During my short stint as a summer student thus far, one thing has become abundantly clear about the legal profession: planning my time is unpredictable. It sounds like an oxymoron; trust me – I know. However, while it may sound paradoxical, the sentiment is true. Even though you may plan your day, working in the legal profession means you must accommodate short-term court deadlines, urgent tasks assigned to you, and time-sensitive client requests.
Challenges with time management are exacerbated when you’re a student because it can be difficult to anticipate how long a task will take. All too often, I will embark on an assignment after having allocated a certain amount of time in my day for the task – only to realize that it took much longer than I anticipated.
"As someone who thrives on scheduling every minute of her day, changing my game plan to accommodate my evolving workload has been an uncomfortable reality."
But challenging as it may be, adapting to this more versatile approach when planning my time has been a fantastic learning opportunity.
- Ask for input from lawyers on how much time to allocate. Being a lawyer means having experience completing a variety of different tasks. They likely have a good understanding of how long a certain task may take. Of course, it will take a student much longer than an experienced lawyer to do most things, but this can certainly offer a great jumping-off point.
- Communicate your capacity when negotiating deadlines. Don’t overbook yourself! Otherwise, your work product may suffer. It’s important to communicate with the assigning lawyer when you have a lot of work on your plate. If you jam-pack your schedule with deadlines without leaving time to accommodate longer-than-anticipated tasks or last-minute requests, you might be setting yourself up to fail. It’s important to advocate for yourself and be realistic when you agree to a deadline so that you have no problem meeting it.
- Allow for more of a buffer than you think. Think something will only take you 3 hours? Great, reserve 5! Best case, it doesn’t take that long, and you’ve freed up some time in your schedule to get started on other tasks. Worst case, it’s taken you a bit longer than anticipated, but you budgeted your time with enough flexibility to cope with the unexpected! Win-win! Of course, it doesn’t always work out quite as perfectly as this, but adding in some buffer time has helped me immensely.
- Roll with the punches! While it’s always helpful to have a plan to maximize your time, understanding that you may need to move things around at the last minute and improvise with your time is also important. Realizing that your schedule is subject to change can help set realistic goals and expectations for managing your time and helps to prevent panic down the road when you need to pivot unexpectedly.
Don’t get me wrong with this last item; I’m definitely still a planner! But this more flexible approach when scheduling my task list has given me more confidence in managing my time!
by Sarah B.