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Minimalism in the Office

Minimalism became trendy as the recession hit. I’m all about being trendy (in my imagination, I’m very, very trendy).

I’ve been getting rid of my stuff at home for about a year.

Attic stuff: gone.

Garage stuff: gone.

Books: gone.

Photos: gone.

CDs: gone.

Exercise equipment: gone.

Closets full of weird stuff I’ve collected (e.g., political buttons, Ted Kennedy hat from the 1980 campaign, etc.): gone.

Old clothes I haven’t worn in forever: gone.

I’ve still got clothes, my TV (I’m not insane!), a Kindle, my laptop and accessories, and a bunch of data (books, photos, music, etc.) stored remotely. We’ve still got some of our furniture, the kitchen equipment, cars, bikes, and some decorative stuff.

It feels great. I’m shocked by the energy I’ve gained by lightening my load. It’s odd but powerful.

This has been a fascinating experiment, and I’m pleased with the results.

How, however, does it apply to the law office?

We’ve been stripping down there as well.

We’re paperless. We haven’t kept paper copies of files for more than a decade. However, we have kept more paper than we needed to keep. We tried to make it easy on our lawyers by maintaining litigation notebooks on paper so lawyers could easily grab them and take them to court. They’re gone now, and the attorneys don’t miss them.

We’ve eliminated most of our books by going to digital versions or scanning the old books. We’ve still got some to scan, but we’re getting there.

We’ve shifted our publication subscriptions to the digital versions.

We’ve eliminated all of our servers and phone system by moving them to the cloud.

We’ve eliminated much of our office furniture by having our team work from home rather than from the office (except for client meetings).

We’ve eliminated many of our telephones by moving our users to softphones on their laptops.

We’ve eliminated most of our printers by sending most documents via email and centralizing the printing/mailing function in our mail center.

Getting rid of everything else inspired us to clean out years of junk hidden in storage cabinets in the office.

All of that means we’ve had to dispose of file shelves and bookshelves and tons of office furniture. We’ve used Craigslist like crazy to sell more than 60 desks, dozens of chairs, and more framed prints than I can count. We’ve taken loads of books to Goodwill, and we’ve shredded until we burned out the motor in our shredder.

Interestingly, we’ve cut back on quite a bit of administrative personnel cost by minimizing the space and IT responsibilities.

How’s all that working for us? Just fine.

We don’t miss the stuff. We’re light, we’re nimble, and we’re flexible. Our newfound minimalism has cut our costs, focused our energy, and made change easier for us to accept.

For us, our minimalist effort is still an experiment. We’re still learning from what we’re doing, and we’re still feeling our way through the advantages and disadvantages of our changes.

However, to this point, the changes are positive. We’re feeling free to focus on the work we do for clients and less burdened by the requirements of managing our stuff. We’re also spending a lot less time looking for things.

Am I advocating that you get rid of your stuff? Nope; I’m just reporting our results. Your mileage may vary.

Have you tried this approach? Is it working for you? Is it the last thing you’d ever do?


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  • Julie

    Yes, I have tried and continue to minimize. We’ve been paperless since 2008. Gone are the ugly file cabinets, replaced by painted walls with artwork and plants. Search is much easier. We still have a server, but we are looking at moving all documents to the cloud. Case management is in the cloud, so once documents are all there, we will have convenient access to it all, from anywhere. So much paper comes into a law firm that you have to stay vigilant. Mandatory electronic court filing is about to make things a lot more efficient too.

    Clients love it, They bring their papers in, we scan and hand them back to them. We carry a Macbook Air to hearings, while most pull a rolling briefcase with loads of paper files. The entire paperless system is designed to work offsite and 24/7, not just in our office, but in court and at hearings.

    I’ve done some de-cluttering at home, but need to do more. And I agree it is very freeing and more comfortable to live and work in these spaces.

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Lee Rosen

Lee Rosen has practiced family law for more than twenty years. With four offices, Rosen Law Firm serves Raleigh, Charlotte, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Rosen served as the Law Practice Management Editor of the ABA Family Advocate for more than a decade and received the ABA James Keane Award for excellence in eLawyering. He served as Chair of the Law Practice Management Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, is a frequent speaker and is often sought out by the media as a source of family law insight and commentary.