It All Adds Up
Back in 2012, I was employed as a firm administrator for a 30-employee firm, five of whom were smokers. Everyone took their smoke breaks at or near 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. I don’t smoke, but I’m guessing with a lunch hour somewhere in there, at 10 and 3 they need another smoke.
What I noticed was beginning to happen is that at smoke-break time, the smokers would go looking for each other and have a little smoking party in the back of the building. They would go out there is with their pack of cigarettes, a lighter and sometimes a soft drink and hang out in the back of the building. It was like a little party in the middle of the day.
I started to notice that what used to be a five-minute get out there smoke a few drags and get back inside became a have two cigarettes, something to drink and talk for about 30 minutes or so. Meanwhile, the staff that did not smoke were getting anxious because they did get another half hour break twice a day because they didn’t smoke.
When I took this up with the partner, he said that he thought that it probably seemed longer than it was and if the non-smokers wanted to take a smoke-break they were welcome to do so. I thought to myself – oh sure – let’s solve this problem by letting everyone take another hour out of their day.
Getting into law office administration, I learned early on that when you can reduce everything in a law firm to dollars and cents the partners will listen to you. Somehow, dollars and cents made it real and suddenly it affected their pocketbook.
So, I decided I would work this out in dollars and cents and let’s how much it really affected their pocketbook. I calculated the time spent by the smokers from the hour to the day to the week to the year and guess what? Those smoke breaks were costing the firm $37,500.00 a year!! Imagine the surprise of the partner when I told him that those smoke breaks were the equivalent of another person’s salary – yeah, he was surprised!
Needless to say, we changed the smoke break policy. Only one person at a time went on a smoke break and suddenly the breaks took 5 minutes instead of 30 because there was no one to talk to.
Beside entertaining you, what is the point of this story?
The point is that everything that happens in a law firm can be turned into dollars and cents. Somehow, when you look at things from the perspective of dollars and cents vs. just a few minutes lost you start to realize how everything begins to add up and how much money is being lost/wasted.
Take stock of your firm. Look at all the ways that time and money is being wasted which taken by itself does not seem like a big loss. But when all the time that is wasted is added to other time that is wasted it suddenly adds up significantly.
Make sure that your time is being used efficiently and cost-effectively. The person assigned to any given task needs to be the “most competent and least expensive person” for the job. Don’t assign a task to an associate if a paralegal will do, and don’t assign a paralegal if a legal assistant will do.
And please do not spend your time doing billing or some other administrative function when an administrator will do the work, freeing you up to do billable client work.
Everyone is very cognizant these days about the cost of everything including legal fees. Make sure your office is doing thing efficiently and cost-effectively for both you and your client.
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