Each spring semester, when my first-year writing students have moved from objective writing from pre-selected authorities to persuasive writing and doing their own research, I have them keep track of their time. In law practice, time is money. Even if a lawyer does not bill her hours to a client, she is likely still required to keep track of their time, if only for that organization’s internal purposes. For better or for worse, practicing attorneys must know well each .1 of an hour they work, on what, and for whom.
The time-keeping exercise is designed to provide students practice with billing their time, learning, for example, how to convert, say, twenty minutes of reading cases to .3 of research. It’s also an exercise designed to give them practice on what kinds of activities to bill. The time spent online looking for case law? Yes. The writing of the brief? Of course. But what about that one-hour meeting with the professor? Sure. I’d call that an office conference and lawyers have those all the time.
After students have finished their first briefs and have turned in their time sheets, I have them reflect on keeping time and ask them what they learned from the exercise. Most students aren’t fond of the exercise, but do recognize its value. One student once asked why I couldn’t ask them to keep track of their time in “normal” increments, like .25, .50, .75, and 1.00. This year, one student responded that keeping time was, for him, incredibly painful. You see, he said, he has Attention-Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ADHD is “one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of children . . . and often lasts into adulthood.” This being so, then, many of our newer lawyers likely have been diagnosed with ADHD. Among the symptoms commonly associated with children with ADHD, is lack of sustained attention, daydreaming, distractibility, and forgetfulness. Many of these same symptoms show up in adult ADHD, but may manifest themselves somewhat differently. Two prevalent symptoms the adult with ADHD experiences, as he has likely experienced his whole life, are trouble concentrating and disorganization. These two symptoms alone suggest that a rote and highly particularized task such as time keeping in practice is likely difficult for lawyers with ADHD.
The point of this post is not to debate the existence of ADHD or whether it is over-diagnosed. The point here is to begin a discussion about how lawyers with ADHD manage one of the most important aspects of day-to-day law practice. A query to the legal writing listserv on that topic returned some useful comments and tips. One person suggested using a stopwatch or a timer to keep track of every short span of time spent and adding up that time later. Others listed a number of timekeeping programs, including Toggl, StayFocusd, and an app called Harvest, to name a few. One person suggested the Pomodoro Technique.
Time keeping programs and apps are certainly useful, but they all require the lawyer to train herself to actually remember to use them. If being forgetful and disorganized are hallmarks of ADHD, then no organizational tool will be worthwhile if the person can’t remember to use it and use it regularly. What other helpful tips are out there for keeping time?
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