Lawyers take on a tremendous number of tasks each day. Within one eight-hour workday, you may speak with 10 different clients, make three court appearances, and handle four additional matters. It’s no wonder task management and organization are such important tools within the practice of law. Keeping track of it all can be a real challenge, especially if your work environment is overwhelmed by clutter and confusion. Effective attorneys know that order, or at least some level of organized confusion, is key to a successful practice. Structure helps you keep track of your crazy schedule and the various responsibilities you must handle every day. The following are some valuable organizational skills that help effective attorneys remain effective.
Time management is a major concern for attorneys. With numerous clients depending on you for stellar service, disorganization can quickly turn into missed deadlines, overwhelming stress, and even professional violations. Keeping your practice in good standing requires adequate time management. Don’t shy away from an organizational system because you think it needs be something complex. Even simple changes and strategies can be effective time management tools, including:
- Brain dumping: Your memory is not a calendar and an extremely unreliable database for appointments and important notes. A daily brain dump can be helpful at putting your tasks in front of you for proper organization and planning. You can use a “to-do” list, task mapping, or some other duty management system. Just get that mental baggage out of your head.
- Tackle the worst first: An article by The Balance Small Business advises to tackle the most challenging and unpleasant tasks first. Getting them out of the way relieves stress and frees your mind for the mountain of other tasks you need to tackle that day.
- Limit distractions: A ringing telephone is a constant sound within a law office. While there are some calls that absolutely must be handled immediately, most can be addressed at a designated time. Rely heavily on your administrative assistant to screen calls and only interrupt you with the most urgent issues. Choose a specific time during the day when you will return calls and emails. To further limit distractions, you should also stay away from the social media feeds. Checking just one social media article can quickly turn into an hour of wasted time.
- Time tracking: Instead of relying on your memory or sticky notes for timekeeping, immediately track your time as you complete each task. Disorganized time tracking can lead to inaccurate bills, and inaccurate bills can lead to client disputes. Take a hold of your time tracking responsibilities with a legal billing system that provides tools to track your time immediately, from virtually anywhere in the world. The mobility of TimeSolv allows you to track time efficiently and accurately. If you are not familiar with the benefits of TimeSolv, click here for a free, no obligation trial.
There is nothing more cluttering than paper and most law offices are overrun with it. You get paper from your clients. You generate paper with your pleadings and contracts. You get paper from opposing counsel and you get paper from the court. An organized office environment requires that you take control of all that paper. But how? Many law offices have chosen to go paperless, swapping physical file cabinets for virtual ones. Just as you would with a paper file, you can organize your client files into sections and scan in all related documents. This sensible solution is particularly useful within today’s highly mobile environment. Cloud-based document storage allows you to securely access client records from almost anywhere. TimeSolv’s document management feature provides storage from the same secure cloud environment as your invoices, so you can attach documents and files directly to your projects and matters.
If you are not ready to take the leap into a paperless office, you should still make an effort to organize your paper files and manage your documents. First, start with each client file. If you already have a standard organizational structure for your files, make sure each one is arranged correctly. If you have not created an organizational structure, hop to it immediately. There is nothing worse than trying to work with a disorganized file, especially in front of the client. Use tabs to break up your file and label the various sections. It may seem like a small and tedious task, but it will go a long way to making you feel more organized in your practice.
Once you and your staff have reviewed the individual files, consider your overall filing system. Are your filing cabinets in good condition? Do they lock properly? Are they overcrowded? If your filing cabinets are not adequately doing the job, invest in new ones. Also… and I know this will sound silly, but actually use them. What good are filing cabinets if you have 15 client files scattered about on your desk. Try to get in the habit of returning files to the cabinet when not in use. It will cut down on a lot of wasted time spent hunting down documents.
It may not seem to fit into this article, but many attorneys are overwhelmed by clutter and disorganization because they neglect to take care of themselves. An organized professional life starts with an organized mind. If your mental and physical health are in poor condition, your law practice will be negatively impacted. Be sure to keep reasonable office hours and take regular vacations. Also, get in some physical exercise and adequate amounts of sleep. Meditation and aroma-therapy are useful tools that you can take advantage of even at work, when your mind is feeling a bit chaotic. Understand that, even with the most organized office in the world, the practice of law can be a bit unpredictable and stressful. Create a plan of attack for handling these challenges and you will be prepared for even your toughest days.
About Erika Winston:
Erika Winston is a freelance writer with a passion for law. Through her business, The Legal Writing Studio, she helps legal professionals deliver effective written messages. Erika is a regular contributor to TimeSolv and a variety of other publications.