Productivity practices are essential—even life-changing—in legal practice. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that your time is not your own, hopelessly behind on technology, or that you just can’t seem to balance work and life, learning productivity strategies can help. JoAnn Hathaway and Molly Ranns talk with Dan Siegel and Allison Johs about their book, “How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line” Dan and Allison share the most recent updates to their book, including pertinent information addressing post-pandemic, tech-fueled changes facing the legal profession.
The ABA has provided a 20% discount code for listeners! Enter HTDMILT23 at checkout for How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line
Daniel J. Siegel is a nationally recognized authority on ethics, technology, data protection and business workflow management, and the principal of both the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC and Integrated Technology Services, LLC.
Allison C. Johs, Esq., is president of Legal Ease Consulting, which provides marketing, social media, business development, productivity, and practice management coaching and consulting for lawyers and law firms.
Molly Ranns: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I’m Molly Ranns.
JoAnn Hathaway: And I’m JoAnn Hathaway. We are very pleased to have Allison Johs and Dan Siegel join us today as our podcast guests. Allison is president of Legal Ease Consulting and Dan is president of Integrated Technology Services and also principal of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel. Both are with us today to talk about how to do more in less time. I would like to add that Allison and Dan have recently authored the second edition of a publication with the same title to the American Bar Association Law Practice Division. The ABA was kind enough to provide a discount code for you which provides for 20% off from the publication. Both the code a link to the site where you can purchase the publication through the ABA website will be in the podcast transcript. And now Allison and Dan, could you share some information about yourselves with our listeners and Dan, let’s start with you.
Dan J. Siegel: Thanks and thanks for inviting us. I’m Dan Siegel. I wear a bunch of hats. I’m a practicing attorney with the practice that focuses on representing other attorneys, handling everything from ethics to technology and cybersecurity to serving as their appellate counsel. I’m also a technology consultant helping law firms deal with workflow issues, transitioning with software and cybersecurity issues as well and I’m thrilled that Allison is joining me here and as my co-author.
Allison C. Johs: Thanks Dan and thanks JoAnn and Molly for having us today. Allison Johs, I am the president of Legal Ease Consulting where I help lawyers create more productive, more profitable and hopefully more enjoyable law practices. I work with my clients on everything from productivity which we will be talking about today to marketing, business development and some operations and management issues. I do a lot of work with LinkedIn with my clients specifically and I also wear another hat this year. My husband who is also a lawyer and I and a couple of other lawyers that we are friendly with started a mediation company. So talk about needing to do more in less time when you’re running more than one business, it’s quite the challenge.
Molly Ranns: Well, thank you so much for being here Allison and Dan. Let’s get started. Dan, this question is for you. How did this book come about and why do you think productivity is an important topic for lawyers today?
Dan J. Siegel: Well, the story of the book is kind of straightforward and frustrating, but ultimately satisfying. For years, I had done a program called how to do 90 minutes of work in 60 or how to do 90 minutes of legal work in 60, when the audience was lawyers. It still goes on and it’s the most popular program I do. It’s filled primarily with technology tips that show how I’ve always been able to get a ton of things done in far less time than people expect and how when I became a pure solo I was able to survive then ultimately thrive all by myself before I could afford others. And I wanted to have the program as a book and I couldn’t really get anyone to publish it ‘till Allison said, “well, if I join you and include some of the practical tips and we mesh everything together, then we could do a book” and we did and it’s a combination of her expertise and insight and mine and that’s where the book came about. The ABA Law Practice Division published it initially a few years ago and it’s been popular and successful enough that they had us do a second edition which is extensively revised. So that’s where the book came from.
Productivity to me is essential, you know, whether it was the days when I started practicing and there weren’t computers. I had to use my skills, I was a typist basically to get things done and to get things done faster, but as technology evolve and basically technology arrived when I first passed the bar there weren’t even personal computers, they didn’t come about for a couple of years to later. Technology is sort of the engine, the other employee that you have that can really make you productive and when you use that add practical guidance as well and ways to streamline how you operate your practice, how you manage your day from a business standpoint, from just an event standpoint, lawyers need that.
You went to law school to serve as clients, not to spend extra hours at the house doing things that really could be done more efficiently. So to me, productivity is sort of the engine that allowed me as I’ve always said to be able to work, get into the office, I get in early and I’m always home for dinner and that’s the goal. I don’t want to be here all night. I don’t want to be here on the weekends. So productivity is what takes good lawyers and helps them do a better job.
JoAnn Hathaway: Allison, let’s start with you on this next question. What do you think is the biggest productivity challenge facing lawyers today?
