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  • 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.

  • #2
    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.

    Comment


    • #3
      You may want to check this site:

      http://law4pda.org/wp/category/note-studio/

      It's PDA-centric, but the Wiki-like software used has a desktop version (Windows and Mac, I believe) that would allow similar implementation on a desktop. More importantly, it has a great deal of discussion on GTD implementation and general organization.

      - MB

      Comment


      • #4
        a few comments

        Hey THart, good for you for consciously adopting a system in the early stages to help with your work. I think many wait until there's a real problem before acting.

        First, here are a few related threads and articles:
        1. Lawyers and GTD
        2. A System for Sanity - Part I
        3. A System for Sanity - Part II

        Originally posted by THart
        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?
        The think traditional GTD approach is a flat projects list, which in your case sounds like each client is a project. You will most likely have other projects as well - hire staff, plan practice growth, professional development, etc. Note that these should be a list of *active* clients, i.e., ones with next actions. Others should go in your reference filing system.

        Originally posted by THart
        Another problem is having multiple 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.
        In GTD it's a central idea that you list only the next action (in your case consulting with someone) in your Next Actions list(s), and no dependent ones. You'll naturally get to the dependent ones (in your case drafting the letter), either through your weekly review or when you finish the first one. The reason to do it this way is that you want all of your actions to be ones you can take right now. Otherwise you'll start diluting the list, and there goes your trust.

        You didn't say why you wanted them all listed, but many times we like to see a list somewhere of everything the project needs. In this case you'd want to sketch out some a project plan, i.e., a checklist or diagram that lists the steps needed for completion. Allen's chapters on project planning are helpful here. The way it works is when you finish your next action you can easily refer to your planning notes (in the folder associated with the project - *not* stacked in piles on your desk, as you noted) and quickly pull out the next action to "activate."

        One note: Having multiple *independent* actions for the same project is fine, as long as you don't overload yourself. The more you have the faster you can move it along, but one is the minimum.

        You might find this article on actions helpful: Does this "next action" belong someplace else?.

        Originally posted by THart
        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 believe the standard practice is to store checklists elsewhere (as notes, for example), rather than projects. I'd hate to see you mix projects with non-project supporting information.

        Originally posted by THart
        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.
        I hope this helps. Good luck!

        matt

        Matthew Cornell, M.S.
        http://matthewcornell.org/
        http://ideamatt.blogspot.com/

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by THart
          ...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?

          I'm not quite sure what you mean by "maintain the project distinction." But my suggestion for Palm-Outlook sync software is PocketMirror, by Chapura. It's more robust than the regular Palm sync conduits and works very well with OL.


          Originally posted by THart
          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?
          I keep my client list / case list separate from my project list. Someone here once suggested that doing so puts it at a different level than projects (15k feet - above projects, but below areas of focus), and that was useful for me. Many cases have multiple projects, and some cases have no current projects - something I'm going to work on over the next week.


          Originally posted by THart
          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.
          In general, if I know that a project will require a step, but it isn't the very next physical action that I'll be taking, I'll make a note of it on a project plan sheet for that project. That keeps my NA lists concise.

          Originally posted by THart
          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 agree with cornell that this should go somewhere other than your project list. Create a place for checklists, or lists. A category of OL/Palm notes/memos is a good place, or a desktop folder just for checklists works too.


          I put together a lengthy brain dump a couple of months ago for someone else detailing all aspects of how I use the GTD process in my litigation practice. Send me a private message if you'd like a copy. And congrats on taking the initiative to jump into this.

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks for the input. As for "maintain the project distinction" I meant keep the NAs sortable by client/project on the Palm rather than a list of actions for which the project that they go with are not easily discernable.

            I am open for suggestions, that's why I posted my request for help. Maybe a little more information about my practice will help. I am a general practitioner in a small town firm. At any one time I have domestic, probate, real estate, criminal, etc. matters as well as real estate abstracts to examine. We also represent several municipalities and government agencies. I have cases for which I am entirely responsible and then cases for which I am responsible for specific tasks but not the overall outcome.

