This article appeared in "The Campbell Law Observer," Vol. 21, No. 4, April, 2000.
Seventeen years of frugal living from the solo practice of criminal law have taught me to take my economies wherever I can find them! At a rate of pay of $30,000.00 in a traditional 2000 hours work year (8 hours per day × 5 days per week × 50 weeks), every minute is worth 25 cents. If you or your staff waste just 15 minutes a day you have spent $937.50 a year.
On the assumption that you, especially if just starting out on your own, can use suggestions about saving time (the same as money) and money (also the same as money), I offer this lawyer's version of the "baker's dozen" for your consideration.
1. Use prestamped business-size window envelopes (see #2 below) to fold and mail your fee statements, routine letters, notices of court dates and appointments. With the letterhead positioned properly, you can fold the finished letter so that you don't need to spend money or time ($$) for address labels or a second round of typing. The addressee's necessaries show through the envelope window.
2. Buy and use business envelopes with your name, title and return address printed on them, up to five lines, and with current first class postage embossed from the Personalized Envelope Program of the United States Postal Service. A box of 500 such #10 business envelopes with windows sells for $180.00. Postage alone would be $165.00. You are paying $15.00 for the imprinting as well as the 500 envelopes. All this can be done by mail. Envelopes are available in a variety of sizes and regular or window format. Think of the trips to the post office, the stationery store and the printer you can save. If you use stamps rather than a postage meter, remember you can order them by mail, too.
3. Get a roll of 1000 self-sticking labels with your name, title and address on them. Stick them on file folders, books, magazines. brochures and anything else you need to mark as yours quickly, including the tip of your umbrella! They go places a rubber stamp won't. Local print shops can get them.
4. Enclose a #9, preprinted, prestamped regular envelope with your billing statements and other documents you need returned. They slide inside the #10 business envelopes. Place a sticker (see #3) on it addressing the envelope to you, making it as easy as possible for the client to drop a check in the mail immediately (we wish!).
5. Consider using TYVEK, while we are talking about envelopes. They are strong, lightweight large envelopes that resist water damage and in-transit tearing as well as save you the extra fraction of an ounce on postage costs. Use them to mail large documents, including what is needed to keep clients informed.
6. As an investment in avoiding malpractice actions, supply your clients with a copy of everything you generate in their behalf. Give them each a file or pocket folder to keep it in. Make sure your identification sticker is prominently displayed. This could save you a great deal of aggravation by letting your client know you care! It is also great advertising.
7. Save time ($$) by using predrilled note pads, whether you use letter or legal sized. They are ready to file as soon as you tear off a page. Top-punched ones fill my client files and side-punched pads help in trial notebooks. Most office-supply houses can accommodate your instructions.
8. When attending a CLE or lecture, take a predrilled note pad with you. Many seminars provide a ringed notebook for the speakers' materials. If you take your lecture notes on three-ring paper, they can be slipped into the handout binder exactly where you need them for future reference. Use colored paper, not white, to make it easier to find the notes later.
9. When you find yourself writing the same thing over and over every week, order rubber stamps, a faster way to do it. My first rubber stamps said: Address Correction Requested; Book Rate; Confidential; Copy; Draft; Deposit Only and a generalized form of a Certificate of Service. My computer's word processor now provides the Certificate of Service, but the other messages are still useful. Try stamps with a built-in ink supply to save time.
10. Keep time sheets for every project. Even if you are not billing a specific client by the hour, force yourself to keep account of how many hours it takes to resolve each matter. Knowing how much time you usually need to dispose of any specific matter will allowed you to set flat fees for those assignments with a realistic expectation that income goals will be realized. To visualize income goals, add fixed expenses (overhead) to the gross income you desire to earn and divide the total by the average number of billable hours you can expect to realize. As a new lawyer, divide by a figure between 900 and 1100 billable, not working, hours per year. The result determines your hourly rate.
11. Using labels on documents to show someone where to Sign and Date Here or to Sign and Return or to Initial All Changes or Spouse Signature is a timesaving device. Pressure-sensitive message labels can be placed at the right location on a document and later be peeled off, leaving the paper undamaged. One lawyer I know prepared a master page with all the instructions that might be associated with a particular document. His local printer made up the instructions in tear-off pads of 50 to 100. He places a small, colored, stick-on dot next to each instruction the client needs to know. A corresponding colored dot is placed on the document where any action needs to be taken and both the instructions and the document are sent to the client.
12. Assign your closed files a number in the sequence in which it is closed, even if you have been filing it alphabetically or numerically as an open file. This one suggestion has saved me much time ($$) and aggravation and came from the ABA many years ago. Put that new number on your client index card for later retrieval. Your retrieval system should be designed to help you find not only a specific client's file, but to locate legal research, motions and briefs that might be used in later cases. Store the closed files in numerical order, using the closed file number. If you do that, you don't have to guess how much space you must save for a file in the drawer, closed-file box or on the shelf. Consider using off-premises storage: $20.00 per month can store as many as 50 banker's boxes filled with closed files. Pickup of boxes and retrieval of individual files as needed costs extra. Strip closed files of paperclips, file tabs and other generic supplies to be returned to use. Removing unneeded duplicate documents and papers found in the public record will reduce bulk and save storage space. Return the client's property and papers, getting a receipt for them. Your liability insurance provider can provide details about how long to keep closed files.
13. Instead of wasting the money represented by a whole new folder when you need to add a divider to an existing file, or wish you had a prong for filing in a plain manila folder, insert a self-adhesive file divider or a self-adhesive fastener. Many lawyers use file folders with built-in dividers and prongs attached. They are expensive. This trick has helped me save money many times.
Some cynic suggested that any "baker's dozen" list supplied by a lawyer should contain only 11 items. That kind of thinking needs to be discouraged! In the spirit of offering the client more than they expected, here is a real "lawyer's dozen," a 14th suggestion for economy:
14. Use a name when answering the telephone. I answer the telephone (I have no secretary) with how I want to be addressed by strangers. Using and not using the telephone can be developed into an art form. Set aside a specific time of day when you do not answer the phone. Let the answering machine or voice mail to do it. It helps you get your work done more efficiently. Set aside a specific time of day to return telephone messages that have accumulated. Be sure to respond promptly it is good for business, and that is what this article is all about.
John T. Hall, a criminal defense and appellate lawyer in Raleigh, has been licensed since 1972 and in solo practice since 1983.