Multitasking: A Pre-Requisite for Legal Professionals?

Have you ever seen a job description for a legal associate, paralegal or legal secretary list “master juggler” under required skills and experience? Likely not, but there’s an implied expectation that legal professionals can multitask and do it all regardless of growing project loads and demanding deadlines. Being able to effectively manage multiple cases, projects and duties in today’s fast-paced legal workplace is a fundamental pre-requisite, a capability that all legal professionals should possess.

Being able to successfully handle multiple projects comes down to organization, time management, prioritization, and a pragmatic approach to work assignments. Plus, it’s important to recognize that even master jugglers have limits.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by project demands, here are six steps that can help you effectively organize your workload: 

1. Take inventory of what’s on your plate. List all your projects and break down each into the discrete steps required so you can better assess the time you’ll need to invest. For example, if you’re a legal manager filling a job vacancy, outline the various components of the process -- from reviewing and updating the job description, advertising the opening, scheduling and interviewing applicants, to ultimately deciding on the best candidate, extending the job offer and developing plans for onboarding the individual. Breaking down your complex tasks in this manner will enable you to get a handle on managing the various elements involved.

2. Assign a realistic timeline. Once you've taken an inventory, chart a timeline for each project, estimating how much time each of the tasks will require. Prioritize the assignments, factoring in urgency and due dates, and also allowing time for reviews, edits and unexpected delays that may impact your ability to meet deadlines.

3. Delegate what you can. Assign any applicable duties or tasks on your list that align with team members' strengths, along with firm deadlines. By utilizing team members effectively, you can significantly enhance productivity as well as provide legal support employees with developmental opportunities

4. Schedule your work assignments. Next, plan blocks of time when you will work on the tasks for each project on your list -- and be realistic. We all recognize that projects tend to take longer than expected, so add a cushion of time to your projections. As you schedule your work, consider the times of the day when you can best focus and work most productively. Be firm about avoiding distractions, including phone calls, emails and impromptu meetings.

5. Separate project responsibilities from routine tasks. Routine but necessary tasks, like reading and responding to email and phone calls, can be interruptive and time-consuming; set aside specific times to manage such duties, perhaps at the end of the day. Set meetings up with team members who have questions or entire teams who are working on the same project at consistent times to avoid repeated questions or unplanned meetings that can go off tangent.

6. Monitor status on projects on a regular basis. When managing multiple projects, it’s easy to get absorbed in completing a single assignment. But it’s important to develop a system to track status on all of your projects. Whether you use project management software or a less formal project spreadsheet, monitor progress regularly, updating deadlines, milestones and priorities as needed.

To handle multiple projects effectively and efficiently, it comes down to organization, time management, prioritization, and a pragmatic approach to work assignments. Plus, it’s important to recognize that even master jugglers have limits. 

If you’re already concerned about the timely completion of your current projects, think twice about accepting any new assignments. Analyze your project or caseload spreadsheet and realistically determine if you’re able to add new work without sacrificing quality or compromising deadlines on your existing commitments. If necessary, ask your manager to help you reprioritize your existing projects or adjust deadlines (where possible) to allow time for the new assignment. 

In the long run, a reputation of over-promising and under-delivering will be more harmful than saying “no” to new projects. As difficult as it may be at the time, creating reasonable boundaries will exhibit your rationality and commitment to delivering quality work.

What are your own trusty tips for managing multiple projects? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.