            I installed the Outlook Add-in and wanted to be able to group my NA's by client matter. That is why I initialling settled on creating a project called "CLIENTS" and using client names as subprojects for the individual cases. The municipalities and government agency clients get their own project level and any matters I have to handle for them are listed as subprojects, thus:

            Project: CLIENTS
            Subproject: Doe, John
            NA: Call opposing counsel

            Project: CITY OF X
            Subproject: Ordinances
            NA: Prepare Ordinance re: Nuisance Abatement

            I guess I am not making enough distinction with regard to subprojects. I am trying not to overcomplicate things so I would rather not create a subproject for the various areas of the case. Maybe further classification actually simplifies things? I do not think I need a client list to review if there are not any NAs associated with the client. That is why my thinking is to have a list grouped by client matter that shows the action needed to move it forward. We maintain several databases with client information already.

            I just downloaded the template by Bollinger http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthr...2&page=1&pp=10 and I am reviewing the suggestions by Bill Kratz. I already use a Palm m505 with Outlook conduits and I am planning to purchase a Palm TX and Keysuite in the very near future.

            I think in the end whatever system that helps me use Outlook/Palm to keep track of cases I need to work on, rather than having the physical client files stacked on my desk to serve as a reminder, will be an improvement. I appreciate the input of more experienced users to help me make my system even more successful.
            Last edited by THart; 07-08-2006, 04:16 PM.

            Comment


            • #7
              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.

              Katherine

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by THart
                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.
                I don't know what kind of law you practice, but I hope the first statement above is true - I'm a claims adjuster, and if you are plaintiff counsel, please don't dismiss me out of hand!

                Truly, I struggled with the same thing. I'm actually the manager of our location, so I have many duties - sales, administration, staffing, and handling files. You call them claims, I call them files.

                I've taken a simple approach to GTD with files - I've set up a category called "Files". I know that I work on those where I can - usually at my office, but sometimes I bring some work home. I only put into that category files that need next actions - some may be dormant waiting for paperwork, etc. If I need to be more specific (send a report on file number 123r532q to plaintiff counsel) I can put the information that needs to be conveyed in the letter in the notes section. Generally, though, with the low caseload I carry, I only need the trigger of the file that I need to work on.

                Good luck, and have fun with GTD!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Katherine, the reason I created a CLIENTS top level project is because I also have a PERSONAL top level project. I could have just as easily called it LEGAL or CASES, but I chose CLIENTS because I am using the client name as the project name. I guess I am using it more for classifying projects rather than considering them projects themselves. I wanted to be able to separate the items and view the various top level classifications in Outlook.

                  Maybe I should use categories instead to separate the topics?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by THart
                    Maybe I should use categories instead to separate the topics?
                    That's what I do, for whatever that's worth. Now that good search tools are available, I'm finding that complex hierarchies are too hard to maintain for the benefit they give.

                    Katherine

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Tell us more about your practice. I was a lawyer in my own practice in my former life -- bk (before kids). I made lots of mistakes and learned in the process, so maybe I can help. What kind of practice do you have? How many clients?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        About My Practice

                        As I stated earlier, I am a general practitioner in a small town firm. At any one time I have domestic, probate, real estate, criminal, etc. matters as well as real estate abstracts to examine. We also represent several municipalities and government agencies. I have cases for which I am entirely responsible and then cases for which I am responsible for specific tasks but not the overall outcome.

                        At the moment I only have about 40 open cases, but I also have new projects/tasks come up all the time on cases for which I am not primarily responsible. The largest portion of my cases right now are domestic (divorce/custody), probate and civil litigation. But when my boss has a trial, as he has this week, I have to cover hearings and perform tasks to "put out fires" while he is unavailable. Most of my clients tend to be single matters but we have several government clients that have numerous matters.

