2:47am on a Tuesday

Posted on October 11, 2010 | by Derek

It’s late, the team is exhausted and adding more people as the night moves toward morning.  Four overworked paralegals will see another unwelcome Wednesday sunrise wearing Tuesday’s clothes. There’s a moment when someone briefly falls asleep mid-sentence while telling me how tired she is.

And I have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.  All I know is that “The Project” is a Big Deal.  It’s a big enough deal that they’ve now added two associates, a project assistant, the firm’s IT expert, a junior partner and two off-site paralegals to their ranks.

Despite several offers to help, all I’m asked to do is make sure the color printers work. Clearly color printing is the cornerstone of the success of “The Project.”

Going into the second day, the printer jams and I’m asked to take a look at it.  No problem, it’s a simple jam.  I pull out the crumpled paper and see a familiar sight.  The sight of time, money, frustration and resources that could be better spent elsewhere or avoided completely.

It’s a hand-highlighted deposition transcript page.  They have twenty lengthy depositions highlighted with multiple colors to signify which party made each designation.  After physically highlighting each transcript with a marker they scan in full color and then print multiple copies to the color printers.  To them, the scanning and printing part is an efficiency leap over doing each copy by hand.  To me, the process looks just like the client’s money running through a shredder.

I take the crinkled, toner-stained page to the paralegal in charge of “The Project”, tell her the jam’s clear and ask once more if there’s anything I can do to help.  “No thanks, we got it.”  I ask if she’s sure, because if they’re doing what I think they are, I can put an end to this now.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly why I’m there in the first place.  We can let the IT guy put the highlighter down and fix the next printer jam (which will happen at the worst possible time, that’s the law of legal situations), and let the lawyers go back to lawyering (which is, after all, why they’re there to begin with).

So I say to her, “You know, I have the designations in my system, and I can just print out color coded reports right now that are almost identical to this.”

She doesn’t know how to respond right away, so I go back to my computer and in seconds create a sample of what I’m talking about.  As she walks over to the coffeepot, I intercept her and present the freshly printed sample, which she looks at skeptically.  Eyes widening, she says, “You’re kidding…you did this in, like, 2 minutes.  Okay…yeah…this’ll work.  Print them out and I’m going to pass out for a while.  I guess I can cut the rest of these folks loose too.”

I’m not telling this story to boast about capability or experience.  It’s simply to point out that had the team asked or just shared the challenge up front, a simple and immediate solution would have come up, saving dozens of hours and thousands of dollars and allowing the team to spend their time more productively.

When you have a challenge or a project, include EVERYONE on the team – especially your trial support staff – before you begin.  Specify what the final result needs to be rather than a specific process. Someone unexpected just might have an idea or a method that’s a lot more efficient.  And on trial, efficiency is a wide lane on the road to victory.

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