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Why Being Brutal is Best: A Solo Attorney on Efficiency

Why Being Brutal is Best A Solo Attorney’s take on Efficiency

The average solo attorney receives upwards of 500 emails per client through the course of a case lifecycle. A quick analysis based on that assumption suggests – a small law firm with roughly 10 clients means partners are likely reading upwards of 5,000 or more client emails.

While this may not sound like a staggering number in contrast to some larger firms, when for a one person law firm with just the help of just one assistant, that’s a lot of data to comb through.  This is especially true when factoring in the reality that these usually aren’t simple emails. We’re talking complex email threads with a myriad of client privileged documents, spreadsheets and contracts. In other words, they require careful review, and a lot of it.

the difference between just being efficient and being brutally efficient comes down to understanding that time is money, especially when you’re running a small law firm.  

This reality prompted one solo attorney, Cheryl Clayton, to take a no holds barred approach to managing her law firm. She calls it: brutally efficiency.

As owner of the Law Practice of Cheryl Clayton in Noble Oklahoma, Ms. Clayton frequently advises small business owners, individuals and government entities in her general practice firm. If that’s not enough, she also moonlights with the Oklahoma Law Office Management Technical Section and frequently offers herself up for pro bono work in her local community. Between her day job and outside legal responsibilities, she says can’t afford to just be efficient she needs to do one step better.

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Efficiency vs. Brutal Efficiency

Ms. Clayton says the difference between just being efficient and being brutally efficient comes down to understanding that time is money, especially when you’re running a small law firm.  Quite simply, if you’re not billing hours, then you’re not being profitable. A decade ago she found herself in this position, often getting bogged down by timely non-billable administrative work. As her client roster grew in size she realized she needed a better way to manage her increasing case load.

While she considers herself a relatively organized person, she knew she wasn’t going to remember names, dates and details from all of client her cases from 10, five or even two years ago. Instead of trying to manage that enormous amount of information by herself, she decided it was time to delegate that work to a new member of her team – the Time Matters case and document management software. The decision to invest in technology she admits is paying off in more ways than one.

…the busy attorney, “is an invaluable commodity.”

Today her law practice continues to thrive in large part because the technology serves as the backbone of her firm’s productivity. This frees her up to do what she does best – advise clients and contribute pro bono legal services to her local community. Today, she is able to pull up any information she needs related to a case, no matter how old it is, in a matter of seconds. In essence, she has at her finger tips a 360 view of the firm including: client notes, calendars, important documents, emails, billing and payment information.  All of these assets make her life easier, but by far the best part about it, she says is it buys her more time. That, admits the busy attorney, “is an invaluable commodity.”

So what does she say to the naysayers out there who think they can manage the backend of the business without some additional help? Plainly she says, “It’s the cost of doing good business.” Instead of forgetting to track her billable time until she has a free moment either later in the day or later in the week, she does it real-time. This ensures no billable time falls through the cracks. If time is really is money, then it looks like it makes good business sense to be “brutally efficient.”

Photo credit:  Flickr; Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig (hikingartist.com); CC BY-ND 2.0;  

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About Frank Strong

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the communications director for the LexisNexis software division located on NC State’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh. In this capacity, he leads communications efforts in support of software products for law practice and law department management and also litigation tools – across large law, small law and corporate counsel segments. With more than 15 years of experience in the high-tech sector, Strong previously served as director of public relations for Vocus, which developed marketing, PR and media monitoring software. He has held multiple roles both in-house with corporations, ranging from startups to global organizations, and has also endured the rigors of billable hours, having completed gigs at PR firms including the top 10 global firm Hill & Knowlton. A veteran of two year-long deployments, Strong has concurrently served in uniform in reserve components of the military for more than 20 years, initially as an enlisted Marine and later as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard. Strong holds a BA in Film and TV production from Worcester State University, an M.A. in Public Communication from American University, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University. He is a PADI-certified Master Scuba Diver and holds a USPA "B" skydiving license.

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