Attorney in Need of Help GTD (Outlook & Palm)
I am a new attorney (2+ yrs) and my workload is quickly progressing. I want to implement GTD now so that my practice runs more smoothly now but also with an eye for the future when I will be even more overloaded. I know everyone has their fair share of projects and actions and that work is sometimes difficult for all, but attorneys seem to be much more prone to putting out fires rather than working in a more calm manner. Maybe I just have not been around the right attorneys.
I am committed to using Outlook and Palm. I have already purchased the Outlook Add-in and the process is underway. The first step was getting all of the client files off of my desk, computer desk, bookcase, etc. and capturing next actions in Outlook. I guess having the files scattered around my office served as a visual to-do list. I need to purchase a program for my Palm to synch with Outlook that will maintain the project distinction so that I can have my system with me at all times. Any suggestions?
Part of my problem is defining projects/subprojects. Under the Outlook Add-in system I have created a "CLIENTS" project and a few projects individually named for our larger clients with multiple matters. Under the clients project I created subprojects by client name. I have gone back and forth as to whether it would be better to create a project for each client but I like the separation and I don't want to have to put too much information on the project name. Any thoughts?
Another problem is having mulitple next actions for any given case, some of which are dependant on another action. For instance, if I need to draft a letter to opposing counsel but I have to consult with someone else prior to drafting the letter, I would rather list both actions even though one is required before the other can occur.
A similar example is a probate matter where I have a standard checklist of actions that need to take place throughout the course of the case. I would like to be able to store this checklist as a blank project and paste it into a new probate case (project) when it begins.
I am interested in any responses, lawyers and nonlawyers, that can help me streamline this process. If I am able to get this process working well in my practice, I plan to try to get it implemented with the other attorneys in our small firm. Thank you for taking the time to read this and hopefully provide some insight.
How I Use GTD in My Practice
I too am an attorney. I practice almost exclusively in the area of real estate. I have been practicing for over ten years now and as you can imagine have a large number of files open at any one time. BTW, I was previously in a heavy litigation firm and have worked in various other areas like Creditors' Rights over the years. In hopes that it may help you, I will simply tell you about my GTD implementation. You may be able to glean some useful ideas.
I use Backpack as my main GTD tool. I keep all of my context lists, project lists and someday/maybe lists there. I also use a modified version of the HipsterPDA which I keep in a Levenger International Pocket Briefcase. Instead of printing out the HipsterPDA templates, I print out my lists from Backpack and then leave space at the bottom of the list to add things if I want too. A Fisher Bullet Space Pen fits nicely into my Pocket Briefcase, so I always have a pen. I have had Palm Pilots and Blackberrys over the years, but for me, because data entry in that user interface is so difficult/unusual, they always ended up being a portable address book and calendar when I kept it synced and that's about it. So, for me, going analog has made a lot of sense. I also keep a Moleskine notebook with me at all times as a capture tool and use the voice memo feature on my cell phone when I am in the car.
As for how to organize client matters in the GTD system, I too have struggled with this issue. The solution I have come up with is to just include the client matters on my Projects list. For me this is simply a list. I do not put any next actions on this list, but simply list the client matter as a project. Then when I do my weekly or daily review of my Projects List, I see that matter on the list and put the appropriate next action on its context list. Any filing or docketing deadlines go on the calendar (the hard landscape) and anything delegated to an assistant is put on the Waiting/For list for follow up at an appropriate interval.
That in a nutshell is how I'm using GTD to manage my practice and I cannot tell you how much it has changed my relationship to the practice of law. Pre-GTD, I basically hated practicing law because keeping track of all the various responsibilites was so stressful. I did not realize the amount of information I was trying to carry around in my psychic ram. Post-GTD, I am actually enjoying practicing law for the first time I can remember.
I think it is great that you are coming to GTD so early in your legal career and it should help you have many productive and enjoyable years.
simplify simplify simplify
I am not a lawyer, but I don't quite understand why you want to have a "CLIENTS" top-level project. Why not just create a top-level project for each client, and a sub-project for each matter? Or even a top-level project for each matter, with a name like "XYZ CORP: Megasite purchase" That naming convention will let you magically sort projects by client if needed.
In my experience, flatter hierarchies seem to be easier to manage. When I first went to my current system, I spent a lot of time assigning projects to focus areas, splitting things into subprojects, and so forth. Then I (recently) realized that I was avoiding my system because it was too hard to figure out where to put things. So I ripped out two or three levels of hierarchy, except for the handful of projects that really are that complex. I feel much better, and I cleared out a lot of underbrush in the process.