Precious Time

I once tried to brush my teeth with my razor. That was a bit more serious than the time I put Brylcreem on my toothbrush or the time I used cologne as mouthwash. A lot of unsavory things can happen when you work yourself into delirium.

Time is precious, and most in-house lawyers don't have enough of it to properly address the tasks we're assigned, nor to proactively address the multitude of issues that are crying out for our special talents.

In-house counsel in small departments in particular feel the effects of escalating time-demands as companies cut outside counsel spending. Even if your company is on a wild growth spurt, and the demands on legal have soared, it doesn't mean you're getting extra manpower any time soon.

Like many GCs, I typically log 90-hour weeks, which means that weekdays that end at 1 a.m. and weekend-work are the norm. I blaze through tasks at a frantic pace, and typically carry a couple hundred items on my "To-Do" list.

The toughest thing for in-house lawyers is that we often sit in drawn-out meetings with the business folks, discussing problems and how to solve them. But when the meeting breaks and everyone else goes home, it's the lawyer's job to churn out documents before the FedEx pickup.

Therefore, we must be "black belts" of efficiency. It's not as simple as "delegating"--because we don't have much of a staff to which to delegate. My company has more than doubled in size, for example, and the only extra resource I've received is a paralegal. I've thus been forced to hone my timesaving skills. Here are seven survival tactics that have helped me.

The first is to use contract forms. Most in-house counsel have a dedicated electronic "forms" file, but if it's stuffed with unintelligible file names such as, "Buy2xml-JJ.doc," it's useless. Your forms should be systematically organized and understandable by just about anyone: "Amendment.doc," "License-TM.doc," "Dealer-Renew.doc," etc.

The second is contract clauses. You should retain an electronic file that contains contract clauses you commonly use. These ready-made clauses are invaluable time-savers when drafting or editing a contract.

The third is contract priorities. Instead of rewriting every sentence, just focus on essential items. For me, the "big three" with all contracts are termination ability, indemnification and limitations of liability.

The fourth is supplemental amendments. Certain corporate departments produce a steady flood of a particular type of contract. Don't try negotiating them one-by-one; it's unworkable. Instead, develop a standard amendment that covers that specific contract type. The key here is having that one "golden-knot" clause that states that the amendment applies to and controls over any and all other contracts between the parties.

The fifth is share. You should use shared drives so department members aren't duplicating efforts for forms, litigation charts, project materials, etc.

The sixth is train. Rather than answering the same questions every day for multiple people, train the troops in groups. Also circulate memos and guidelines. Help your business colleagues to learn how to help themselves, so they only turn to you for the tougher questions.

The seventh is research. One way to save time is to buy ready-made research from legal consultancies. I've ordered a summary on all warranty laws across the nation, for example. Not only did I receive the research project the next day, but also saved a fortune compared to hiring a law firm.

Time is precious, so we must use it wisely. At the very least, we all need to take some time to smell the coffee before we guzzle it, and be awake enough to ensure it's coffee we're drinking--and not a hot cup of freshly ground, honey-roasted peanuts we just prepared in a sleepwalking delirium.

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Contributing Author

Michael Baroni

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