General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine



"I Can See for (P)iles and (P)iles..."*

Patrick G. Goetzinger

If you enjoy a spirited debate with your kids, toss this statement around at the family dinner table: "Kids are so lucky. You get to go to school instead of work." As soon as these despicable words hit their ears, be prepared to raise your plate in defense from the hail of peas and dinner rolls. Experience has taught me to avoid such provocative statements on nights when spaghetti or Jell-O is on the menu. Aside from debating the virtues of work vs. school at strategic times to keep school in perspective, I have found myself inadvertently triggering the debate on those days when the piles and piles of paper on my desk, credenza, and floor resemble a tangle of Creeping Jenny overtaking any available garden space.
The piles of paper I'm referring to are not client files. Client files receive the tender, loving care of your favorite orchid and are sifted out of the piles that accumulate around the office by a conscientious staff. What's left is the residue of all that comes from being a lawyer. Take a look at the piles surrounding you. They consist of periodicals, clipped articles, magazines, unfinished projects, correspondence, office memos, e-mail attachments, lists, reports, etc.
The piles stand as a monument to good intentions. We intend to attend to them all ASAP (After September, April Possibly). The goal is to deal with each pile before it becomes fossilized. To prevent them from taking root, my piles are relocated annually before our firm's Christmas party when we attempt to convince our guests of the illusion that lawyers maintain neat, tidy offices.
The next time you are in a banker's office, take note of how neat and tidy the desk is. How do they do it? The bankers I know don't have nearly the compulsion to keep their lockers, golf bags, or cars as neat as their desks. Their year-end bonus must be tied to how spic and span they keep their desk.
I confess this commentary about bankers is not original with me. Many, many years ago in his monthly column as president of the State Bar of South Dakota, Greg Eiesland penned this observation far more eloquently than I. I enjoyed Greg's column so much I clipped it out. Now, when I need it, I can't remember which pile I stuck it in. There goes my bonus.
In the same column, Greg immortalized a Western South Dakota lawyer who rode herd over piles and piles of paper in his office. The piles stood as sentinels, always in his presence and always loaded with just the precise information for the moment. He had the ability of instant recall for which pile contained the very document relevant to the issue. With the speed and precision of a striking viper, this legend would thrust his hand into a pile of paper and retrieve the exact document required. Judging from my inability to locate Greg's article, my skills as a paper viper pale in comparison.
Standing as a modern icon for organization is the image presented on the cover to this edition of the Best of Sections. The caricature (affectionately named Zippy the Pinhead by my friend jjr) triumphantly astride neatly organized stacks of paper can serve either as a mocking reminder of our inefficiencies in managing our piles or as a role model with superhero qualities to inspire reform of our cluttered ways. Sufficient motivation to reform and organize our piles and piles of paper comes in the knowledge that they only will become worse as more information chokes our space.
I am not as intrigued by how the piles of paper accumulated as I am by why. Piles accumulate because attorneys are voracious readers and critical thinkers. Our need is to have more than just a casual knowledge on a subject that interests us. Lawyers want new perspectives and the challenge of a different point of view to sharpen their own. They want to stay informed and on the cutting edge. We save piles of information because we never know when we might need the treasure of information within.
Best of Sections meets all of our needs. The charm of this publication is the variety of quality articles delivered in a summary fashion. It contains something for everyone, no matter your practice concentration. In this issue you will find articles in each of the five core curriculum areas of litigation, business, real estate, estate planning, and family law, along with law office management and other useful topics.
I concede that we are adding to your pile problem by compelling you to add Best of Sections to your already overflowing pile of periodicals. However, given the articles' value to your practice, I suspect Best of Sections will linger for only a very short period of time in your unread pile. Unfortunately, your clipped article pile will increase in size-and give you the chance to hone your skills as a paper viper. Impress your colleagues. Become a legend.

*Adapted from "I Can See for Miles," Pete Townshend, © Essex Music/ASCAP.

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