In the last post, we briefly touched on creating an electronic filing system. The first part of creating that system is creating a document naming procedure. Ok, let’s be real, you need a document naming procedure even if you don’t create an electronic filing system. If you save any documents on your computer, a document management system, or the all-seeing Cloud, you need to name them properly in order to find them again. Seems like common sense right? Except you’re busy, you receive tons of attachments, scan documents, and save files all day. If you don’t setup a procedure for naming them from the beginning, it can be hard to stay consistent.
Develop a Procedure
First rule of procedures – WRITE IT DOWN! Never assume that you or anyone else in your firm will remember the procedure because, let’s face it, we can barely remember what we ate for lunch yesterday. Procedures don’t need to be super detailed or in a fancy format, but they do need to be easy to understand and follow.
This brings me to my next point – don’t make the procedure too long or complex. The same goes for the document name! If it is too complicated, you won’t keep up with it and neither will anyone else in your office. The main elements to include in your procedure are:
Drafts and Finals
Draft and final form documents make my life so much easier! Simply put, drafts should be in Word, final documents should be in PDF. A final document is only final when it has been signed, filed, or no additional changes should be made. If a document has been signed, I put “Executed” at the beginning of the document name and the date signed at the end. Otherwise, that should be the only difference from the Word versus the PDF as far as name. Examples tend to make this clearer so let’s stick with that:
DRAFT: JONES Settlement Agreement.doc
FINAL (Signed): JONES Executed Settlement Agreement (04-01-17).pdf
FINAL (Filed): SMITH Motion to Dismiss (Filed 04-01-17).pdf
For ‘Filed’ final documents, I always save the document you received in the service email from the court after you file it because it includes the stamp at the top of the document with the date filed and docket information.
Rename Older Documents as You Have Time
Assuming today isn’t your very first day on the job, you’ve likely already saved electronic documents at your office. It is important, once you figured out your naming procedure, that all of your documents are named that way. Focus on adjusting the older documents to reflect your name procedure a little at a time. Pick a client or matter to start with and take it from there. I have found that this is easy to do while on a teleconference or while on hold – knock a few documents out and get back to being the amazing paralegal that you are!
Because nothing says #proactiveparalegal like multitasking!
You have heard the old saying “almost doesn’t count.” In this case, it counts for everything! As someone who owns a company that helps law firms become less paper-dependent and more efficient, let me just tell you – 100% paperless is HARD.
First, let’s think about what 100% paper-free actually means:
I can’t even go on because it’s too upsetting! The thought of not being able to print or write with a pen gives me nightmares. Yes, I’m being over-dramatic about this, but only because I love a good notepad and writing things on paper helps me remember. However, I am about to give you the 411 on how to let go of some paper and work more efficiently and effectively. Hold on tight and get ready for me to rock your office-ways!
One of the easiest things to start with is mail. Every time you get a piece of mail in, what do you do? You open it, show it to your attorney or leave it in his/her office for review, and possibly calendar a deadline. What happens to it after that? Do you throw it away, file it in a paper file, send it to a client, or put it in your pile of ‘stuff to be filed’? You may do some combination of these, but there’s an easier way. Every important piece of mail that comes in should be scanned. Once its scanned, you can save it in the appropriate file and then email it to your attorney and the client in one shot. You can also calendar any deadline and attach the document to the calendar entry. So, in 10 minutes or less you can scan, save, email, and calendar. Think about the difference in time from paper files. It could take you 20 minutes just to FIND a paper file, let alone file it in the appropriate subfolder.
For those of you that already scan everything, save it in an electronic file, and then file the paper original in a hard file – WHY?! There is no reason for this and you are making more work for yourself. I know some of you are saying “My attorney wants everything in the paper file.” No, he doesn’t, he just doesn’t realize he doesn’t…yet! Start with the little things. If you can eliminate putting emails and correspondence in a paper file, that is a huge step. Next, think about pleadings and other documents that you file electronically with the court. If you can access them through the docket, you can print them whenever you need to and therefore don’t need to print them. I know, LIGHTBULB! And when we get to the blog post about my awesome electronic pleadings index and deadline chart, you’ll be thrilled!
If you don’t have an electronic file system setup yet, please do so. Folders, subfolders, and proper labeling are the basics of what you need. If you are completely lost on where to start, make it easy by just creating a folder for each client and putting everything in there for that client. You’ll want to do this in your email system and on your network or hard drive (depending on what you have). I promise to get way too deep into this subject in a future post, but start here so you get the hang of it and don’t overwhelm yourself. If you make your filing system too complex, you won’t follow it and neither will your attorney.
Estimates show that 50-70% of space in an office is dedicated to the filing and storage of documents. Over 45% of files in those cabinets are duplicated information and 80% is NEVER ACCESSED AGAIN! Save yourself some space – maybe for a couch to nap on?? – and stop filling your filing cabinets with useless information! Ok, rant over :) #proactiveparalegal
I am definitely not a social butterfly. Talking to people is hard sometimes - especially when you've talked to clients all day, am I right? Fortunately, networking with other paralegals can be almost therapeutic ("there are others who feel the same way I do?"). This is also a great opportunity to meet like-minded people who become resources for you. Maybe you're looking for a new career opportunity or maybe you meet a paralegal who works in an area of law that you needed a referral for or want to learn more about. There are tons of networking options for a paralegal! Here's some suggestions:
We’ve finally reached the conclusion of the Legal Calendaring 101 series! Thank goodness because I didn’t realize how psychotic I could sound about calendaring until now…and I’m itching to write about something else!
