Being organized should be a firm initiative and everyone in the law firm needs to embrace increased organization.
Attorneys work in a very high-stress environment and oftentimes feel they must always be the expert in the room. Embracing organization can not only make repetitive tasks more efficient, but also reduce stress. Well-organized attorneys will take advantage of the ability to automate many daily tasks. Being organized is not “set it and forget it.” It is an ongoing process. Being organized should be a firm initiative and everyone in the law firm needs to embrace increased organization.
Plan Your Week
It is important to review all activities, personal and professional, for the upcoming week. Choose a place, day, and time each week with minimal interruptions to do your planning and budget at least one hour to plan for the week. Look at scheduled meetings and indicate which ones cannot be adjusted and which ones might have to be moved depending on unexpected events. While the first week of planning will probably feel like too much work, the routine of planning will become more efficient and less tedious with time.
Review Your Work Area
Reviewing your desk, office, or work area on a regular basis is important. It would be prudent to make this a weekly review. Be sure to separate the important tasks from those which are urgent. Important, but not urgent, tasks often fall through the cracks, so to make sure they are being addressed in a timely manner, these tasks can be placed in the weekly plan.
Reviewing your work area also includes your workstation. Some people want no emails in their inbox. Many have other options such as sending an email to the firm’s time & billing/document management system. Use those tools which are available to you, including a practice management system that could streamline workflows for your firm.
There is no right way to set up an office. Your workspace needs to work for you. If you work with an assistant, it is important to include that person in your plans. This person can help you become more effective and efficient if they are aware of your goals. Encourage your assistant to participate in online learning about your time & billing and document management systems. The more you both know about these applications, the more effective you will be as a team.
The legal industry continues to incorporate more and more technology into its services. An attorney and his/her legal staff must continually learn the technology in place. Budget about 10-30 minutes a week to learn something new in the firm’s current technology—and then apply it in your daily tasks. This investment in time now , will pay off later in efficiency, producing more time and less human errors. The time & billing providers have training available, as does any document management provider.
To take the approach of “we’ve always done it this way” is the beginning of becoming obsolete. There was a time when email was non-existent. Today, the average office worker receives about 121 emails daily and I challenge you to name one person you know who does not have a cell phone. In simple terms, technology has evolved and so should your firm.
While it is very important to stay focused on the task at hand, it may also make sense to turn off some electronic devices in certain circumstances. This includes when working on a specific task or for brief periods of time when you are legitimately unavailable (a child’s softball game or while on vacation). In these instances, the Out of Office feature on your email should be used.
Getting organized and focused is easy to put off for another day, so you will have to be intentional in getting started and sticking to it.
Multitasking is a good way to easily waste time. Most people tend to work slower and make more errors when multitasking.
Recording time contemporaneously can also keep you organized. By entering time as you work, less time falls through the cracks, so more time is entered. You also reduce the risk of tasks getting forgotten because the times and explanations will be accurate. This can be further simplified by taking advantage of legal practice management software.
Utilizing a practice management system that has multiple ways of tracking time through multiple timers and reports can also help keep all of your billing information in order. When you think about the time it takes to keep track of all of your tasks and how to properly categorize and bill them, you end up wasting precious time that could’ve been used towards other billable tasks. That’s why having timing capabilities in your legal practice management platform is so important.
Getting organized and focused is easy to put off for another day, so you will have to be intentional in getting started and sticking to it. When implementing new organizational tools, or implementing anything new for that matter, there will be bumps in the road. There may be days that are anything but organized, however you can still learn from the bumps and attack the weekly plan again the next day.
Written by CARET Legal partner, Gail Ruopp. Gail Ruopp has acquired more than 25 years of professional experience in senior law firm management, initiating best practices in administrative operations, including: financials, accounting, lateral recruiting, personnel, day-to-day operations, systems management, and firm marketing.