Life is like a busted mailbox. Actually, that’s not true, but having your mailbox busted is not fun. My mailbox gets busted frequently because I live out in the country with beautiful dirt roads which go on for miles and miles. Perfect for me, but bad for my mailbox.
The first time my mailbox got smashed up, I decided I was going to fix it myself. How hard could it be? I just needed to buy the mailbox and the post, dig a hole for the post, and attach the mailbox – voilà! Well, not exactly. As it turned out, the post I bought was about two feet too long. Ok, easy fix. Saw off two feet and voilà! Well, not exactly because I only had a hack saw, some other smaller thing that was probably another hacksaw, and some other saw that did not look like it was meant to cut through a wooden post.
My options were to drive twenty minutes to the hardware store to buy the right kind of saw I needed or see if I could get the job done with one of the other saws I already had in front of me. Looking at the post, I decided this was a small job and there was no reason to waste time and money to buy a tool I was going to use only once, so I set about to using the hacksaw to get through the four-inch thick post.
After an hour of fiddling with the post and attempting all sorts of inventive ways to cut through it, my neighbor drove by, saw the look on my face and decided to help. He brought over his wood saw and the job was done in one minute. The mailbox looked great, and I was grateful for the help.
Two years later my beautiful mailbox was on the wrong end of an oncoming car again — boom. No problem, I’ve replaced a mailbox before, so I drove to the hardware store and bought another mailbox and another post. When I got home I realized the post was about two feet too long. After a few expletives directed at myself for not remembering the lesson from the last mailbox, I had a decision to make: find a new neighbor with a wood saw since the last neighbor moved away, try to use the saws I had that I knew would not work, or drive to the store and invest $14.99 in the proper tool for the job.
I decided to go to the store and buy the proper tool for the job. With the right tool in hand, I made quick work of installing the new mailbox and had time left over to sit on the porch and admire my handywork. (I build infrastructure for law firms, not mailboxes, so give me a break and let me enjoy my moment.)
As I sat on the porch I realized how my clients do the same thing with their infrastructure, their data, and many aspects of their firm — they think they’re saving time and money and they hack things up thinking they’re making things easier. They’ll say things like, “we’re not that big of a firm, so we don’t need to build something custom.” Others may say, “we like to export things to Excel so we can blah blah blah.” With all due understanding and patience, my friends, you’re possibly using the wrong tool for the job the same way I was fumbling with my mailbox like a clumsy animal trying to start a fire with two rocks.
What do I mean by that? Let me say it this way – when I had the right tool for the job, I was calm, I was thinking clearly, I spent less time, and the entire solution to my problem was uncomplicated and flowed effortlessly. This is the way we want to live in all aspects of our lives, and our work lives are not the exception.
If this is true for you, then start by identifying the trouble areas in your firm. Is it the billing? Is it how time is being captured? Is it in document storage or retrieval? Before you try and think of the solution, clearly define the problem. Secondly, how would you like your experience to be altered? Would you like certain information displayed in a certain way? Are you looking to have certain types of tasks be done in less time and with less effort? Are you convinced that a certain aspect could simply be done better? If any of these are true, go and talk to somebody who has made a profession out of fixing these things. Let them show you the solutions, the right tools, to accomplish those things.
Simplifying and finding the right tool for the job is true anywhere in your life. There is beauty in simplicity. There is value in having things work the way they should work. Sometimes you just need a simple tool. A simple tool, but the right tool for the job.
Trust me, just go out and get the saw, you’ll be happy you did.
Paul Purdue is a principal at Attorney Computer Systems. He’s a self-proclaimed “infrastructure nerd.” Check out Paul’s growing library of legal technology articles and videos on Attorney Computer Systems’ web site.