2011 November | Jan Copley Atticus Blog
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Jan Copley
Certified Practice Advisor
Atticus, Inc.

530 South Lake Avenue, Suite 250
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 696-3145
(626) 421-6747 (fax)

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What Does George Clooney Have to Do With Your Messy Office?

November 30, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management,Processes — @ 8:00 am

I saw the new George Clooney movie, “The Descendants” this weekend. It’s good. Clooney does an excellent job playing a man in a tough spot in his life.

So, you say, what does this have to do with law practice management? Well, Clooney’s character, Matt King, is a lawyer. There’s a shot of King in his office, surrounded by Redweld files and stacks of paper. It’s hard to see his desk.

I was struck by the image. So many lawyers have messy desks! And, it costs money. Think about it — how much time to you spend every day looking for stuff? If it’s fifteen minutes and you bill hourly at $300 an hour, that’s $225 a week in billable revenue or $11,700 a year! It’s not a good road to profitability.

Moreover, I think a really messy office is a symptom of a law firm without processes. It probably means there are many other inefficiencies — and lost revenues — in your practice.

To counteract this, I suggest you implement what my good friend and colleague, Steve Riley, calls the “Clean Office Solution.” Set a time for you and your team to clean out your office. Be ruthless. Throw away stuff you don’t need.

But there’s more to it than that, and that’s why you need your team involved. Work with your team to develop systems so the messes don’t happen again. Reward your team for creative solutions to prevent messes. My guess is that you’ll generate so much more revenue that the incentives will be more than worth it.

Please let me know how this helps you!


November 23, 2011

Filed under: Current Events — @ 8:00 am

It’s Thanksgiving. This may be my favorite holiday. It’s not tied to a particular faith and it’s not particularly commercial. The only people who feel pressure are those who cook (by the way, I’m preparing dinner for thirteen this year) or those who play football.

I also like the concept behind Thanksgiving — giving thanks for what we have.

Yeah, yeah, sure, fine, you say. You may not be so sure you are grateful for the choice you made to be a lawyer. When I was speaking with one attorney the other day, the lawyer described his relationship with the profession as one of “general malaise.”

Lawyering is a hard job. It expects perfection and mastery of a ton of details. You have to communicate complex concepts to people who may or may not want to understand them. If you are a litigator, the role of all the other parties is to throw darts at you, and there’s always a wild card (the judge or the jury) involved.

And, I’m not going to argue with you: being a lawyer and running a business on top of that is really hard.

Believe it or not, there are good things about the law. Let’s think of the good stuff— the things to be thankful for:

  • We can do tremendous things for people. You probably went to law school because you wanted to make a difference. Well, as a lawyer, you do. I think lawyers tend to forget the tremendous difference they can make. With your skills, you can get people out of terrible trouble. A bankruptcy discharge is a liberating thing. How much benefit do you provide to someone by keeping him or her out of jail? Don’t you provide value if you make sure that the right person cares for your client if the client isn’t able to do it?
  • We have self-determination. I didn’t think about this when I went to law school, but being a lawyer provides great self-determination. It’s a profession in which you can be your own boss. You can select the kind of law you want to work in. You can choose the kinds of clients you want to work with. As a general rule, those opportunities are not available in other professions, such as education or engineering.

So, at the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, it seems to me that Thanksgiving is a good time to step back and give thanks for the good things the law has brought to us.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Tips for a Productive Day

November 18, 2011

Filed under: Focus/Time Management,Processes — @ 2:09 pm

I’ve previously written about managing your day so you get more done. Among other things, you can take charge of your email, the telephone, and interruptions from your team.

John Thompson, a mortgage specialist here in Southern California and one of the most entrepreneurial people I know, recently sent me a short article containing additional tips for controlling your time. John advises:

  • Get there early
  • Be careful about the commitments you make
  • Delegate as much as you can to someone else

I think all of these are great suggestions! I suspect if you follow them, your day will be less hectic, more enjoyable, and you’ll get more done.

I would add one more piece of advice: limit the commitments you make to yourself. According to David Rock in Your Brain at Work (Harper Collins 2009), the thinking part of your brain only has limited capacity. I found it tremendously liberating when someone told me that a person can only handle three projects in a day. So, when you plan your day, don’t over commit yourself — you won’t do a good job and you’ll wind up feeling frustrated and disappointed in yourself. If you are realistic about what you can accomplish and do what you set out to do, you will reduce your sense of overwhelm and increase your satisfaction.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Listing, Listing

November 16, 2011

Filed under: Lists,Processes — @ 9:00 am

No, I am not talking about leaning sideways!

I’ve been writing about checklists and processes. I thought I would spend one more blog posting talking about the danger and utility of one of the most humble of thought documents: the list.

Lists can be useful. I think there are two major reasons to use lists: (1) as a brain dump; and (2) as a clarifying tool.

The list as brain dump. Are you worried that you can’t remember everything you should be doing? Do you have the nagging feeling that you are forgetting something? Then write it down! You can refer back to the list; you can add things to the list; you’ll feel good when you cross things off the list.

The list as clarifying tool. You can also use a list as a means of weighing options. Draw a line down the middle of a blank sheet of paper. At the top of the left-hand side, write “Pro.” At the top of the right-hand side, write “Con.” Then, list the pros and cons of whatever it is you are debating. After you’ve gone through this exercise, you should be in a better position to make a decision with the confidence you have decided based on something other than gut feeling.

