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Lawyers: Can you get your inbox to zero?

January 13, 2016

Filed under: Practice Management,Staffing Issues,Stress Management — Tags: — admin @ 11:13 pm

Aiming for an email inbox count of zero sounds about as reasonable to most lawyers as finding a unicorn galloping about town.

Many attorneys start with such a goal, and then they give up after some effort and go back to what they were doing previously – desperately trying to reply to as many messages as possible.

The biggest challenge here is not achieving zero emails. It’s the assumption you could even try do it without taking three key steps.

  1. Get clear on your expectations. Appreciate what email is really about. It’s essentially a communication tool. You are not managing emails. You are managing communication. If you are solely focused on getting your inbox to zero, then you are missing the underlying issue, which I suggest is getting clear on what you want to communicate via email and what you do not want to communicate via email. Decide what kind of messages you want to send and receive via email. It might feel silly, but start by writing this list down.
  2. Tell your clients your expectations. I remind my clients that I view emails the same way I view the paper mail I get from my postal carrier. I retrieve it one time per day, and I typically reply to it one time per day. I am not in a chat room waiting for electronic messages, and they should not expect an instant response. If the email relates to an hourly matter, then they should expect to see a charge if the email is substantive in nature. Be frank with clients on this. If necessary, put it in your engagement agreement. It is amazing how many times I meet lawyers who tell me they don’t charge for emails but they do for phone calls and appointments. How long do you think it takes a client to figure this out?
  3. Tell your team your expectations. A lot of lawyers try to use email as a form of delegation. Yes, email can work well for simple delegations handed down to your staff. But it’s amazing how many delegations actually come up from the team to the lawyer via email. Teach your team what is okay to email and what is not okay to email. For example, if they send questions about a case that require more than yes or no, then they are delegating up. They should bring the file (assuming you are not a paperless office) and meet with you in person. You both save a ton of time since you’re not sitting there trying to analyze what to do or say step-by-step via email for the next hour.

In my experience, lawyers can shrink the size of their inbox if they implement these three steps. Working and responding faster to email will not solve the problem. The more clients and staff you have, the more email you will receive. If you plan on growing your practice, then your inbox will grow with it. So, as it grows, you must really think through your underlying communications strategy via email before you can start the quest for zero.



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