STAYING SANE AS A LITIGATOR 6: WORKLOAD: THE IDEAL CASELOAD OR “BURY EVERYBODY” – WHICH IS MORE PROFITABLE?

This is unlikely to be the last post on this topic.  Workload is likely to be the main source of stress for most litigators. The very basic issue of what is an appropriate caseload for litigators is often complained about but rarely analysed.  Here we look at one sensible, and wholly pragmatic, attempt to define the “ideal caseload”.

 

“The ideal caseload is that caseload which allows the attorney to ethically and fairly bill the most that the attorney is willing, without being in danger of making mistakes or skipping important steps while leaving some time for self-development, marketing, unavoidable or unplanned surges in demand on attorney time and other essential firm-related activities .”

 

Today I am encouraging you to read just one document, “The Optimum Caseload”. This is, in fact, an “internal” document produced by Godfrey Johnson, a firm of American Litigators.  It is instructive of their attitude and openness that they are willing to make this public. It is a sensible analysis of the economic, and other, elements of  a litigator’s caseload. It identifies the important point  that “too much” work can be just as harmful as too little.

THE CORRECT AMOUNT OF WORK

“It is important for each lawyer to have the correct amount of work. A lawyer with not enough to do is a financial drain on the firm, particularly if he or she is not skilled at client development (marketing). A lawyer with too much to do is prone to make mistakes and skip or miss steps in handling cases. “

WHY LAWYERS ARE BAD AT THIS

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of lawyers have a tendency to grossly overestimate or underestimate their caseload on any given day. Correctly “weighing” a caseload without the proper tools is difficult”

THE DISADVANTAGES OF THE “BURY EVERYBODY” APPROACH

The “bury everybody” approach is discussed and the flaws of this approach.

“In reality, what such firms are actually doing is implementing a policy whereby the short-term risk of reduced job security for any given person has a higher priority than the quality of the firm’s work, its long-term growth, or any one person’s sanity or professional development”

The “bury everybody” approach is not economically wise. it is likely to be counter-productive.

“The “bury everybody” approach not only penalizes the individual attorneys in the firm by reducing the quality of the work environment; the attorneys who work the hardest are punished by ever increasing workloads. Despite the assumptions mentioned above, the added stress experienced by all produces no additional income, because attorneys with lighter caseloads are already billing all they can and still not getting everything done in their cases, so this approach jeopardizes clients’ interests for no real gain. In the long run, the likelihood of losing business with this approach is actually increased, because the overall quantity and quality of the firm’s output and marketing activity is radically decreased”

THE CASELOAD BENEFIT GRAPH

It is worthwhile looking at the Caseload Benefit Graph on the site, which has the “optimum” zone, the “Safety Margin” and the “Malpractice Zone”.

“Once you have enough cases to ethically reach the number of billable hours you are willing to work, will handling even more cases really cause you to bill more time, or will you start skipping steps and compressing your efforts just to keep out of trouble, losing in the process any ability to market, assist the firm in administrative matters and your ability to tap more deeply your creative potential as a lawyer? Decades of experience has taught us that the latter rather than the former is the likely outcome. “

THE IDEAL CASELOAD

There is a definition of the ideal caseload.

“The ideal caseload is that caseload which allows the attorney to ethically and fairly bill the most that the attorney is willing, without being in danger of making mistakes or skipping important steps while leaving some time for self-development, marketing, unavoidable or unplanned surges in demand on attorney time and other essential firm-related activities .”

TRUE EFFICIENCY

There is a definition of true efficiency, and the consequences.

  “It is likely to be that you will attract more work. You might find that word spreads about your skill as an attorney, while your marketing efforts begin to pay off. You might find that you bring in more work than you can do by yourself (without going beyond the optimum caseload). This is a good thing! If it happens, you are contributing to the job security of others as well as yourself, and will find your income going up in light of the firm’s policies regarding marketing bonuses and the firm’s tendency to reward rainmakers.”