Many solo and small firm lawyers have a hard time managing their practices in addition to being a lawyer full time. Most lawyers in any field are interested in efficient time management. On this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast, Adriana Linares and Renee Thompson speak with law firm coach Nora Bergman about how lawyers can organize time and use mindfulness to get more work done in less time. Tune in to hear about creating focus time, planning your week, training your brain for effectiveness, and actually implementing tips!
Nora Riva Bergman is a certified practice advisor at Atticus, a company that helps law firms with time management, marketing, human resources, and finances. A licensed attorney since 1992, Nora brings a deep understanding of the practice and business of law to her work with lawyers, law firms, and bar associations.
Mentioned in This Episode
The Florida Bar Podcast: How to Use Time Management and Mindfulness to Improve Your Law Practice – 9/5/2015
Advertiser: Welcome to the official Florida Bar Podcast. Where we cover practice management, leadership, and what’s happening in Florida law. Brought to you by the Florida Bar Practice Resource Institute. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.
Adriana Linares: Hello and welcome to another episode of the official Florida Bar Podcast. My name is Adriana Linares and I’ll be your host today, but I’m very lucky to have a co host again with me today. Hey Renee!
Renee Thompson: How are you Adriana?
Adriana Linares: I’m great! So we’re here having a lot of fun at the Voluntary Bar Leaders Conference.
Renee Thompson: It’s awesome.
Adriana Linares: It’s been great.
Renee Thompson: Yes.
Adriana Linares: And one of the speakers, yesterday and today, was Ms. Nora.
Renee Thompson: Ms. Nora Bergman.
Adriana Linares: I almost feel like she could just go by Nora because she’s so famous. Hey Nora!
Nora Riva Bergman: Oh, I like that, kind of like Cher.
Adriana Linares: How are you?
Nora Riva Bergman: I’m great! How are you ladies this morning?
Adriana Linares: We’re great! Tell our listeners if there’s like one or two people out there who actually have never heard of Lawyer Coach – is that right?
Nora Riva Bergman: Law Firm Coach, that’s my Twitter handle.
Adriana Linares: Law Firm Coach, that’s the Twitter handle. If they have not heard of Nora Riva Bergman, tell them a little bit about you.
Nora Riva Bergman: First of all, thank you for having me here. Great, I’m excited to be here with you this morning. I am a law firm coach. Essentially, the work that I do is with lawyers across the country, doing one on one coaching with them around all of those things that they don’t teach us in law school. I’m a licensed attorney, I’ve been licensed since 1992, but I haven’t practiced actively since 1999.
Adriana Linares: This is more fun.
Nora Riva Bergman: This is way more fun! So I practiced from 1992 to 1999, and then in 1999, I became the executive director of the St. Pete Bar, which is really how I learned about this conference. So I was a Bar exec from 1999 to 2006 and came to these conferences, the Bar Leader Conference every year and always loved it because it’s just a phenomenal group of people that get together. And then in 2006, I started working with a company called Atticus as a law firm coach, and so I worked with lawyers doing one on one coaching on – like I said – the things you don’t learn in law school. Time management, marketing, how to work with your staff, how to understand your finances and cashflow within your firm; and have expanded from that to do some of the work that I do with the Florida Bar, with the University of Miami and legal aid organizations.
Adriana Linares: So you were here speaking on those very types of things, and I think you’re a repeat customer here, they love you. They have you come back every year.
Renee Thompson: She’s like the best KeyNote.
Adriana Linares: Yeah! So what are a couple of the things that you have found resonate really strongly with lawyers when you start talking to them about these things that they didn’t teach them in law school?
Nora Riva Bergman: I would say the presentation that I did yesterday were 55 different tips to help you be-
Adriana Linares: There were a lot.
Nora Riva Bergman: There were a lot, can’t do all 55, so I always say to folks-
Renee Thompson: We took notes.
Nora Riva Bergman: Good, good student, Renee. I say pick your top three. What are the top three things that you’re actually going to not just write down and say these are great ideas but actually do on Monday morning. So if I were to pick the top three, the ones that resonate the most with lawyers-
Adriana Linares: Yeah. That’s what we want to know.
