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Monday, June 23, 2008

Schedule "Profitable" Court Dates

I have a good compare/contrast example from the past week that might provide some useful guidance. The issue is scheduling your court schedule in a way that's profitable versus a way that's NOT.

The key to making your court-related legal work profitable is scheduling as many court hearings on one day in one courthouse as possible. As a caveat to that, I don't think it's wise to practice in courts that require much more than 30 minutes of travel time. Understand that my statement is colored by the fact I'm practicing in a large urban setting and from my home or office I can get to 4-6 courthouses within 30 minutes. In a rural environment you may have to modify this "30 minute rule." Also, I generally practice in hourly billing areas as opposed to big dollar contingency cases.

For example, last week I was able to set 5 cases at Daley Center on one day. You probably don't want to set 5 contested hearings but I think I had a couple status hearings and entered an Agreed Order on another case and maybe 2 of the matters were substantive and took 30+ minutes. But on that type of day where you have 3-6 cases up in one court, those are quick and usually easy $500 to $1,000 days often spent in one hallway at Daley.

By contrast today I'm driving 30 minutes to get a Special Process Server appointed in one case. This happens to be one of our very best clients so that's the unique factor in play here but that's a money loser trip. I'll make calls in the car as best I can and bring some work with me to do while I'm in court but it won't get close to the billable day where there's 3-6 items set in court.

It's not always possible early in your practice to set a lot of cases on each day because you may not have too many cases. But as your practice matures, I'd suggest these two rules:

1. Never go to court unless you've set at least 3 cases for that day (Obviously there are exceptions to this rule like emergency motions and the like but as a general rule I suggest the above);

2. Don't cover any courthouses located more than 30 minutes from your home/office. Speaking from my experience as someone with an office in Chicago's Loop and a home in the near northwest suburbs. I can get to Cook districts 1-4 while following the above criteria and almost to Lake County and District 5. Anything beyond that and it's a loser. I'd suggest that nearly anywhere in the Chicago area you can get to 2-5 courts within 30 minutes...focus on those cases/clients. Unlike some transactional work like a real estate closing where maybe you go a bit farther because you'll only actually go somewhere one time, court is very unpredictable and you might find yourself going to court on a case several days in a row.

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