                        Our firm uses Outlook for calendaring (in addition to a master desk calendar) and I synchronize my Palm to the Outlook calendar. That is why I am wanting my system to work with these applications.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          GTD for Lawyers

                          I'd recommend the following:
                          First, ditch the Palm & get a pocket PC. It offers unlimited categories - I think you'll need more than 15.
                          Set up the normal "context" categories for your next actions.
                          Set up the following extra categories to hold the lists of your live projects:-
                          "Projects - Clients"
                          "Projects -MBD" (Marketing & Business Development)
                          "Projects -PM" (Practice Management)
                          "Projects -KH" (Know how)
                          In the clients category, create a separate "task" for every live matter by its file reference & a brief decsription - e.g. CAM/534/135 - Sale of Limerick3".
                          This is the only area of my implementation that is not strictly orthodox GTD, since each client matter could have many GTD "projects" - but since I currently have 77 live matters I think I'd be overwhelmed if I tried to break it down further.
                          Stick to only one next action if possible (and in the task description if you include the matter no., you can do a search in outlook on MAC/534/135 to reveal all tasks, including completed ones). On that basis I sometimes put more than one NA in the task list; otherwise I list dependencies in the notes section of each NA/task; I also make liberal use of dated tasks and the calendar.
                          I believe just about every other aspect of legal practice is covered by the other 3 categories, and I treat stuff in those categories in plain vanilla GTD fashion - projects and NAs.
                          Other catgeories that are useful are @Agendas - [Name] for assistants/bosses; :Agendas - Team Meeting; and "Projects - Completed" (a list of all completed professional projects - purged annually after appraisal).

                          I prefer to have separate contexts for professional and personal as this allows you to easily filter the views on the pocket pc in Agenda Fusion or Pocket Informant). By the time you duplicate some categories (e.g. @Calls, @Computer, Someday/Maybe) you end up with e.g. 27 categories - hence the recommendation for pocket PC. Sounds a lot but it makes sense & does not require too much "maintenance".
                          I think the best idea is to give it a try. It'll take time inputting all the live client references as "Projects - Clients" but nobody said GTD was easy. It is worth it though.
                          Good luck.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I really don't want more than 15 categories...

                            When the category list gets too long you have to scroll up and down to find some of them, so I prefer the length that it is (I actually use less than 15), so the Palm works well for me.

                            As far as the projects list goes, you could still use your categorization scheme without actually making categories. If you put the project category in front of the project name on your list they'll all sort nicely together. I often name my next actions so that they will group together in their context lists, too.

                            I just read chapter 41 of Ready for Anything again, "Too Controlled is Out of Control." David says sometimes we put way too much attention on "organization," and that a thorough weekly review mitigates the need for a lot of the stuff we do to stay organized.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Old Thread, But Continuing Issues

                              This is an old thread, but I am new to the forum and would love to hear updated responses. For what it's worth, for the last 17 years, I have been a solo practitioner with a litigation-focused practice. I share office space with another attorney, and he and I do some larger cases together. Last year, he and I decided to hire a young attorney who would help both of us. So, I decided it was time to reign in the chaos that had become my office. I read Getting Things Done and Making It All Work (and got the young attorney to read GTD, as well). I have used Amicus and TimeMatters. I've sworn off those programs and now just use Outlook with the Credenza add-in. (Credenza is an Amicus product, called "Amicus-Lite" by some folks. You are correct that Tom Rowe's add-ons for TimeMatters come close to making the program more GTD-like.) I also use Nozbe to track projects and tasks. (I spent a long time with several other options, from Toodledo to Remember the Milk to a host of others.) Nozbe forms the center of our GTD process. I label each project with: "Casename - Project Name." So, I don't have case files with subprojects as was outlined in the early posts, but can easily arrange the projects so I can see all of the projects for each case. Intuitively, I want my project list to be a list of projects, and it seems to me that every case has multiple projects in it. (File this motion, research this issue, interview this witness, take this deposition, etc.) So, I breach out each project separately, linking the ones associated with a case by the way I title them and by giving a label that is the case name. (Labeling is another feature of Nozbe that is useful.) I use Nozbe because of the way it handles and shows delegated tasks, it's fairly simple to use, it is well integrated with Evernote and Dropbox where I keep a lot of case material, and has good apps for my iPad and my Android phone. (I use the iPad frequently with Nozbe and the phone rarely.) An easily printable list is available of all the "next tasks" assigned to me. We track GTD's recommendations for our weekly review, going through everything from calendar to tasks and projects. I have a long way to go, but I feel we are on the right track with GTD. What are others doing now? The years since the last post have seen lots of changes and I'd be curious what you are doing.

                              Comment

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