Like the import given to the arguable lead character in Oscar Wilde’s most famous play, it’s important to be efficient in how you organize your tasks. Efficiency is one of the only, and best, free lunches: If you can do something in one hour that you’d normally do in two, four, or even 12 hours, that’s a huge gain.
Lawyers as a group, unfortunately, tend not to be so focused on efficiency. The billable hour is surely part of that, as is the ethos of thoroughness at all costs. And to be sure, such carefulness is crucial and, in many situations, the highest priority. Very often you end up in situations where the Pareto principle kicks in, and you spend some huge number of hours finding that last great case — but the benefit from that great case is very, very high.
But while law, or at least litigation, isn’t a place where efficiency can replace thoroughness, there’s always a place for getting more done if you can do so without a downside. The usual trap is that once you toss aside efficiency in the situation where thoroughness is required, you toss it aside also for other situations as well. But this is best avoided.
Instead, while recognizing the limits of when you just need to gun it out and find an answer no matter what — which occurs often in litigation — efficiency is great. Much of the skill, of course, is identifying which is which: sometimes you need to be thorough, and sometimes you don’t. And there’s usually no rule for that beyond developing your instinct.
But if anything, lawyers tend to avoid the low-hanging efficiency fruit that they could and should grasp. This starts with technology: lawyers tend to be technophobic, which often translates to an overly patient attitude toward technological inefficiency. It’s tempting to not bother getting down the good hotkeys or getting Word and your operating system optimized as you should. But while it takes some setup time to get used to the workflow, the gains add up. Painstakingly moving your mouse to the Windows icon in the lower left-hand corner of your left-most monitor then gradually moving it up and scrolling down to Microsoft Word is precious seconds of your life you’ll never get back versus a quick Windows key plus R followed by typing in “winword.” And those seconds add up quickly, especially compounded with your attention slipping and your brain slowly turning to mush as you needlessly wait for things to come up on your screen.
So next chance you get, take stock of your processes, and keep an eye for where you can be more efficient in what you do. A little time spent will pay off dividends.
Matthew W. Schmidt has represented and counseled clients at all stages of litigation and in numerous matters including insider trading, fiduciary duty, antitrust law, and civil RICO. He is a partner at the trial and investigations law firm Balestriere Fariello in New York, where he and his colleagues represent domestic and international clients in litigation, arbitration, appeals, and investigations. You can reach him by email at [email protected].