Although some lawyers leave “real time” practice, in part, because of the number of billable hours they are forced to work, being a virtual lawyer does not necessarily equal fewer hours. In fact, without healthy time management, a virtual lawyer can actually find himself or herself working even more hours. Because many virtual lawyers work from home offices, certain “cues” that the day is over or nearly over are not present; e.g., co-workers going out to lunch or preparing to leave for the day can be both a visual and auditory cue about the time of day. If I am not careful, e.g., I can easily work well past a reasonable lunch hour, not leave my desk for hours, and suddenly find myself exclaiming, “Is it that time already?” Sounds like “real time” firm life, doesn’t it?
Another problem that exists for just about everyone these days – but is particularly problematic for virtual lawyers – is controlling your availability to clients. If you are someone who doesn’t mind answering emails, IMs, texts, etc. at all hours of the day or night, then you can probably stop reading here. But, if you are someone who wants to set some boundaries on when you are available, set those boundaries at the outset and stick to them by following three basic business policies:
1. Set office hours even if you are working from home;
2. Make your office hours crystal clear to clients;
3. (And this is the tough one) – Set hours that work for you and then respect them.
Obviously, there will be times when you will need to deviate from your daily schedule. Such deviations are inherent in law practice. However, if you don’t respect your own office hours then you may end up sending mixed signals to your clients about your availability, leading some of them to think you are “on-call” 24/7. One site that I have found that has excellent articles about the problem of emails response times and unreasonable expectations is Business E-mail Etiquette. You may also be subjecting yourself to many of the same stresses that plague traditional law practice, which can be detrimental to your physical and emotional well-being.
I would be interested to learn from you what techniques you have used to manage your time during the day. And, how does your virtual daily schedule differ (if it does) from your daily schedule in a traditional firm setting?