Nora Riva Bergman: They’re typically all around time management, how do I manage my time better. And what I say to folks is number one, you have to understand upfront that there really is no such thing as time management, although I use the term, we all use the term.
Adriana Linares: You’re a time management myth debunker.
Nora Riva Bergman: Right.
Renee Thompson: That is a long Twitter handle.
Nora Riva Bergman: I am. I am the time management myth debunker. So the first thing you’ve got to understand is we don’t manage time. We manage ourselves around the time that we’ve got. So that requires you to first just understand that concept. Once you get that, then you can look at how you manage yourself around the time that you have. And I think one of the most important things that lawyers can do is to create what I call focus time in their day. A period of time in their day, it can be as long as a couple of hours, as short as 25 minutes, where you work uninterrupted. And by that I mean free of needless interruptions.
Adriana Linares: This is very difficult to do.
Nora Riva Bergman: This is very difficult to do because we live in a world where we’re interrupted by the buzzing of our cell phone, with text, we’re interrupted with email, we’re interrupted with staff who have to ask a question.
Adriana Linares: People need you!
Renee Thompson: Yeah, people need you!
Nora Riva Bergman: Right, people need you.
Adriana Linares: But I feel like sometimes we like those disruptions. My boyfriend came home the other day, it was 11 o’clock in the morning or 11:30, and I was making kale chips in the kitchen, which I don’t cook at all.
Renee Thompson: You were in the kitchen?
Adriana Linares: Yes. So he looks at me and he says, “Is there something important you’re supposed to be doing?” And I said, exactly, and I was dying for an interruption which didn’t come, so I made myself one.
Nora Riva Bergman: And we do, we distract ourselves. I use the term interruptions but interruptions also includes those self distractions that we create for ourselves. But the reason that it’s so important to create some focus time for yourself is that that is when lawyers can do their highest level work. You have to be able to work uninterrupted to be able to focus on the highest level work that you need to do. And for some lawyers, an hour is too long. That’s why I say even 25 minutes will make a difference. And so during that time when you’re working in your focus time, you’re uninterrupted time, you need to let your key staff know. First of all, what is not a needless interruption to you? So if you’re working behind closed doors and you have the do not disturb on your phone and you’ve turned off your email and you’ve turned off your cell phone and you’re focusing on the document you have to draft or the petition that you have to draft, your staff needs to know, if a judge calls can they interrupt you? Or if you have a problem with your kids at school, can they interrupt you. So you set the rules.
Adriana Linares: But it’s only 25 minutes, or if that’s the time that you choose. So you say just 25 minutes and unless something’s on fire-
Nora Riva Bergman: Right, you do not interrupt me.
Adriana Linares: And you can do multiple ones of those throughout the day?
Nora Riva Bergman: You can do multiple ones of those throughout the day. And my suggestion is that you plan your week – that’s the second component – by limiting those interruptions in order to limit those interruptions. You’ve got to be able to plan your week. You’ve got to look out into your week and see when you have some unscheduled blocks of time in your calendar and schedule those times as interrupted focus times for you.
Renee Thompson: When is the best time to look at that, though? Are you looking at the week ahead on the Sunday before? Are you looking at it the week prior? Tell me when you look at your calendar and say I need to plan for the week ahead.
Nora Riva Bergman: I personally look at my calendar on Friday. And I encourage my clients to do it either on Thursday or Friday, not on the weekend. Because the whole goal of doing that is so that you can have a weekend. And a number of my clients say, “I like to do this planning on Thursday. Because if I do the planning on Thursday and I notice a fire that I have to put out on Friday, this week I can take care of it before next week comes. And it doesn’t have to be a really long planning time, but the goal of it is to look not only into the next week to plan that week, but to look out into your calendar the next two, three or four weeks for deadlines that are coming up, projects that you have to complete. And then look into the coming week for openings and windows and that week when you can actually schedule your work. Schedule your work in your calendar. As I said in my presentation yesterday, all too often we have lots of appointments in our calendar, we have meetings in our calendar, but we don’t have the time to actually do the work that comes out of those meetings in our calendar.
Adriana Linares: Right, and we’re all scrambling. So holy cow, we’ve got that meeting in fifteen minutes and now you’re trying to prepare.