Allison C. Johs: Well, some of it is really just technology, right? Because we have all of this technology that we’re carrying around with us every day. We have these smartphones that we can get 6 different or 10 different, depending on how many applications you have on your phone types of information, whether that’s from clients or from colleagues, or from family members. So, I think the biggest challenge probably is just the volume of information that we’re hit with now every day. You know, I guarantee that when we get off this podcast I will have no less than 100 emails that came in while we were recording the podcast. And I think corollary to that is also the speed of expectations, right? Everybody’s got these communication devices in their pockets, they’re carrying them around and everybody is used to getting answers to everything immediately. You know, you have a question, nobody sits around and tries to think about what the answer might be anymore. They hop right on Google or they ask Alexa or they want an instant gratification, instant response and it’s very easy for clients to just shoot a text or an email to their lawyer and expect to get an immediate response.
And so I think that that creates a lot of interruptions which is one of the things that we talked about in the book and ultimately even though technology can be a help to us in our productivity, it can also be a hindrance and I think the biggest problem that we’re facing today is that technology has made it very difficult for people to have any patience which means that we all have to work that much smarter if we want to get things done and keep our clients happy.
Molly Ranns: Those are such good points Allison. I think that certainly adds a level of stress and complexity to the day-to-day. In the post-COVID era, Allison, we are still conducting so many meetings virtually, do you have any tips for conducting effective and engaging meetings?
Allison C. Johs: Yeah. You know, maybe Dan has some thoughts on this too. But we have a whole chapter in the book where we talked specifically about meetings and then we have a portion of that chapter that’s devoted just to virtual meetings and I think virtual meetings have another whole set of challenges, but whether you’re meeting is virtual or in person, I think one of the most important things for creating an effective meeting environment is having an agenda and sharing it ahead of time so people know what the meeting is going to be about and what they need to do to prepare for the meeting.
I think it’s important for us also now that we are still continuing even though we’re doing a lot more things in person than we have been after COVID, we are still doing a lot virtually and so I think it’s important to talk with the people that you will be meeting with especially if they’ll be, it’s more than one meeting. So in other words, if it’s not just a one-off with people that you’re never going to talk to again to talk about expectations and understand different people’s boundaries. So if it’s a client, maybe you want to send them information about how you conduct virtual meetings or what your expectations are of them in a virtual meeting or talk about it at your initial consultation that virtual meetings are a part of your practice to tell the client, “hey, we do a lot of meetings virtually. It means you don’t have to get in your car and drive to our office and waste that time, but you know, here’s our guidelines for an effective virtual meeting. These are the things that we expect of you and these are the things that we’re going to do.” If it’s colleagues that you work with, have a frank conversation.
You know, one of the things that we have found with virtual meetings now is a lot of people are uncomfortable seeing themselves until they turn off their cameras, but then it’s hard to know if the person is really there, if they’re paying attention.
It’s hard to talk to just a bunch of pictures or names on the screen, it doesn’t feel as engaging. And so, one of the tips is maybe to ask people to keep their camera on, but if they don’t want to show themselves, show them the way in Zoom for example that you can click on the three dots at the top of your picture and there’s an option there where you hide your video from yourself so everybody else will still see you, you’re still on camera but if you’re uncomfortable with looking at yourself which a lot us are, that’s an option.
Another way to make a meeting effective and engaging is to make sure that you have action steps at the end of the meeting and you’re very clear about who’s expected to take those action steps. Also, giving everyone an opportunity to speak, some people are more shy in meetings and others but they may have an opinion or they may have something to contribute. Sometimes it’s helpful if you sort of call on different people or maybe tell them in advance to take a part of the meeting, you know, sign the agenda to different people to take the lead on having the conversation, that keeps people paying attention and involved if they’re responsible for doing something in the meeting.
JoAnn Hathaway: So, we all know that technology is changing all of the time and there are so many new technologies out there. How can lawyers deal with the changing tech landscape while maximizing the technology they already have? And Dan, let’s start with you on this one.
Dan J. Siegel: It’s a great question because the last part of the question about maximizing the technology lawyers already have is really the start because you can’t learn about new technologies and build with them unless you have a baseline of knowledge and skill in what you’re doing and one of the things that even in our book but I’ve talked to a lot of people about it and I now throw it out there is a real important tip is that one besides having a baseline of competence that’s necessary for everyone and lawyers don’t consistently have that, if lawyers would and any computer user, I do this, my son who’s an IT person does it is just pick up one tech tip a day, that doesn’t have to be major, fancy or adopting new software and you suddenly build it over a year, you’ve got 250 tips, you suddenly become a much more competent user. The other thing is, yes technology is changing, but it doesn’t mean you have to adopt every piece of technology simply because it’s new. When we logged into this podcast, I was asked what technology I was operating and there was an assumption I was using Windows 11. Well, I’m not, and I have no intention of using Windows 11 nor adopting it in my office. Why? Because I don’t think it’s as effective and efficient for us and adopting it doesn’t help.
