As with the questionable main character in Oscar Wilde’s most famous play, it is important to organize your chores efficiently. Efficiency is one of the few and best free lunches: if you can do something in an hour that you normally would in two, four, or even 12 hours, it’s a big win.
Unfortunately, lawyers as a group tend not to be that focused on efficiency. The billable hour is certainly one of them, as is the ethos of thoroughness at all costs. And of course, this diligence is vital and has the highest priority in many situations. Very often you get into situations where the Pareto Principle comes into play and you spend hours and hours trying to find the last great case – but the benefit from this great case is very, very high.
But even if the law, or at least legal process, is not a place where efficiency can replace thoroughness, there is always a place where you can do more when you can do it without harm. The common trap is that once you toss efficiency aside in one situation where thoroughness is required, you toss it aside in other situations as well. But that is best avoided.
Instead, the efficiency is great while realizing the limits of when to just pry it out and find an answer no matter what – which is common in litigation. Much of the skill, of course, is figuring out who is what: sometimes you have to be thorough and sometimes you don’t. And there is usually no rule for doing this other than developing your instincts.
But, if anything, attorneys tend to avoid the low hanging efficiency fruits that they could and should resort to. It starts with technology: lawyers tend to be anti-tech, which often translates into an overly patient attitude towards technological inefficiency. It’s tempting not to bother downloading the good hotkeys or tweaking Word and your operating system the way you should. While it takes some time to get used to the workflow, the benefits add up. The hassle of moving the mouse over the Windows icon in the lower left corner of your screen on the far left, then stepping up and scrolling down to Microsoft Word are precious seconds of your life compared to a quick Windows plus key never get it back. R followed by entering “winword”. And those seconds add up quickly, especially when your attention wanes and your brain slowly turns to mush while you wait unnecessarily for things to appear on your screen.
So take stock of your processes at the next opportunity and keep an eye on where you can work more efficiently. A little time investment pays off.
Matthew W. Schmidt has represented and advised clients in all stages of litigation and numerous matters, including insider trading, fiduciary duty, antitrust law and civil law RICO. He is a partner in the litigation and investigation firm Crossbowman Fariello in New York, where he and his colleagues represent national and international clients in litigation, arbitration, appeals and investigations. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.