Nora Riva Bergman: Exactly.
Adriana Linares: Very good. You mentioned yesterday a topic that had been pretty hot on the internet lately for lawyers and I think it’s a foreign concept for a lot of them and that’s just mindfulness. So tell us a little bit about the mindfulness concept and some suggestions for how to be mindful.
Nora Riva Bergman: That’s a great question, first of all, and this is something I’ve become really passionate about over the last couple of years because I have done some reading on how our brain works. And when you think about how our brain works, mindfulness is a way for lawyers to be able to train our brains to be more effective in the work that we do.
Adriana Linares: I’m sorry to interrupt, but it’s not necessarily about taking fifteen minutes to meditate, om?
Nora Riva Bergman: No, it’s not about om.
Renee Thompson: Not just yoga, nope.
Adriana Linares: I mean it can be, but you’re saying it’s not just that, it’s being effective.
Nora Riva Bergman: Right. And here’s a real misconception that people think about. When you say mindfulness and I know some lawyers just cringe at the touchy-feelyness of mindfulness meditation.
Adriana Linares: Some non lawyers do too.
Nora Riva Bergman: Yes, some non lawyers do, too. Being mindful is not about stopping thought, and I think that’s what freaks a lot of people out. It’s like, oh my god, I can’t sit still with myself for even ten or twenty seconds. And when you think about that, that’s kind of a scary idea that you don’t want to be alone with your thoughts.
Renee Thompson: There’s a lot of them!
Adriana Linares: There are voices in my head!
Nora Riva Bergman: Right. There’s a lot of them and that’s a great point, Renee, because if you think about meditation this way, you’ve got all of these thoughts. Meditation is not about stopping thought, it’s about not getting caught up in a thought and getting carried along the road with a thought. So you can think of meditation and being mindful as kind of like driving. So when you’re driving, you are focused on driving. And there are cars that are coming at you all the time when you’re driving. And they come into your consciousness and they pass through. You don’t focus on them and turn around and watch them drive away – hopefully you don’t, anyway. And that’s the way our mind works. There are constantly thoughts coming in and going out like clouds going through the sky. But the value of mindfulness for lawyers – can I take just a couple of minutes and explain the difference between how our two brain networks work?
Adriana Linares: There’s multiple networks in the brain?
Nora Riva Bergman: There are multiple networks in our brain.
Adriana Linares: Tell us more.
Nora Riva Bergman: Okay. So this is a concept that I learned from a book called Your Brain at Work written by a man named David Rock, great book. So in it, he talks about the two different networks that operate in our brain. The first is the default network, or narrative network. Your narrative network are all those voices that never stop talking in your head. It’s the network that is at play when you’re thinking about the past, or planning or worrying about the future, and that is where we spend most of our time as human beings. The other network is called the direct experience network, and the direct experience network is the network that is activated when you are focused on the present moment. The value of being in that direct experience network is that it helps to expand or grow that portion of your brain that allows you to make high level decisions and think very consciously. So it’s important for lawyers to be able to access that direct experience network so that they can focus on the things that they want to focus on. So I do an exercise like the one I did yesterday where I ask people to pick a point of focus. Very often, like your necklace, Adriana, it might be your breath.
Adriana Linares: This is my lawyer diffusion tool, by the way. We should tell people that my necklace just says breathe.
Nora Riva Bergman: It just says breathe.
Adriana Linares: If I want to defuse an angry lawyer when he or she is mad at their computer, I walk up and they go, “Oh, hold on.”
Nora Riva Bergman: Indeed. And I first saw that necklace – you were wearing that necklace at a meeting we were at and I had to go get one myself for that very same reason. So you pick a point of focus. Maybe it’s your breath, maybe it’s the sensation of your feet on the floor, your pressure of sitting in the seat, whatever it might be, and you focus on that experience. And the moment that you notice that you are not thinking about what you want to think about, whether it be your breath, whatever you have chosen, and your mind is off wandering down or a fad is coming in, and you notice that thought coming in and you refocus back to what you wanted to be focused on. In that instant, you’re accessing that direct experience network in your brain.