Microsoft is adding some really nice features into Windows 11, most of them already there in Windows 10. So simply because something is new doesn’t mean you have to use it. It means that you have to figure out what things are new that makes sense to use and before you go and buy or download whatever something else, make sure you know, how to use it because all too often users think, “I have to download something else for this and something for this”, when one of their products already has that ability. I think back to the start of the pandemic where everyone suddenly rushed to Zoom and yet, if you had Microsoft 365, you had Teams. I record podcasts. I have the Adobe Creative Cloud. It already has an audio recorder called Odyssey on there. I don’t need to get something new. I have to learn how to use what I’m already paying for. When you’re using your Office products, a friend of mine said, “well, what dictation product should I use?” And I said, well, it’s actually now built in to Word and Outlook and everything else. We use it on our phones so start there before you buy things.
So, don’t necessarily go for what is the newest all the time. You want to make sure everything you use is something that is secure, updated, et cetera. You don’t want to be using Windows 7 anymore. It hasn’t been supported and it’s not secure, but make intelligent decisions and then really figure out how they work and make them work better for you customized, it’s what I call play with software. If you haven’t looked at all the dropdowns and commands in your software, you have no idea what it does. So that’s where I start.
Molly Ranns: Thank you, Dan. We are now going to take a short break from our conversation with Allison Johs and Dan Siegel to thank our sponsors.
JoAnn Hathaway: Welcome back. We’re here with Allison Johs and Dan Siegel talking about how to do more in less time which centers around their ABA publication by the same name.
Molly Ranns: JoAnn and I just did a podcast on AI applications primarily ChatGPT where I learned so much, and so I’m wondering Dan, how do you think new technologies like all of the new AI applications out there will affect lawyers and their productivity?
Dan J. Siegel: I think that these are new tools that like anything else that’s new, you have to evaluate it, see it their strengths and also see where their limitations. For those who haven’t used AI, if you’re in Philadelphia like I am, AI will always be Allen Iverson. I’m sorry I cannot get used to that phrase. It’s true. We were blessed with him playing here many years. But for lawyers who aren’t Philadelphia or basketball fans, it really can be a valuable tool. But it is a tool. It doesn’t’ replace the ability to do certain things. If you use the ChatGPT open AI as it’s called, you can find out that in certain areas, it’s very helpful but you have to know the limitations and know your limitations.
My practice includes an extensive amount of writing for lawyers. We probably file 40 or 50 at least appellate briefs a year, and while AI is helpful at times, if you want to give it how to give you an outline or something, it’s never going to replace the drafting process. The meticulous way we look at cases and render or arguments, but it can be a tool to help us sometimes phrase something and the other part of it is we’ve all been using it for years. That’s how Google has worked. That’s how Siri and Alexa at your home have worked. It’s just that now they’ve advanced, but they’re not ready to replace your staff and as we’ve seen from the news with lawyers who tried to write a Federal Court brief by using artificial intelligence, it’s not a great idea, and that lawyer’s case is an example. So many people say, “well, it’s because he let it write his briefs.” No, if you read the pleadings, you realize he was in a practice area he didn’t know anything about. He was being lazy. If you’re being lazy, no tool is going to help you. You still have to do the work.
JoAnn Hathaway: So your book is filled with so much good information. We obviously don’t have time to go over everything today. So Alison, could you share your three favorite tips from the book?
Allison C. Johs: Well, it’s interesting that you asked for three because one of my favorite tips in the book is what I like to call the power of three. You know, instead of having this long to-do list that has 9,000 things on it that just every time you look at it, you get overwhelmed and you want to run screaming, like your hair is on fire, this tip is all about narrowing down and asking yourself and I try to do this every day. What three things if you accomplish those three things today and everything else went haywire or nothing else got done would make you feel that your day was productive anyway. And I have found that for me is a good way to force myself to prioritize and also not be disappointed at the end of the day that there are still 500 things on my to-do list.
The second one that I like is if possible now, there are some lawyers in some practices that this doesn’t work for but I still maintain that for most lawyers in most practices not to take unplanned telephone calls because all you’re doing is interrupting maybe important work that you’re doing for another client to take a phone call that might end up not being an urgent phone call. So, I like the idea of scheduling times, specific times during the day to return your phone calls or asking your assistant when a client calls to have them put an appointment on your calendar for the call or using a system like Calendly, where that client instead of picking up the phone and calling you, they can go on to your Calendly link and make an appointment with you at a time that works for both of you. And I tried to this in my practice too and especially now there’s just so much spam that comes through the phone and you don’t know when you’re picking up the phone who’s going to be on the other line and if it’s a real appointment or not.
