Minimalism: Is it Possible in the Legal Profession?
In 2015, Marie Kondo was named to Time‘s list of “The 100 Most Influential People,” after writing four best-selling books about the art of tidying, including the best-seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. That same year, New York Magazine proclaimed, “Marie Kondo will Change Your Life.”
Since Kondo brought minimalism to the mainstream, the movement has inspired countless consumers to declutter and pare down to the essentials. Forbes contributing writer Drew Hansen explains that, at its core, “minimalism is about getting rid of the superfluous.”
Is it possible to incorporate minimalist principles in your legal practice?
Some people say, “Absolutely not.” For example, David Reischer, an attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com says, “The minimalist movement is to a successful lawyer as oil is to water—they do not mix.” Reischer believes that the legal profession does not allow a minimalist approach because of the constant juggle of a multitude of projects and tasks.
“Every task for a lawyer is mission critical and the name of the game is ‘winner takes it all,'” says Reischer. “A successful lawyer must always be voraciously looking for new clients and billing old clients. That is simply the nature of the legal profession. There is no room for minimalism.”
Richard Morse, a personal injury lawyer in San Diego, disagrees. He considers minimalism a significant asset in legal career.
“It’s important to start the minimalism process at home in your own personal life,” Morse explains. “Assess your life, determine what’s most important to you, and identify the things you really need. Once you’ve begun to master minimalism in your personal life, you can turn to your legal career.”
As a first step to incorporating minimalism in your law firm, Morse recommends identifying what one’s legal practice truly needs to function. Are multiple resources necessary, or can one resource be used to address several issues? As an attorney in a smaller firm, Morse had found that his firm doesn’t really need as many resources as the bigger firms. “We can definitely make do with multifunctional tools,” he says. “Paring down our resources has saved money and helped to make the office more efficient. Time is money, so the less time we have to toggle back and forth between programs, resources, or tools, the better.”
Going paperless has also been a tremendous benefit for Morse’s firm. Less paper on a desk means a less cluttered desk and in turn, a less cluttered mind. Plus, important documents can be easily found with the click of a button.
Chris Hildebrand, a divorce attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona, is also a believer in embracing minimalism as an attorney. He has been operating his law firm under the theory that fewer cases per attorney results in the law firm being more thorough and prepared than other firms with twice the caseload.
“My motivation for taking a minimalist approach to the practice of law was initially based upon my desire to accomplish more with fewer clients than other attorneys managed at any given time,” Hildebrand explains. “I believed I could do much more for my clients if I maintained half the caseload other attorneys managed.”
Hildebrand began to consider a more minimalist approach to the practice of law after doing a bit of soul searching and considering his own core values. He was struck by the contrast between materialism and idealism and explains, “The minimalist approach to the practice of law and to life itself can be much more rewarding than facing the continuing challenges of maintaining a materialistic life.”
This new approach yielded phenomenal results, according to Hildebrand. “I was significantly more prepared on my clients’ cases than the attorneys,” he says. “My clients obtained great results in their cases, and they were very happy with my work. This in turn lead to a stream of steady referrals and resulted in the continual growth of my law firm. I am making more money by taking on fewer clients.”
As far as lawyers are concerned, Tina Willis, a personal injury lawyer in Orlando and owner of Tina Willis Law, believes she is about “as minimal as they come.” She says the most significant way to move toward minimalism in practice is to raise the bar on what types of cases one accepts and lower personal and professional expenditures
“This approach allows me to give my best effort on all of my cases, earn the most money working the least amount of time, and have less stress thinking about my personal obligations,” Willis explains.
There is no doubt that a legal career can be very stressful as the practice often requires extremely long hours and heavy workloads. However, just maybe a “a minimalist focus on what matters most—the client experience and helping people make things right—could actually be the secret to a successful practice,” says Richard Celler, an overtime lawyer in Davie, Florida.
Celler may just be onto something.
Kristin Johnson is an executive and corporate communications professional, and founder of KSJ Communications, a communications and public relations firm. She consults with a diverse roster of clients spanning the technology, professional services, financial services, public sector, consumer, and healthcare industries. In addition to Rocket Matter, Johnson writes for various other publications as well.