Practice Management Time Wellness

Success Strategy Gone Bad – The Responsiveness Trap

Written by Allison Wolf

We all have strategies that have helped us get where we are today, and with the passage of time, no longer serve us as well as they used to, and ultimately, hold us back. Responsiveness is one such habit.

Responsiveness is the 2015 equivalent of multi-tasking in 1998, a much vaunted attribute that when overplayed can become a source of many problems.

Janice and Michael are both new partners whose commitment to responsiveness is now dragging them down. Janice is a corporate lawyer with a large group of active clients who have become accustomed to her round the clock attention to their needs. Her phone is frequently buzzing with phone calls and texts and her email is overflowing. The result is the practice she once enjoyed has become a heavy burden. She is never unplugged or fully off work.

Michael is a stressed out litigator who is falling behind in his work. His habit of saying yes to all requests has made him very popular but has contributed to the overload that is now threatening his practice and his health. His open door policy means partners and associates are frequently stopping in, and he is constantly on his email or phone.

How do you know if you have a responsiveness habit gone bad? Here are five indicators:

  1. You don’t get any uninterrupted time, off email and the phone, for focused work during the day.
  1. You don’t have any downtime when you are offline to clients and colleagues.
  1. Most days your brain feels overwhelmed by too many inputs and you have this continuous feeling of low-grade stress and panic.
  1. You are unable to get any time in for taking care of your own personal needs such as getting to the gym or even getting out for a walk.
  1. Your personal relationships are suffering because of cancelled dates with friends, or just being too tired to connect with anyone after work.

If this little quiz has revealed you have a responsiveness habit that is failing you it is time to recalibrate.

Here are some tactics you can implement:

  • Recognize the costs of responsiveness to you personally and professionally. When you fully appreciate the toll it is taking on you it will be easier to make the changes necessary to implement a new and sustainable approach to responsiveness.
  • Set boundaries. Decide when you get time for focused work. During these periods you won’t look at email or answer the phone. You can go to a boardroom to work or close your door and put up a sign that indicates you are in a meeting and cannot be disturbed. Ask your assistant’s help with keeping people out of your office.
  • Decide when, or if, you want to be responsive to clients and colleagues after hours and on weekends. Then carefully respond to their messages within your designated “available” time period.
  • Plan a holiday by arranging to have a colleague available to support your clients while you are gone. Take a good chunk of time off and commit to being offline entirely (or as close to that as possible) during the holiday. Alert your clients that you will be taking holiday well in advance and introduce them to the lawyer who will be assisting in your absence.
  • Enlist the help of a colleague or friend. Let them know about the challenge, brainstorm possible solutions, and report in to them on your progress.

Making changes to how we practice is often difficult and when achieved, very rewarding. It takes lots of experiments to find what works. As you embark on putting some limits on your responsiveness, allow yourself the liberty to make some mistakes along the way. At the end of each week run a quick evaluation of what worked and what didn’t and then recalibrate your approach.

I welcome your replies to this post to share your own experiences with how you have set boundaries on “open season” responsiveness in your practice.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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