For months after law school I would periodically wake up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, thinking not only that I was late for class, but that I had missed most of the semester and was about to walk into an exam completely unprepared. This fit right in with the classic dream of showing up for class in underwear.

Shortly after taking the Texas bar -- the following weekend to be exact -- I started working in my first real commercial litigation job. (Some would say I literally just started working there without interviewing or being asked by anyone, but that’s another story for another time.) After being on the job for a few weeks, I started waking up in a cold sweat for reasons other than the fear of missing an exam. The stakes had been raised. Real people and real organizations were relying on my work and I would have to learn to live with the sinking perpetual feeling that I might miss a deadline.

What they don’t teach you in law school.

Calendar management will be critical throughout your career. In the context of discovery, scheduling orders, rules of procedure, opposing counsel, and partner demands will rule the day. This requires knowing, or at least accurately estimating, how long a project assigned to you will take to complete. Estimating completion times is a skill that is developed through experience -- and helpful blog posts. Experience will teach you that there is how long something SHOULD take and how long something ACTUALLY takes. The latter is usually dictated by surprises. Minimizing the gap between the two is accomplished by mitigating surprises as much as possible.

Surprises tend to occur in three areas you can often control:

  1. Yourself (in the form of procrastination)
  2. Other people
  3. Technology tools

Are you a procrastinator?

Some of the best lawyers are, but they have honed their time-estimation skills to a fine craft. If you’re going to put off doing today what you can do tomorrow, you have to know thyself (Temet Nosce), like Neo in The Matrix. The trick is to develop an honest sense of how you work, set early deadlines with sufficient padding, and to work backwards from those self-imposed deadlines. Until you get a real idea of how long certain tasks take you, the extra padding you build in will save the day.Learn the habits of the people you work with.There will certainly be tasks you are responsible for that require you to rely on others. This reliance upon other people to get the job done is one of the foundations upon which trust and reputation is built in the legal industry. When you work with people you trust, you can confidently delegate work as necessary. Unfortunately, finding reliable individuals can be difficult. Reliable people can be rare and keeping them in your sphere can be critical to your success. Additionally, as you get to know and trust those around you, it’s often safe to assume that others’ work product will need some corrective action. As such, until you are comfortable with your coworkers’ or vendors’ work, you should add additional padding for that corrective action when scheduling.

Learn the habits of the people you work with.

There will certainly be tasks you are responsible for that require you to rely on others. This reliance upon other people to get the job done is one of the foundations upon which trust and reputation is built in the legal industry. When you work with people you trust, you can confidently delegate work as necessary. Unfortunately, finding reliable individuals can be difficult. Reliable people can be rare and keeping them in your sphere can be critical to your success. Additionally, as you get to know and trust those around you, it’s often safe to assume that others’ work product will need some corrective action. As such, until you are comfortable with your coworkers’ or vendors’ work, you should add additional padding for that corrective action when scheduling.

Technology you can rely on.

A technology failure is rarely a valid excuse for missing a deadline, and trusting your technology is as important as trusting the people you work with. You need to be able to trust your tools to deliver with speed and accuracy -- this is where DISCO’s

 review platform shines. Knowing that you don’t have to wait for the machine to return results or navigate between documents delivers a peace of mind that is unmatched by other products. The ability to jump into a massive set of documents and confidently find what you need with speed and ease allows you to focus on the work and removes yet another variable when calculating timing. 

As you begin practicing, you may not yet know your own procrastination powers, and you may not have developed trusting relationships with the people in the trenches with you, but you can choose a tool that is reliable, quick, and easy. Picking the correct tool probably won’t prevent the night terrors, but it will go a long way towards building a system that allows you to hit your deadlines and become the new associate rock star.

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