You know them: The “I need it yesterday” client. The “I’d like to pick your brain” long sales-cycle prospect. The “Can you take a quick look at this?” partner. They may be well meaning, or they may be jerks; but either way, they take up more of your time than they should. And because they’re important to your practice, you tend to tolerate their negative behavior.
Of course, you’re not alone. Most people — regardless of role — don’t actively frame their expectations with colleagues or clients early enough in new relationships. And yet, expectations management is one of the keys to effective practice management (and overall time management) for lawyers. As a result, they slide into (and then reinforce) a response pattern the other person quickly comes to see as normal, which eventually leads to frustration all the way around.
But you don’t have to accept this as inevitable. You can learn to reframe another person’s expectations in a fairly short time.
Try this two-stage process:
1. Identify one of the important “time offenders” in your professional life. Next time that person calls with an unreasonable “deadline” or starts taking up your time without inquiring as to your availability, tell them something like this: “Alan, your request is important to me and I want to give it the time it deserves, but I’m working on something right now and need to stay on it. When’s a good time to get back to you?” Doing this will communicate an important new message to Alan. It’s the beginning of your commitment to reframe his expectations.
2. After you’ve responded to Alan one or two more times in a similar fashion, write down, in non-emotional, non-judgmental language, a few things Alan could change in his approach to you that would improve your ability to serve him. For example, perhaps he could make sure he’s assembled all the documents he needs BEFORE he calls you with that “quick question.” The next time he calls, let him know that you have an idea that you think will allow you to serve him more effectively.
Remember, the essential dynamic is that the requests you receive from others are made within the context of expectations you’ve helped create; want to improve your practice management and your time management? Change the frame of expectations and changes in the requests you receive will follow.