A decade ago I thought that the age of personal productivity growth using technology was over and that future gains would be in group productivity. I was wrong. 

Group productivity can be improved but that’s a discussion for another day and another post. Observing my own work, my clients, and my friends, I realize that there is plenty of room to improve personal productivity. The investment in time and effort required to learn new software or learn more about existing software generates ample rewards.

In my view, personal productivity should be a strategic issue for law firms and law departments. Ensuring that lawyers are productive affects professional development, client service, and lawyer retention. If nothing else, professionals should gain a sense of personal satisfaction if they are able to do their work more effectively and efficiently.

As for the economics, I reject the shibboleth that lawyers don’t want to be more productive because then they bill fewer hours. Inhouse lawyers are not compensated based on hours billed and so have an incentive to be more productive. Outside lawyers typically have enough work to fill the day and are eager to get more done. Moreover, I believe that there is a growing problem with write-offs, especially “self-imposed write-offs” by lawyers who realize they’ve been unproductive and do not bill all the time they spend on a client matter. Improving productivity should, on balance, reduce these write-offs, “hidden,” unbilled, and billed.

So, with this post, I am starting a new blog category, Personal Productivity. To start with the concrete, here’s an example of how learning new software can pay off….

During the holidays at the end of 2003 I downloaded and learned Microsoft OneNote. (See my prior post on OneNote.) Since then, I have integrated OneNote into my daily working. I use it regularly, both when working by myself and with clients. Working on my own, I use OneNote to track all types of information and to take notes during phone calls. I have also used it to draft an extensive outline for a white paper.

At meetings, it’s a great place to take notes: outlining features make it easy to enter and modify notes; the ability to add text blocks anywhere on the page helps keep track of thoughts off the main path; and the ability quickly to find content previously generated for the project helps me add to the discussion. For more information, see Mark Voorhees’ article, Worth Noting (in which I am quoted) in the March 2004 issue of AmLaw Tech.

Let me close this first post in a new category by saying that I know at least one person who makes a living helping lawyers be more productive. My friend and professional colleague, Jared Goralnick, is the founder and principal of SET Consulting.