Anyone who said that life in a law firm is short of challenges, has never worked in one. Among the many, is finding time to deal with law-firm admin: time recording, form filling and all the daily blocking and tackling. I sometimes get asked by younger lawyers when to do this and what to prioritize. These are important conversations, with no easy answers. One thing I try to stress is the importance of the lawyer’s personal realization rate, not just monitoring it, but actively improving it. So, if you’re wondering about your own realization rate, here’s a few pointers.

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1.  It matters: Your realization rate matters to people who set your pay. It matters a lot. These people—managing partners, office heads and compensation committees—look at this data closely and regularly. You can too. 

 2.  It’s no mystery: Your realization rate isn’t complex or even clandestine. Think of it as the percentage of your hard work which your firm sees as cash. It’s a fair bet that your firm won’t pay you based on money you almost earned. Fair enough, right? And you can monitor it in real time. You know how hard you’re working. If you’re under recording time, you know that too. Likewise if your time isn’t being billed, or if bills are being written off. Most firms not only share realization data with attorneys, they want you to look at it.

 3.  It’s the key to work-life balance. We all know the drill. It’s Friday afternoon, you’re an associate and you have weekend plans. And then it happens, a partner asks you to research and write an urgent memo which, on Monday morning, turns out not to be needed after all. It’s one thing to work 2200 hours a year, never see your family and forget which sports team you support, if you get paid accordingly. That’s your choice. It’s quite another to do all that, and then find that only 1500 hours gets monetized by the firm and reflected in your pay.

 4.  It’s not completely out of your control. Sure it’s not completely in your control either. That’s true of every lawyer in private practice. Decisions gets made. Work gets unused. Time entries get written off. Bills get challenged. But here’s the thing. Valuable, focused work, delivered on time is less vulnerable to erosion.

 5.  It’s enhanced by two magic words: planning and execution. Control of your realization rate starts with planning. In fact, it starts at the start of planning, scoping. Whether your work-giver is a GC, a business owner or a partner, the entry point is the same. You can’t ask too many smart questions. Why are we doing this? What’s important about it? What should I focus on? What should the work product look like? Clarify everything. Then make a plan and execute it. Get the work product right, and deliver it on time. Do this, and you’ll dramatically increase the chances of the work being used, billed and paid for.

Alex Geisler is a London-based litigation partner with Duane Morris and the creator of the Lean Law Program.  He is an accredited trainer and author on topics including legal process optimization, knowledge management, negotiation, process mapping and scenario planning.

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