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How I use OF in my law practice Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Hello all, I have been using OF since beta and have been lurking on this board, and thought I would finally contribute as I noticed a thread was posted regarding OF in a law office.

First I want to thank Omni for a great product that, along with GTD, has literally saved my life. I was at the SF meetup, and was very impressed with Ken and Merlin.

Also, I *really* appreciate the thoughtful insights posted here by you in the community.

I am a registered patent attorney and practice solo (literally, no assistant) out of my house. I now use OF as my scheduling system. I have found myself using OF in a slightly different manner than others here and would like to share some of my experiences with the community.

As an aside, I try to adhere to GTD as much as possible, especially in the intake and processing stages. I have listened to The David’s AudioBible three times, the last time I actually outlined it as I listened, resulting in a 17 page OmniOutliner document. However, to most effectively use OF in my practice, I have veered in the use of contexts as implemented in OF, and that’s what I would like to share.

My setup is as follows: For each client, I have a project folder. For each case with that client (a new patent application, etc.) I nest a subfolder with the docket number as the name. If it has a docket number, it gets a folder. I like the granularity of being able to focus on a matter-by-matter basis for each client.

In my initial setup, I was using contexts in the usual GTD manner. However, I didn’t find much use for the contexts as time went on and wasn’t sure why. Then, something occurred to me: since I work alone at home, many of the contexts imploded on each other and really added nothing to the mix. After all, my @phone, @computer, and @work are all at @home!

So I got to thinking about my practice from a couple of levels above David’s “runway” and here’s what I noticed. In patent practice, a patent application goes through a cycle of steps from filing to granting (hopefully). There is a finite set of tasks I perform along the way, such as drafting the application, filling out certain paperwork, and responding to rejections sent from the patent office, etc. If I viewed these common tasks as contexts, could I map out my practice better?

So I went through and noticed that out of my 100s of next actions, about 80% comprise a common set of tasks to be performed at some point for all my cases. I then went through and created contexts with names to match the task and assigned accordingly. The result was that I uncovered an unintended benefit.

Each of the tasks I mentioned consumes a period of time that I instinctively know, some longer than others. So now by reviewing by context (read: task), I can use the powerful context filtering and sorting features to see what I can do today given my time available and energy level, which of course is what contexts are supposed to do. Essentially, I have turned the context field into a TurboTaskTag to leverage the context view and provide me with an uncluttered view of just the tasks I need to do that will result in billable work product. I do still maintain the @phone, @home, etc. contexts for their respective purposes. I guess I am one in the crowd that would benefit from either embedded tags or multiple contexts.

I should also mention that of my 100s of next actions, most also have “hard landscape” due dates by which I have file certain papers or bad things happen. Thus, by sorting on due date and task/context, I can see what types of tasks are coming due and plan accordingly, resulting in a very focused time management aspect that I was not getting with the traditional contexts.

I realize that my situation is somewhat unique, but I thought I’d share my experience. Hope this all makes sense and I look forward to your comments!
Thank you for sharing this with us!
This was a helpful post--I'm an attorney in a firm doing mostly family law and other civil cases. I've been working with OF since it became available (played with it during the sneaky peak stage some, but didn't fully implement it). I'm not sure I have everything set up the way I would like, but your description gave me some ideas.

I'd be interested in hearing from other attorneys on how they use OF as well.
It has been interesting moving from a "what's hot on the docket" mode to GTD. In the end, I now think of law as not unlike any other service industry.

One observation that I would like your comments on: in the book, Allen relates how he believes the review process can be most important. In my experience as attorney, all I (and I suspect other attys) do is review the docket for land mines, but mainly in a reactionary mode. So, I guess I was already trained to review a list (read: docket) over and over, so that was not necessarily a new habit for me, though poorly executed.

OTOH, I seem to have derived the most benefit from the collection process, especially the Quick Entry and the Clip'o'Tron service for moving emails to OF's inbox. Previously, my papers were scattered all over my office, and I often lined things up on my floor in the order they were due. Once I got in the habit of immediately capturing emails and telcon commitments, processing (and ultimately doing) things were much easier once they resided in one place, OF.

IANAL, but the collection habit has also been the most helpful part of GTD for me. It's both reduced my stress level and helped me to be more productive, since nothing slips out of mind.

For those who find themselves similarly confused, a quick trip to google taught me that "IANAL" stands for "I am not a lawyer". :-)
I'm a litigator and I've also been using OF since the beta. Here's how I use OF in my own law practice:

I use projects the same way LawDaddy does. Project/task management fits my cases like a glove. I'm tinkering with sub-projects for different portions of each case, like a project for discovery and another for fact investigation, but so far that's more trouble than it's worth and I haven't figured out a good way to implement it yet. I use contexts in much the same was as LawDaddy--instead of @phone etc., my contexts are task-types that occur frequently in my work, such as calls, letters, review/analyze, prepare for, etc. I also do a fair amount of drafting, and for my "drafting" context, I've created three sub-contexts for short, medium, and long drafting tasks. I also have a "delegate" context, with three sub-contexts for my secretary, my paralegal, and my associate.

Like an earlier poster, I'm also finding that, as I capture things more quickly and efficiently into OF, I'm keeping fewer stacks of paper with post-its on my desk as external reminders of things I need to do. This is especially nice since I'm a clean desk fan who hates loose papers. Now I put things in the file where they belong, and I pull out the files as I need to work on them based on how OF helps me stay organized.

I've recently refined my OF system a little bit regarding priority and timing (which are not strengths of OF or GTD in my opinion, but I don't need to pick that fight here . . .) I'm finding that OF is best used as my weekly manager, rather than a daily to-do list tool, and that I use a simpler to-do list each day that includes those things I need to get done on a given day. Usually that's an all-day event in Outlook (the Windows desktop sits next to the MBAir on my desk) in which I track the day's tasks in the notes section.

Hope this is informative, and I'd love to hear ideas to improve how I'm doing things.
Thanks! Nice to know I'm not alone!

As far as using OF as a daily planner, I agree with your sentiment. I would like to have a calendar component for those of us that have many hard-date items and need to slide in items like drafting around them.

I have been experimenting with doing a morning review and flagging items that I want to (or need to) get done that day. Then I work from the phone's flagged view to minimize distractions; that is my "simpler to-do list" as you call it. At least for the moment... ;)

Keep us updated on your process!
Hadn't thought of using flags to identify today's tasks. I'll be giving that a try. I'll bet I can do a perspective that just shows flags, too.

Many thanks.
Originally Posted by LawDaddy View Post
As far as using OF as a daily planner, I agree with your sentiment. I would like to have a calendar component for those of us that have many hard-date items and need to slide in items like drafting around them.
I guess it depends on your definition of a daily planner, but OF seems to work really well for me in that regard. I'd be disappointed to see any effort or resources spent on adding any kind of calendar, essentially duplicating what iCal already provides. Why reinvent the wheel? Plus, iCal already has pretty good integration with the rest of the system. Maybe a simple export from OF to iCal events (instead of to dos) would satisfy your requirements?

As for flagging, I've started doing the same thing as you. I first check iCal for my hard landscape appointments, then check my flagged items perspective and my due soon perspective. I then have everything I need for the day's tasks.

Every couple of days, I do a quick review of my available items to flag or unflag them as I see fit. For me, flagging means "work on this action today or in the very near future" and things come and go from the list as my priorities and interests change.


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