbitrator selection etc.) where the case is so large that many subprojects exist in parallel. I mainly only record the "end goal", i.e. I list ongoing matters (such lists exist for the purposes of tracking deadlines and for reporting purposes anyhow) as part of my project list. I also keep a separate list of my clients. I review both in my weekly review.

This is working fine for me. I try to only record projects that are tied to a tangible outcome, though, so the matter is not recorded as "matter1234" but as "Coyote x Roadrunner - contract drafted and negotiated to the benefit of my client". This helps me stay focused and motivated.

In commercial you usually do not have 50-60 smaller matters open but rather 10-30 cases, so this works. Adding up the concrete subprojects to bigger cases, the maintenance/administrative, CLE and marketing projects lets me end up with around 50-70 projects, and this still works for me.

Regards
Sebastian
 

GTDengineer

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I’m not a lawyer, but my experience may relate to your situation. I plan my engineering projects which have a 2-3 year development cycle in great detail in a Gantt chart which resides in my file system. This plan used a hierarchy, with many sub projects during the cycle.

I would not attempt to track the entire project in my GTD system. It’s not meant for that. Instead, I track the currently active sub-project(s) from the Gantt chart in my GTD projects list, and the next action from each sub project in my GTD actions list. I use my weekly review to make sure my GTD system is synced up with the overall project Gantt chart.
 

talundbl

Registered
Hi all,

Thanks so much for the thoughtful replies!

I think that one thing that has really bothered me is my tendency to strictly structure things. By that I mean, I've always struggled with "is a casefile, as a type, a project or an Area or something in between?" and aligning that with the fact that casefiles can be at various stages of actionability and various scales. But the more I've been thinking about GTD the method is not really about the structure of things, but about the lists you use to get things off your mind. A list of casefiles or clients is just that, a list. Some case file names or clients can also be a project on the project list, or they can just be on another "list" of "pending" files that I review weekly and may encourage the creation of other "sub" projects or actions.
I use a similar approach than you describe. I, however, only record subprojects with an intermediate step as outcome (such as brief drafting, review of draft v2, arbitrator selection etc.) where the case is so large that many subprojects exist in parallel. I mainly only record the "end goal", i.e. I list ongoing matters (such lists exist for the purposes of tracking deadlines and for reporting purposes anyhow) as part of my project list. I also keep a separate list of my clients. I review both in my weekly review.
This was helpful, and I think it validates the road I'm now going on. I'm realizing that good organization does not mean forcing a structure when one is not required.

The other thing that has helped in the short term, surprisingly, is discarding my need to have actions linked explicitly to projects as well as contexts in my system. For years, using omnifocus, I've refused to believe that that David Allen and his army could be at all right about that having any value whatsoever. But in hindsight, I really was wasting a lot of time and mental energy deciding what project an action goes to when it comes up on my list when really I just need to think about whether I'm going to defer/do/delegate. On the flipside, rather than plan to far ahead on project tasks (and thus deciding on what "context" this might be done in the future") I've been trusting the project support notes to help generate a next action when the time is right.

Third, the "give every project an action" and "make every case file a project" was seriously seizing up my workflow. If half my cases are waiting for arb dates to be scheduled over the next three months, do I really need to keep reviewing those projects again and again? Just put a note in the Waiting for list and move that case off the projects list. Or even better, create a list just for cases on the docket for regular review!

So I'm trying this out, it feels more loose and a bit free-ing, although I'm still a bit skeptical that context based rather than project based workflow is better. But at a runway level, I can certainly see how it frees the mind. I've realized now after several years that the most difficult part of GTD is not strictly adhering to the system, but rather making the system your own. It really is about designing lists that suit your specific situation and not trying to create some Rube Goldberg machine of productivity.
 
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