Dealing with a dog file isn't something they teach us in law school. The law practice hack I want to share in this blog has evolved from advice I read about how to deal with a dog file. You know - the file that sits in the corner of our office, howling and growling at you because you never want to deal with it.
Maybe the client is from hell, or you’ve inherited the file from another lawyer and it’s a colossal mess. Whatever the reason, it hounds you and just won’t leave you alone. Usually the thing that makes it a dog file is that it’s challenging. We might not know where to turn in terms of the law, and we might not know how to give our client the best advice.
My method of turning that ferocious beast into a well-behaved cute little puppy goes back to a book I read years ago. It was a book about how to make your law practice better, and the advice was to spend 60 minutes with your file, completely undisturbed. You put your head into it one hour at a time, and get around each of the problems one at a time. After you’ve spent an hour with any file, it becomes less ferocious. But, my first reaction was something along the lines of: “Are you kidding me? A WHOLE hour with my dog file?!” I hate this file. I don't want to spend an hour with it. Gross.
So, then I procrastinated about making that hour-long appointment.
Here is my story about a ferocious dog of a file I had, that I only made worse over time because I was too afraid to deal with it.
I had to make a tough decision. My client had recorded the father of her child saying some pretty nasty things not only about her, but about their not yet born baby. This recording happened without the father knowing. And so my problem came down to two questions:
1. Do I disclose what he said in the recording to the court, and
2. How do I go about bringing this recording to the judge without it backfiring and having my client look like a sneaky terrible person?
The issue was significant because what the father was saying about this innocent baby was so bad that it was very relevant for their custody dispute. I was struggling with the ethics of it and the law of it. So the file sat on the edge of my desk. Staring at me. And it caused a little bit of stress every time I looked at it. In three months I didn’t spend more than a minute and a half on this file, even though I knew that I needed to do some legal research and confer with a colleague about how best to deal with the situation. Eventually what happened is that it was two days before court and I finally did the legal research and made the disclosure.
I don’t recommend sitting on important information on a matter until the last minute. It blew up in my face.
The father reported me to the Law Society because I had held information until the very last minute. My dog file problem snowballed into a much bigger problem.
So here’s my remedy, and it works like a hot-damn:
Don’t spend an hour with your dog file. Spend 10 minutes with it.
I commit to spending 10 minutes with any major project that has been hounding me. I close my office door, ask to not be disturbed, and I set my alarm on my iPhone. And when I do this I’m able to chip away at it. Even for 10-minutes at a time.
And that’s it! That's how I turn my dog file into a cute-ish little puppy.
Since I’ve been using the 10-minute rule I’ve applied it not only to my law practice, but to my everyday life. I’ll wake up on a Saturday morning and see that the kitchen is a mess and there’s laundry to be folded. Instead of getting overwhelmed, I’ll set my alarm for 10 minutes and dedicate myself to whatever needs to be done. And here’s the thing: often I want to continue once I’ve started, but I stop myself and stick to my 10-minute commitment.
The point is to deal with whatever it is in bite-size chunks that you can handle, and stick to your commitment.
If you have a hack for dealing with a dog file, leave a comment below or shoot me an email! I'm always looking for new tricks to make my own law practice better and to share with our BEST law family.
Written by Val Hemminger, long-suffering law boss at Hemminger Law Group Westshore.
Val has created this website to share with her colleagues. She is not suggesting, by any means, that she is the best divorce lawyer out there. She is, however, suggesting that she is the best divorce lawyer that she herself can be. Feel free to share anything you find useful.