Last month I posted on stripping down your practice, and I suggested that while procedures and systems can help your productivity, they need to be re-evaluated from time to time to ensure that they are working and that they are necessary.
This same issue arose during a number of my client meetings over the past two weeks. As I work with lawyers on streamlining their practices and improving productivity, we invariably encounter old, outdated, redundant or unnecessary procedures. Many times, the old procedures have become unnecessary because new technology has been put into place which takes the place of several old ways of working, but only some of the old procedures have been eliminated.
Lawyers like redundancy, and they like belts and suspenders. But with the use of technology, the only redundancy you really need is a good system of backups for your data.
Law is an information-based practice, and information was traditionally stored in document (paper) form, maing the practice of law very paper intensive. To search for the information you needed required finding the document or information in physical form. Since many different people required access to the information for different purposes and at different times, many law firms developed habits of keeping information in several different places, which required duplication of effort and duplication of documents. And since lawyers like belts and suspenders, some lawyers liked duplicate copies of documents 'just to be safe' because they feared that if something happened to the original, the information would be lost.
Now we've moved into the computer age, and data and documents are created first in digital form. Lawyers rely on computers, email and online or computer-based document management systems.
While paper hasn't become obsolete, its usefulness is limited. Searching for documents and information is now done online, and many people can have access to the same document or information at the same time without the necessity of duplicating the document or information itself.
Old habits are difficult to break, and many lawyers are still creating duplicates, either by duplicating on paper what exists in the digital environment or by creating multiple digital copies of documents and information. Consider the time and effort that is wasted by you or your staff on duplicative or unnecessary tasks. Consider the potential for confusion and the potential for error when information is entered by multiple people, created multiple times or stored in multiple places.
If this sounds familiar, it might be time to re-evalute some of these redundancies in your practice. As you go through your day, look at your operations and procedures from a fresh perspective. Ask yourself, "Why am I doing this? How did this procedure or operation come into being? Is it still serving its purpose? Is this same task, operation or document being performed by someone else at another time and place? Has new technology made this task or procedure unnecessary?"