Adriana Linares: So it’s noticing noticing?
Renee Thompson: And your brain is growing?
Nora Riva Bergman: It’s noticing noticing and your brain is growing. And the other wonderful offshoot of that is that the voices that are constantly talking to you – and by the way, most of our voices are very negative. They don’t say nice things to us in our head. The more you do that, the more those voices tend to quiet. The more headspace you begin to get.
Adriana Linares: So you’re ignoring them and they’re going away.
Nora Riva Bergman: You are not necessarily ignoring them, you’re just not getting caught up in them. And I use the term headspace. There’s a wonderful app, if you’re interested in really learning about what mindfulness can do for your well being, not just your lawyerly skills but your general well being. There’s a wonderful app called Headspace.com. It was created by a man named Andy Puddicombe.
Adriana Linares: Who has a very, very soothing and sexy voice.
Nora Riva Bergman: Oh, he’s got a fabulous voice.
Adriana Linares: I hate to admit this but sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I put on the Headspace because he’s so soothing. But it’s a beginner’s guide to meditation.
Nora Riva Bergman: It is, you can go to Headspace.com – I have nothing to do, not affiliated with Headspace.com. You can download the app for free and you can take his first lesson. It’s called Take Ten. And so it’s ten days of ten minute guided meditations where you begin to learn about meditation. And if you want to continue the journey with him, you can sign up and it’s a monthly subscription.
Adriana Linares: It’s very little, it’s nothing. I think it’s like $9.99 a month or something.
Nora Riva Bergman: Yeah, it’s really cheap and it’s so worth it, and he’s also got a book, by the way.
Adriana Linares: Everyone loves that app. You are probably the fourth person who has mentioned it and I have it and I’ve tried it.
Renee Thompson: It’s his voice! It’s his voice!
Nora Riva Bergman: Well she probably likes the videos, too.
Renee Thompson: She would never admit that.
Adriana Linares: I know. You all are married but I’m single so I pay attention to those things. Well, Nora, it’s been great having you on here. Before we let you go, do you have any other two or three fast little tips that you can shove out there?
Nora Riva Bergman: The tip that I always come back to is when you listen to tips, actually start doing what you want to do.
Ariana Linares: Do the tip.
Nora Riva Bergman: Do the tip.
Adriana Linares: Here’s the tip.
Nora Riva Bergman: Do the tip.
Adriana Linares: Do the tip.
Nora Riva Bergman: You’ve got to actually do it if you want to make any change in your life, you can hear lots of information. So much of what I talk, lawyers already know, it’s not rocket science.
Renee Thompson: One I didn’t know that you shared, which I loved, was the standing meeting. I’m so going to do that.
Adriana Linares: Oh, and walk-in meetings, those are popular too.
Renee Thompson: I didn’t even think about that, that people like to be in a huddle and have a standing meeting, quick, under ten minute meeting. This is what’s happening, here we go, and how that energizes people differently than going into a conference room to sit down to have a discussion. I loved it.
Nora Riva Bergman: Oh great, thank you.
Adriana Linares: Well that’s great. Nora, tell everyone how they can stalk you on the internet if they want to learn more about what you’re saying, what you teach, following your tips. Where can they find you?
Nora Riva Bergman: They can find me @LawFirmCoach on Twitter, if you want to follow me on Twitter. You can find me on LinkedIn, Nora Riva Bergman on LinkedIn.
Adriana Linares: Just like it sounds.
Nora Riva Bergman: Just like it sounds. I have a website called Real Life Practice, and I’m also, as I said, affiliated with Atticus company that does lawyer coaching all over the country. So I’m all over the place, if you Google my name, you’ll find me.
Adriana Linares: Well, I really appreciate your time and your advice; it’s always so welcome and I know attorneys really appreciate it. I’m not an attorney and I always appreciate all your tips because they’re useful for even those of us who just try to help lawyers.
Renee Thompson: Adriana needs all the help she can get.
Adriana Linares: Yes.
Nora Riva Bergman: Thank you Adriana, thank you Renee.
Adriana Linares: That’s another wrap of a great episode of the official Florida Bar Podcast. We hope you enjoyed it and see you soon.
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