Arrested Development, one of the best shows ever on television, tells the story of the Bluth family. George Bluth Sr. is an enterpreuneur who started his own company but then went to prison for building homes in Iraq and committing treason. George Sr. wasn’t all bad though. Over the years, with the use of his handy assistant J. Walter Weatherman, George Sr. taught the Bluth children many valuable lessons. The Bluth approach to life, minus the treason, could be valuable to any size law practice.
Always Leave a Note
One of the first lessons George Sr. imparts on the Bluth children is the importance of leaving notes. When the Bluth children failed to leave a note saying they finished the milk, George Sr. piles everyone into the car to go to the store. On the way to the store George Sr. hits J. Walter Weatherman with his car and knocks off his prosthetic arm.
In your law practice leaving a note probably won’t get you any milk. But it could help you defend a malpractice suit or avoid being found ineffective. Make notes about everything to keep records. If you have a paperless office, you can annotate right onto the documents, or scan handwritten notes into your files. Either way, make sure to keep notes and records of as much as possible. This includes what you talked about on telephone calls, when you mailed letters, and who you left a message with.
This is especially important in the criminal sector. I read cases every single day where defendants allege the ineffectiveness of their counsel. Evidentiary hearings on these issues often take place years, if not decades, after the trial. Relying on your memory can be a costly mistake in those situations.
Don’t Leave the Door Open with the Air On
When George Sr.’s son Michael wants to use his dad’s patsy to teach a lesson, George Sr. reminds him that the children killed J. Walter Weatherman when they left the door open with the air conditioner on. Running the air conditioner with the door open is wasteful.
Like the Bluths, your firm should aim to keep overhead as low as possible. Maybe you could use a virtual receptionist instead of a full time staff person. Using a free research service is another way to keep law firm costs down. If you’re opening a new firm in 2012, consider whether or not you really need a physical office space right away.
With the new year upon us, take time to survey where your expenses are coming from. Are there things you can cut or downsize? If so, do it. Start 2012 with a more cost–efficient law practice.
When the Bluth children are making too much noise on the family boat, George Sr. ends up starting the engine too soon and J. Walter Weatherman loses an arm. The children’s embarrassing behavior, this time in the form of too much yelling, led to disaster.
Behaving poorly can be a disaster for your reputation. The professor who teaches the MPRE review course in Pennsylvania constantly reminds students that “you are a lawyer 24/7.” It doesn’t matter if you are in a courtroom or out for New Year’s Eve. People know you are a lawyer, and your actions reflect on you, your employer, and the profession. Even if the people around you don’t know you’re a lawyer, they know who you are. Boorish behavior will still reflect poorly on you.
It almost seems silly to say to people: be responsible and professional all the time. But based on personal experience as well as anecdotal evidence, it’s advice that isn’t always followed. I’m certainly guilty of overusing my cellphone in public. Every day at the courthouse I see attorneys disrespect court staff. Both are usually minor behavioral flaws, but they can seriously hurt your reputation and thus your business in the long run. So start being more aware of your behavior to avoid these kind of issues.