So you should have somebody answer the phone but it doesn’t necessarily have to be you. And then a really simple tip that I like is dragging and dropping an email to your calendar to create an appointment. So that can be an email that represents an event right where you get an invitation to a bar association event or what have you and it comes through your email, drag and drop that right onto your calendar and all the details are there and you don’t need to think about it again. Or if that email represents a task that you can’t do right away that’s more than just a very quick response, drag and drop it onto your calendar in a place where you say I’m now carving out an appointment with myself to do that task. And this way, it doesn’t get lost in your email, if you need to move it around on your calendar, because something more urgent comes up, that’s fine. But again, all the details are in the email. You don’t have to worry about it, you drag and drop to your calendar and it stays right there. So those are just a couple of my favorites.
Molly Ranns: Before we wrap up today, I have an interesting question for the both of you. Dan, you mentioned how the book came about and it sounds like you each came at this book from quite different perspectives. And so starting with you Dan and then over to you, Allison, I’m wondering what each of you learn from one another.
Dan J. Siegel: I am practical but tech focused. I love technology which most lawyers don’t, but I learned primarily always remember that not everyone comes at everything from the tech perspective which can be very valuable. But what I learned was candidly a lot of practical tips I can tell you that I adopted Allison’s, you know, I did think of three things a day and if you talk to my paralegal, she’ll tell you the same thing. It’s the most valuable tip in the book. So I learned that. I also learned the more you listen, the more you see what other people have to say, and when Alison gave me her portion of the first manuscript, I was literally blown away going, look at all the practical things that I don’t think about every day and they were, and then realized that some of my stuff meshed with hers and then she meshed some of that. So you really do learn from seeing the other perspective of someone who and Allison is very tech savvy. But it’s a different tech savvy from mine. So really, you know, the more you read, the more you discover how many other ways there are to get things done.
Allison C. Johs: As Dan says, he really is the sort of the tech guy. I mean, he lives in the tech world all the time and I like to consider myself somewhat tech-savvy. I’ll never be as caught up as Dan is. And so, you know, first of all, the process of writing with another person is always a learning process. Just the way that he writes and Dan and I have both written not just books, but all kinds of articles and programs and CLEs and all kinds of different things. So, learning how Dan works and even how he set aside the time to write the book and I think this was both times, you know, I know Dan does a lot of his writing on Sundays. So I would expect on Monday then to hear what his progress was or where he was in the book and I knew it wasn’t even worth asking earlier in the week because he was going to do his writing on Sunday.
So just little things like that, like how he carved out the time, but a lot of the tech tips probably more than 95% of the technology tips in the book came from Dan and I use the book all the time and I’m looking back at Dan’s, I’m like, “I’m sure Dan said something about this”, you know when I’m trying to learn how to do something. And I really take to heart what he says about learning to use what you have more effectively, because even if you’ve been using a technology for years, I guarantee there’s some little shortcut or something that you don’t know that could make your life easier, and I’ve gotten so many tips on shortcuts and how to do things.
So Dan, I’m going to adopt that, try to learn one new thing every day because there are still tips in the book that I have to go back and look for or look up. So I’m going to adopt that. I’m going to start with the book and try to get as good as all of these things that are in the book as Dan is and then I can move on from there. Because a lot of us are using the same programs all the time, or using Outlook or using Word to create documents, or we have to deal with Excel spreadsheets, which is not my strength.
So I really picked up a lot from working with Dan through this book in both manuscripts because we thought the second edition was going to be easy and it was going to be quick until we started going back through and it was 2014 I think the first book came out, so we’re coming up on 10 years of this book being out in the world.
Dan J. Siegel: We’re getting old.
JoAnn Hathaway: Such a great information and I can attest, I’ve read the publications and they are wonderful and just chock full of great information. So with that, we have come to the end of our show. Molly and I would like to thank our guests today, Allison Johs and Dan Siegel for a wonderful program.
Molly Ranns: Allison, starting with you. If our listeners would like to follow up with you, and then over to Dan, what is the best way to reach you?
Allison C. Johs: Well, I’ll give you two ways. The first one is LinkedIn because I’m on there all the time and it should be easy to find me, Allison Johs and my LinkedIn URL is Allison C. Johs Legal Ease or by email, you can always email me. It’s [email protected].
Dan J. Siegel: And the easiest way usually to reach me is email because one of my tips is, we don’t text with clients for example. So they don’t get me that way, but email I have along with 525 apps on my phone right now I just looked. My son just suggested a new one but I don’t need it ‘till I get my passport, so I won’t download that yet. But, you can email me at [email protected] which is also the website for the consulting firm. My law firm is at my name, danieljsiegel.com and I’m dan@techlawyergy and [email protected].
Molly Ranns: Thank you both for being here today. This has been another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast.
JoAnn Hathaway: I’m JoAnn Hathaway.
Molly Ranns: And I’m Molly Ranns. Until next time, thank you for listening.
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