I have been planning to write on litigators’ workloads for a considerable time. It is an important issue and, as far as I can tell, very little is written about it. The issue is a fundamental one. What is the appropriate number of cases for a litigator to be handling at any one time to be able to (i) do a good job; (ii) earn a living.
“Lawyers are often under enormous pressure and it’s a job which invariably involves deadlines, and you just can’t afford to miss them. It is actually very easy to miss them if you become overloaded with work.
“So when you get to a stage where you are so overrun with work that it can have an impact on your performance, then you need to put your hand up and try to get help, or take the really brave step of not taking on any more instructions.”
(From the NZ Lawyer)
A FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION
I have asked this question a lot of times over the years. It is a simple management tool, you would think. I ask it because:
- Excessive caseload is, effectively, the cause of many of the breach of sanctions/procedural problems that come before the courts.
- I have seen some people made very ill by their job.
- There are reports (easily found online) of lawyers committing suicide because of their workload.
- I have seen some clients made very ill because their lawyer is overworked.
A QUESTION THAT OFTEN LEADS TO HOSTILITY
It is surprising how this question can often generate hostility (from those who manage firms, not those who actually do the work, I should add). It “depends”; it is “too difficult”; it is “impossible to say”.
A recent report in the Gazette stated that one firm was running with case loads of 500 per person.
This makes for some interesting maths.
- Assuming 48 weeks a year at 38 hours a week we have 1,842 hours a year.
- Assuming every hour of the working day is devoted to cases, that gives each case 3.6 hours a year.
- If you prefer it that is 9 minutes a week.
- Or less than two minutes a day per case.
The reality is, most probably, the actual fee earning time will be much less than that.
(If anyone wants to use the comments section to tell me my maths are wrong, feel free).
THERE MUST BE A POINT OF NEGATIVE RETURN
The modern litigator needs to be proactive rather than reactive. This blog catalogues, on a regular basis, the consequence of litigator’s mistakes. These mistakes are, usually, not made because those involved are poor lawyers. By far the most common source of errors is over work. There must come a point when a case load becomes counter-productive. Causing a loss of income rather than an increase. Simply demanding more out of individuals in a job that requires skill, care and time to think is a dangerous and short-time outlook.
SO IS THERE AN EASY ANSWER?
If there was then someone would have found it, bottled it, sold it and retired long ago. The real problem is that many people do not even seem to be asking the question? I often raise the issue of workload when lecturing on “how to get sued”. It gives rise to laughter, agreement and the comment that those responsible for running the firm should be told (strangely they are never present). There are some suggestions below.
I have taken a look at posts from lawyers from around the world.
- The Gazette – Breaking points – an examination of the causes of stress in the high street.
- Irene Leonard – Just say “No” when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Betty Shaw – Top 10 Excuses for neglect and Noncommunication
- Phillip Cowdery – A better way to manage your workload
- Michael Hyatt – When you feel overwhelmed by your workload
- Legal Cheek Workload and client expectations are by far the biggest causes of stress for lawyers.
- Solicitors Journal – Solicitors’ workload is the number one cause of workplace stress
- Young lawyer – Stress is a big issue for young lawyers
- Tips for lawyers – How to prioritize your Workload