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Former California attorney general Evelle Younger once said, “An incompetent lawyer can delay a trial for months or years. A competent lawyer can delay one even longer.” I don’t know Younger. Nor do I know the circumstances that led him to this memorable utterance. But his words could also have applied to some in-house legal departments, where time management is clearly a lost art. Some companies refer to their legal departments as the “sales prevention department.” There are many reasons for this ironic tag � some of which are legitimate. The legal department often needs time to review the nuances of a business deal to ensure that executives follow applicable laws and ethical standards. Even the most rapacious salespeople think this is somehow important. But the real reason the sales prevention sobriquet applies to legal departments is because lawyers can’t manage their time properly. A well-run legal department must develop strategies for using its lawyers’ valuable time. Some easy tips: Don’t have a legal department staff meeting unless you need one. How many times have you sat through staff meetings that were an incredible waste of time? If there needs to be a meeting, by all means, have one. But if it’s only to run through announcements that your staff could read via e-mail, or give updates on matters your staff already knows about, or doesn’t need to know about, skip the meeting. Keep a log of your activities. Even though many GCs are happy to be liberated from law firm timesheets, a daily time log is still a good thing. When, for example, you respond to two demand letters and review three contracts before running to that 9 a.m. meeting, list these tasks on a daily log. Jot down a brief status notation. When you get a status inquiry three weeks later about one of those matters, you’ll be able to look back in the log while you’re still talking. Otherwise, you might have to track down the file and return the call, merely to tell someone that their contract was sent back to them a month ago. Set objectives before making a phone call. This ensures that you discuss those essential matters on your first call. The same is true when leaving messages. This way, you’ll be prepared for your conversation � you don’t want to miss the chance to make an important point. Plan your week early Monday mornings. Spending ten or 15 minutes getting organized can be invaluable. Create a reasonable to-do list and try to stick to it. Of course, emergencies can often ruin your plans, but a well-thought-out Monday morning to-do list can impose some sanity on even the most frantic week. Clean out your in-box. The volume of e-mail often is overwhelming. Other than spam e-mails, try hard to read e-mails promptly, and either respond at once or delete. Otherwise you wind up with an in-box with 50 megabytes of week-old e-mails that will take hours of valuable time to answer. Prioritize your time and that of your staff on areas of expertise. As easy as it sounds, this is one of the more difficult time-management strategies to implement, because the role of in-house counsel often is equated with that of a general practitioner. Know where your expertise lies and what areas your staff or outside counsel should handle. Make sure employment lawyers handle employee matters rather than license agreements, and the contract manager handles contracts rather than the company’s Employee Retirement Income Security Act plans. It’s true that time doesn’t seem to be on our side � at least in terms of having enough of it to do what we need to do. So we might as well work effectively with what little time we get.
Quintin Cassady is general counsel and secretary of Galderma Laboratories, the Fort Worth-based U.S. operating company of a worldwide dermatology joint venture of Nestle S.A. and L’Oreal S.A.

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