Lists can be dangerous. If you don’t use them correctly, lists can be dangerous things. Writing down all of your to-dos in one place can overwhelm you. You might get depressed and give up! So, if that’s the case, use the list to whittle down what’s really important and set aside the remaining items for another time.

Let me know how this helps you!

More About Checklists

November 9, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management,Processes — @ 7:13 pm

In my previous two blog postings, I’ve ruminated about checklists, processes and lists and how they can be useful to our practices. However, I’m not sure I talked about three more ways checklists can be helpful tools for practicing law, so I’m going to do it here.

I used to be skeptical of using checklists — I thought it would take too much time to create them. But, I changed my mind once I found myself reinventing the wheel over and over again. And, when I did implement the use of checklists in my office, I discovered three additional benefits they can provide, as tools to (1) increase efficiency, (2) delegate work, and (3) train my team.

Checklists and efficiency.
We create checklists to make sure that we don’t forget something. Since I found practicing law to involve juggling lots of little pieces, checklists were especially important to make sure I didn’t drop something. One nice side effect, however, was that checklists made me more efficient. Especially when I was working on a project I didn’t usually handle on a day-to-day basis. Having a written checklist meant I didn’t spend my time trying to figure out what I had to do next! The checklist enabled me to finish a project more quickly and with confidence that I hadn’t missed something.

Checklists and delegation. If you’ve got a really good checklist, it can increase your efficiency — to the point that you don’t have to do the work. What a concept! The idea is that the checklist will be clear enough so someone else can follow it and take care of the project. All you, as the lawyer, have to do is oversee the work. That means you can use your time at its highest and best level: marketing, meeting with clients, and true attorney work.

Checklists and training.
One of the recurring themes I encounter as a law practice management coach is my clients’ agony over staffing decisions. If we have an employee who is not performing well, we may be reluctant to let him/her go because we then have to go through the hassle of training someone new. I’ve certainly been guilty of this thinking. But consider this: if you have written checklists and procedures, won’t that make training someone new easier? You can walk your new person through a procedure once, and then he or she can consult the written checklist in the future without having to interrupt you. The checklist will also provide the new team member with confidence because he or she has a resource to consult.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Lists, Checklists and Processes — Oh My!

November 4, 2011

Filed under: Practice Management,Processes — @ 5:20 pm

Reading Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto has gotten me thinking about the various tools we create to remember things and to get things done. I’ve decided that we use three different types of devices: lists, checklists, and processes, with subtle differences between them.

Checklists. I think a checklist is something we use to remember the key elements of a multi-step process. According to Gawande, there are READ DO checklists, which instruct us what to do next. A recipe is a good example. On the other hand, we also have READ CONFIRM checklists, which assure us that we haven’t forgotten anything. I think the World Health Organization’s Surgical Safety Checklist falls within this category.

Processes. A process is a detailed “how to” list. It sets out all the steps necessary to accomplish something. One item on a checklist might be accompanied by a process for that item. What would be an example? You probably have to do some things before you shut your office down at night. One item on the checklist might be to take out the mail. However, taking out the mail involves other, underlying actions: gathering it up, making sure there is appropriate postage, etc. You don’t need each of these times on your checklist, but you might want a written process for taking out the mail with each step enumerated in the process.

Lists. A list can be a brain dump. We create lists when we’re worried that we can’t remember everything we think we need to remember. There may be no particular order to it, and the list won’t be useful to anyone else (unless you turn it into a process or a checklist).

We can also use a list as a clarifying tool. If we’re trying to make an important decision, it can be useful to write down the pros and cons of what is involved in the decision. Once again, there may be no particular order for what we write down and someone else may or may not be able to figure out what the list is about. But creating the list should give us some clarity about the next step we want to take.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Book Review: The Checklist Manifesto

November 2, 2011

Filed under: Book Review — @ 5:16 pm

After spending the spring and summer with Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch, I’ve finally returned to doing some professional reading.

My good friends, Mark Merenda and Steve Riley, both recommended that I read Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Picador 2009). I’m glad they did.

Gawande is a surgeon. He is involved with public health. After considering how some professions — notably aviation — use checklists, he began to wonder if checklists might be usable tools for medicine and other professions. The Checklist Manifesto is Gawande’s story of pursuing that thought, culminating with development of the Surgical Safety Checklist for the World Health Organization, and stories about how the checklist improved patient safety — even in Gawande’s own operating room.

Gawande’s book made me think about some of the checklists I created in my own practice, and how I could have developed more. Why is it that many, many attorneys resist checklists? Probably because lawyers, like doctors, think of our profession as always involving creativity that cannot be systematized. But we all know that that’s not really true: there are commonalities and process we use in every case we take. A checklist can help us lawyers avoid the small mistakes that can lead to problems, and even professional liability.

Finally, a note about the writing. As a general rule, I hate self-help books. In my opinion, most of them are 90% too long and torture to read. If someone condensed a self-help book to 10% of its length and charged more for the pamphlet, I’d buy the pamphlet. The Checklist Manifesto doesn’t fall into that category — it’s only about 50% too long. The stories are interesting, mostly to the point, and Gawande has a nice self-deprecating sense of humor. So, try the book. My guess is that it will be useful to you and your practice.

Please let me know how this helps you!