GPSolo Magazine - April/May 2006
What I Learned from Redecorating My Office
This issue of GPSolo discusses learning about your client, learning about experts, and even learning how to pay attention. But of course, we here at the Being Solo column (okay, it’s just me) usually look at things from a slightly different perspective, so I’ll fill you in on a recent experience where I learned a lot about law office management from redecorating my office.
The Big Leap
My two partners and I had been together as a firm for almost two years, but we were still subletting from another law firm. When that firm decided that they didn’t want to renew the lease for our law suite, we decided to take over the space and lease the suite directly from the landlord.
The landlord agreed to paint and recarpet the entire office, which meant that all of the furniture would have to be moved out into the hallway temporarily. It also meant that all the stuff lying around the floor of my office and on top and inside of my desk would have to be removed.
I had been in this particular office as a subtenant for seven years, so much had been accumulated. I felt a bit nervous when I thought about doing all of this. There was no avoiding moving all of the files or negotiating for more time. I had about two weeks’ notice of the exact date, and like a train coming down the track at full speed, nothing was going to stop it.
What I Learned
News flash: I got through the entire experience in one piece. In fact, I feel that I am a better person for it. Yes, I did actually just say that. No, I don’t plan to be on Oprah anytime soon. But for those of you who want just the facts, here’s what I learned:
Do what you do best, leave the rest to others. I make a terrible decorator. I have no sense of what paint or carpeting to pick out. I couldn’t even design the set for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. One of my partners has a great sense of aesthetics, so we left it to him to figure all this out. I made no attempt to interfere. All I had to do was nod my head when carpet swatches were passed before me. And you know what? Our office looks great.
You may ask, “Yes, but I’m a solo without any partners, so how does this apply to me?” You may not have partners, but you may have employees (if you don’t, perhaps you should) who can take up a big part of the administrative burden of running your law practice. Then there are consultants who could help you in various areas, such as technology, marketing, and bookkeeping. Take a good, hard look at whether any one of these individuals could be a “partner” in making your law practice easier to manage and free up valuable time for you to do billable work.
Lawyers should move all their stuff out of their office every now and then. Yes, I know. A radical idea. Well, so were those little pieces of yellow note paper with sticky stuff on one side, but now you see them everywhere.
Being in my office location for seven years had bad side effects. I can only imagine what it must be like for those of you who have been in the same location for 15 or 20 years, or more. Once I got a good look at my entire collection of client files, I realized that I hadn’t looked at many of them in years; these I shipped to an offsite storage location. And lots of the papers I simply didn’t need or were outdated (like that technology article that I just had to read—four years ago); they went straight into the garbage.
When I was finished, I was able to run my law practice with far fewer files in a lot less space than before. If you do follow my advice, be sure to completely empty your desk, as well. You’ll be amazed at how much junk is in there. I also found that I had organized my office poorly—as my needs changed, I didn’t bother to change the way my office was set up. For instance, forms and other files that I needed every day were sitting across the room. Now they are right in my desk drawer at arm’s reach, which would not have been possible before because my desk drawer was filled with stuff that didn’t belong there. My daily routine is now far easier.
Feel better, work better. I find working in my new environment uplifting. I feel good coming into the office in the morning and feel even better working in a cleaner, better organized environment, which enhances my sense of professionalism. This allows me to better focus on my work and achieve more in my law practice.
One good change leads to another. Another good thing about change that brings positive results is that it tends to lead to more change. Rather than being in the habit of doing the same thing all the time, I am now in the habit of making changes to improve my environment. My experience has taught me the value in change. One of those changes is, to paraphrase from the movie The God-father, “I discovered that I have the power to clean up.” Before I truly believed that cleaning up was impossible. Not that I still don’t have some resistance to it, but with a little willpower I can overcome that resistance and clean up the stacks of papers that used to accumulate on my desk.
Get With It—Yes, You!
In my last column I suggested that you throw your computer out the window. Here I am suggesting that you throw all your stuff out of your office. Could this be the beginning of a trend? What will be next—the “throw out your food” diet?
I’ll pass on that idea and the millions of dollars that I could make from the book and television appearances. But you should not pass on trying my suggestions here.
So, are you ready to go for it? Unlike the computer out the window, I am very serious that taking everything out of your office can lead to good things. It really forces you to take a serious look at each file and other items that you have and what you truly need in your office. For each item you have to decide whether to put it back in your office, box it and put it somewhere else, or just toss it. By the way, before you start, check your state’s ethics rules on how long you have to retain client files.
If you say that you simply do not have the time, I had the same excuse—until I had no choice. So pick a day or a weekend if you must to get this done. Perhaps you may want to start small and limit yourself to your desk and one filing cabinet. But whatever you choose, get it done and start reaping the rewards of having a better office that is cleaner and more organized.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for over a dozen years. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.