The life of a leader of a modern day law firm is full of variation, challenges and finding time to do everything. One of the toughest things for leaders to keep up with is attending to the small items – tracking and following up on actionable emails and other electronic or computer-generated items – those important, single emails you know you have to respond to or follow-up in some way but which are not attached to a particular project. Or it may be an important article you must track or send to someone else.  Leave these for only a day or two, or a weekend, and it quickly becomes very difficult to remember them.

One needs a simple system to track these elusive, important items.

Leaders need to develop a system to manage following up on the dozens of important, single items that crop up and need attention – via email, a web article, a tweet or a LinkedIn enquiry (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Over time, all of us have probably worked up some or other system to try to do this – if they are anything like the ones I have tried, they are probably a bit hit and miss and sometimes more trouble than they are worth – this in turn creates its own pressure as you are always worrying that you may have overlooked an important item.

When I used to help run large law firms one of the things I used to say to new lawyer recruits on the subject of  ‘what it takes to succeed in a  law firm?’ is that I had seldom come across a successful practitioner who was not accessible, responsive and reliable (‘ARR’). I think this applies equally to leaders – that is why leaders need a simple system for following up emails and other electronic items that cross their desks.

Some busy leaders deal with this by simply tackling all enquiries virtually as they hit their desks – this is their system – they never sleep and seem to have an email system wired into them as an extension of their bodies – a couple of leaders of law and accounting firms spring to mind. These are seriously busy people but I am always astonished how they have always, consistently, managed to do this. Very impressive. Most of us don’t manage to effectively be on-line 24/7.

I have evolved a simple system which I would like to share:

  1. create a To Do list in something like MS OneNote – fantastic for this purpose (and for many other uses) by the way as: 
    • it updates between all your devices; and 
    • you can easily select and slide headings or a group of items under a heading in your To Do list up or down according to priority, and it renumbers accordingly;
  2. create an Evernote account (free) and create a notebook in Evernote (by right-clicking the heading ‘notebooks’) called ‘Actionable emails etc’. You will see that after installation (you may have to select this as an option) an Evernote button pops up on your email account e.g. Outlook or in your browser header e.g. Chrome, IE etc.;
  3. any time you get an email, URL or article link that you want to track and it is not attached to a particular project you can simply click on the Evernote button, choose the ‘Actionable emails etc’ notebook in Evernote and it will automatically drop a copy in there for easy later recall or follow-up. The beauty is, once you have done this it is not going to get lost  and is dead easy to access;
  4. at the top of the To Do list insert an item – ‘Actionable emails etc’ – this is merely to prompt you to flick to Evernote daily or from time to time to run through those actionable items and attend to any that may have slipped by, and of course delete those you have dealt with;

Once this is set up it is really quite easy and relieves stress and pressure as you are not worrying about items that may have slipped through the cracks. Another benefit is that it is more or less automated as well as being quick and easy. As mentioned, you can also access OneNote and Evernote from any of your devices. 

Maybe readers have other good systems they have perfected and would like to share?

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International