When you miss deadlines, anger clients, and hemorrhage money, you know you have a problem. But are you paying attention to these 5 subtler signs that your legal work is falling behind?

1. You Can't Take Time Off

How long has it been since you’ve had a real vacation? If you left, would your practice fall apart?

It doesn’t matter how skilled and driven you are personally—if you don’t have a strong support system to carry things forward without you, you’ll eventually suffer from overwork, stress, and burnout. And what’s going to happen when your absence is inevitable (due to sickness or obligations that finally manage to tear you away from the office)?

If your firm or manager forces you to work without breaks, then it might be time to join the Great Resignation. But if the issue is within your own control, look to these 4 ways to save your practice (and your sanity):

  • Train. Are you taking the time to prepare team members for greater responsibilities? Some investment up front will give you benefits down the line.
  • Get Backup. Your problem could be staffing. You might need to hire more staff or lawyers, or look for some outsourcing options like virtual reception services and on-demand paralegals. Even solo lawyers should work out an arrangement with another lawyer to make sure someone is there to back you up when you take time off.  
  • Adopt technology. Perhaps you don’t have the tools you need to collaborate and share the work. Make sure your entire office is using the same systems for calendaring, managing tasks and documents, and communicating with clients. Legal case management software can make it much easier to understand what’s happening in other caseloads, as well as set out clear instructions and next steps for the time you will be gone.
  • Let go. Of course, there’s a chance the problem is your own attitude. Legal professionals are prone to perfectionism. It’s hard to allow others to take control of your work. But taking that risk allows others to rise to the occasion and give you the respite you need to remain at the top of your game. 

2. You Overlook Leads

When potential clients come your way, do you follow up with every one? Or do they get lost in unread emails and unanswered phones?

Lawyers spend heavily on marketing, but ignore many of the leads it generates. With a stronger lead-tracking system, you can dramatically boost your marketing ROI, and ensure the long-term financial strength of your practice. Ensure you have a system to capture every lead and follow through appropriately (lead tracking software provides one comprehensive solution).

3. You Primarily Rely on Paper

If you’re a paper-heavy office, you’re going to be slower than your competitors when it comes to filing, retrieving, and repurposing documents. It’s also an obstacle to collaboration: if one person has a key document, no one else can see it. 

A cloud-based document management system will fix those problems. It also ensures you can access any information you need, wherever you are. You don’t need to ensure that every important document is stuffed in your briefcase, and you don’t have to worry that one disaster will cut you off from all your legal files.

4. You Don't Know Your KPI's

Can you bring up a current chart of your Key Performance Indicators over time? If not, you’re liking to have a hard time keeping up with data-driven competitors. 

KPIs are Key Performance Indicators. Common ones focus on financial health, caseloads, and client satisfaction. The specifics depend on your professional goals, but all of them share these 3 requirements:

  • a goal that can be quantified
  • a system to collect relevant data
  • regular follow-up

Perhaps you don’t have the tools you need to track your information — or maybe you don’t even know what you’d track to begin with. To hone and improve your legal work, set out quantifiable goals and follow through with your data, whether it’s through legal case management software or a homemade spreadsheet.

5. Your To-Do List is in Your Inbox

So many legal professionals begin their day by opening their email inboxes and wading through new messages for hours. If you’re using your inbox as a todo list—or relying on post-it notes and other patchwork systems—your work is in trouble.

As legal work becomes more complex and collaborative, it’s increasingly important that you figure out a foolproof task management system. Look for case management tools that speed your work forward with automation and other efficiency features.


Even if you’re still afloat, these 5 subtle signs are red flags for your legal work. Protect the future of your practice by putting the right people, tools, and policies in place.


Content Updated: (12/19/23)