The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. Hans Hofmann, artist/teacher/nonlawyer
Spring is the time for cleaning up and tossing out – and what better place to start than your law office?
The law, as we all know, can be a messy business. Cases rarely fit neatly in file folders or even entire cabinets. Clutter spreads like kudzu. Clients track mud on the carpet.
Our tangible surroundings affect our inner space, according to the Eastern concept of feng shui. So if you are feeling junky, stale and disorganized, perhaps you are simply reflecting the reality around you.
The solution: shape up, sweep out and simplify.
10 Steps for Sprucing Up a Law Practice
Have a plan. “People should be much more concerned with the why—the purpose behind decluttering—than the what,” according to professional minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. “While the what is easy, the why is far more abstruse and difficult to discuss, because the nature of the why is highly individual. Ultimately, it has to do with the benefits you’ll experience once you’re on the other side of decluttering.”
Maintain curb appeal. We can become so used to entering our offices that we stop seeing what is there. Is signage clear? Is the sidewalk clean? Are the boxwoods nicely clipped? Perhaps it’s time to call the property manager or a local landscaper.
First impressions count. What do visitors experience when they step inside your office? A professional, welcoming environment or a place of stress and chaos? Art, flowers, music, refreshments and pleasing colors help put people at ease. Free wi-fi in the lobby is a nice touch. Scholarly research has proven the soothing effects of water and fishbowls.
Toss the word “client” in the trash. Use words like “prospect,” “lead” or even “case partner” instead. “If only subconsciously, lawyers attach an unstated, proprietary my or our prefix to client,” says Rainmaker writer Michael O’Horo. “This ownership quality conveys a degree of entitlement, once again subconscious. A territorial mentality erects the wrong barrier to cross-selling.”
Get rid of closed files. Lawyers like to hold on to paper forever. Usually there is no need to. State Bar RPC 209 requires you to retain closed cases for six years. Even earlier, you can prune dead files by removing duplicate copies and documents filed elsewhere. Once you’ve conquered Mount Manila, consider turning the freed-up space into a reading room, spare office or break area.
Upgrade your systems. Are you using computers that crash, freeze or take forever to load programs and graphics? Invest in new equipment. You will recoup your money in no time through increased efficiency.
Clear your mental cobwebs. Take up pottery or gardening. Enroll in a university course unrelated to the law. Join a reading club. Sign up for a CLE in a practice area far removed from what you normally do.
A clean workspace is a safe workspace. Have you spent hours (maybe days) searching for a misplaced file? Or perhaps a single document in a file? Messiness leads to mistakes. Spend a Saturday organizing, straightening and categorizing.
Dump rotten cases. The practice of law is not involuntary servitude. We have all taken cases we regret, but that doesn’t mean we are stuck with them. Stop the insanity and fire the client. You will have to get permission from the court if you are the attorney of record, and you cannot prejudice your client by abandonment. But dropping an awful case is usually no more complicated than settling up financially and returning the file. Remember the 80-20 rule. Eighty percent of stress and tension is caused by 20 percent of clients.
Block out time for yourself. Begin preparing for your summer vacation by clearing your calendar and tying up loose ends so that your break will be stress-free. Schedule mini-vacations by taking Fridays off or going 24 hours unplugged.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He loves spring because of baseball, azaleas and sunshine. firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.