During the last several years my practice has continued to grow and as a result, the number of emails and phone calls has increased significantly. I can literally spend my entire day fielding emails from clients, vendors, opposing counsel, and others and not get “work” done. The problem is that the number of hours in a day does not increase. Until recently, many times I felt overwhelmed by the frequency and volume of emails received on a daily basis and stayed evenings and weekends trying to handle them. Just last week, I thought there has to be a better way to manage the email problem and developed a system of email management which has “tamed” the “email tiger.” This is my system which I am happy to share and I hope that it will help you if you are facing the same issue.
1. The time that the email is received does not establish the priority for its response.
This is, in my opinion, the first step in handling this problem. You need to establish a “priority” ranking based on who is sending the email and the purpose of the communication. For instance, in my office, I make emails and calls from prospective clients and communication directly from the court or a judicial assistant the #1 priority. Every office is different; however, not every call or email can be handled the moment it is received.
2. Identify the types of emails that you receive and develop rules and policies on how and when they will be handled.
I receive emails from my assistant, associates, opposing counsel, clients, leads, judicial assistants, court filings, vendors and solicitations on a daily basis. In order to “channel” the communication, I created a main folder called “This Week’s Emails” and subfolders for my assistant Aimee, associates, court filings, client communication, opposing counsel, vendors, and others. Once the email arrives into my inbox, it is either automatically transferred to the appropriate folder through a filter or I move it myself. This allows me to group into a series of folders the emails and handle them based on the priority that I’ve established for each group and not by the time received. This also allows me to quantify what emails/matters are taking more time than usual and make adjustments accordingly.
3. Make it a goal to clear out your inbox daily.
Your email inbox should not be a storage for emails to be handled later. If left unattended, a number of emails will continue to increase, taking more time to then review and handle them. Every email received should be handled according to the firm’s priorities; otherwise, deleted or archived.
4. Set times when you receive and send emails.
In order to maintain focus on the productive hours of the day, I’ve set times when my assistant sends emails to me for review, and times that I review emails and when they are responded to. Although it is tempting to immediately respond to emails, I’ve found that it is more productive to handle emails as a group as opposed to individual conversation or exchanges.
5. To the extent possible monetize your emails.
Yes, most of our legal work is generated by email communication; therefore, we must develop systems to effectively charge and collect on the email that we receive and send in our practice. This will be the subject of my next article.
I’d like to close by stating that this is a “work in progress” and I am still making adjustments and changes as situations arise. I am happy to report that almost two weeks into this new system, I feel more in control of the email management and have significantly reduced the response time to matters. Our ability to yield more revenue within the eight-hour day is directly related on how we manage the information flow.