Make Money Monday: Use It or Lose It

A couple of months before the pandemic hit, tidy-up evangelist Marie Kondo released a new book, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life , which applies Kondo’s decluttering principles to the workplace context.  As this article describes, Kondo advises readers to decide what to keep and what to cull by asking themselves a particular  object sparks joy. 

Trouble is, Kondo’s advice, though recent, falls flat in a post-pandemic world. That’s because so much of what once sparked joy for law firm owners – a conference room table, waiting room wing chairs, a pen for signing documents or a corner office overlooking a scenic vista – now evoke nostalgia now that many of us are working remotely. 

In taking inventory of our offices out of the house, lawyers must instead apply a use it or lose it litmus test.  For example, if you haven’t used your office in the past four months, maybe you should just lose the space.  If you have a 5-room office but your staff prefers working from home, lose the additional space.  If you lease a photo copy machine, but courts are going paperless, lose the lease.  If you aren’t using those desktop VOIP phones you bought six months ago, lose them.  Don’t muse over what you’re not using.  Just lose it.

You probably think that this is advice is nuts because even if you aren’t using your office or conference room table, you may figure you will use them again once the pandemic is over.  That’s where you’re wrong. The pandemic is much more than a transient point in time.  Instead, it will usher in permanent change as we realize that those things that we once believed were vital to our law practices no longer are.  Moreover, it’s not merely that these things are unimportant, but they tie us down to an old world that no longer matters and prevent us from investing in the new.  

Here’s one example.  Earlier today, I spoke to a paralegal class about how the pandemic disproportionately impacts parents – largely women – who must put in a full day of billable hours while homeschooling kids who are learning virtually.  I had proposed that firms consider hiring tutors for employees to help alleviate the stress of homeschool, and one of the students suggested that this might be cost prohibitive.  In response, I explained that this wasn’t necessarily the case, since cost savings on rent – to the tune of several hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month – could go a long way to offset the cost of tutors. Plus, most staff would work harder to show appreciation for these benefits, so billable hours might increase as well.

Lawyers are likely to find other savings as well.  With fewer opportunities for outside meetings, they save on clothing and dry cleaning and makeup and salons.  All of those dollars can be used to purchase new equipment or other things that can make working from home, or completely alone in the office more enjoyable.

Don’t get me wrong, the concept of what sparks joy as a litmus test for decision making doesn’t go away entirely.  It’s just that post-pandemic, that which sparks joy aren’t reminders of the past, but rather, those things that will help us pave the way for the future.

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