You may already be familiar with color-coding within calendars. I understand it sounds ridiculous to think you need color-coding after everything we’ve talked about for calendars, but it can definitely be useful if you have a full calendar, which most attorneys do! This will help both you and your attorney glance at the day/week/month and find what you’re looking for quickly based on color. For us as paralegals, this is also great because we can spot things that need to be dealt with. I was always able to stay ahead when spotting the tickler, in person meeting, or hard deadline colors. I knew it meant I most likely had something to prep or put together.
Here’s how I break down colors on the calendar:
Red - hard deadline
Green – ticklers/reminders
Blue – teleconferences
Yellow – in person meetings/appearances
Teal – business development/networking
Orange – firm events
Purple – vacation/holidays
Gray – travel time
Remember, these are just the color choices I’ve picked based on what works for me and my attorneys. You can pick whatever you’d like, but this is a good starting point. For instance, I’ve picked red for hard deadlines because red signals ‘STOP and pay attention.’ For in person meetings and court appearances, I’ve picked yellow to stand out. Every time I see yellow on the calendar, I make sure to look at the location of the meeting to see if I need to hold time for travel, which I would mark out in gray on the calendar. It all melds together eventually to form a very colorful day!
The Other Craziness
A few other random ideas to help improve your calendaring expertise:
I hope you’ve thoroughly enjoyed pulling back every layer of calendaring in this nail-biting series! Luckily, I’m easy to please – if one person learns one thing from this, I’ll be thrilled! Until next time…. #proactiveparalegal
We’ve talked about all of the information you need within a calendar entry, but what if there are people involved in the event that need to be invited or alerted as to the same information? We send them an engraved, hand-delivered invitation of course!
Well, actually more like typed and delivered electronically, but you catch my drift...
Invitations can be sent to clients, opposing counsel, other attorneys and employees within your firm, mediators, court reporters, etc. Here's a few very important things to remember when sending invitations:
While we’re on the subject of Updates, use them as needed. If important information like location, time, dial-in information for a call, etc. changes after you’ve sent out the initial invitation, make sure to send an Update to all invitees. This will update their calendar and alert them that something has changed.
You're going to be a calendar pro in no time!! #proactiveparalegal
Scheduling meetings and teleconferences require different information (I know you know this already). The question is, how do you make it obvious and helpful within the calendar entry for your attorney? Let’s break this down:
In Person Meetings, Court Appearances, Events, etc.
When calendaring for these, I include as much detail as possible. In the Name of the event, I include what the event is, what it is regarding, the allotted time reserved (i.e. for a hearing, “30 minutes reserved”), and who the attendees are. It looks something like this: SMITH Meeting with John and Jack regarding Case Strategy (1hr Reserved). Some people may think it's silly to included the time allotted because you do that using the time feature within the calendar entry, but I'm doing this for billable time purposes. If I make it clear what the time allotted was, and it goes over/under, we can justify afterwards (1.5 hours spent) and it's clear for when my attorney bills he is time later. A little on the crazy side, but especially if you have one of those attorneys that doesn't bill his/her time often enough, this is a great reminder system of what he/she did that day!
In the location, I include the place (also obvious…) and for court appearances, I include the judge’s name. For example: Judge Doe, Main Courthouse, 123 Main Street, Tampa, FL 54321.
If there are a ridiculous amount of attendees, I list them in the Notes section of the calendar entry so they don’t cloud up the Name section of the entry.
If a meeting takes more than 15 minutes to travel to, I include Travel Time entries before and after the event entry. It should be a time entry that just says "TRAVEL TO MEETING/HEARING/TRIAL (whatever needs to be inserted)" and it should occur both before and after the actual event so you allow your attorney enough time and don't accidentally schedule anything additional during that time. If you don't know the estimated travel time for an event, look it up silly! That's what being proactive is all about.
In the Location for teleconferences, I include the dial-in information for the call (if there is any), and I reference who is supposed to call who. Here’s an example: John to call Jack directly at (888) 567-1234. An example for dial-in would be: Dial-In: 1-888-555-0000; Passcode: 1234567; Leader PIN: 9999. This is assuming your attorney is leading the call. If your attorney is NOT leading the call, I would make a note saying that he/she is not leading the call somewhere either in Location or Notes.
It is in our nature as paralegals to be detail-oriented. Hopefully this will amplify that attention to detail for you! #proactiveparalegal
Oh how I love the friendly beast that is the Tickle Monster! In case you aren’t familiar with the term, ‘tickler’ is fancy legal term for a reminder. These are CRUCIAL if you want to stay ahead of your calendar. Ticklers do a couple of things: 1) they remind you that a deadline is upcoming; and 2) they tell you and/or your attorney to get started on said deadline and NOT wait until the last minute. For court deadlines, I suggest scheduling 2 and 1 week ticklers for time-intensive documents, such as motions or discovery. This is in addition to the hard deadline to be scheduled for the day the document is actually due. This system of checks and balances ensures that nothing is missed and allows enough time to complete the task. I schedule these as appointments on my calendar and will copy them to my attorney's calendar. These can also be sent as invitations, especially if multiple people in your office are working on the case.
When putting ticklers on the calendar, it is good practice to include any notes in the calendar entry that are pertinent to the deadline. For instance, when I calendar a response to a motion, I include the date the motion was filed and the hard deadline. I do this in the Subject and Location lines. The Subject line may say "SMITH Motion for Summary Judgment DUE TODAY 12-01-15." The Location line would say "Per Dkt 16 Motion for Clerk's Default Filed 11-15-15." In the Notes section of the calendar entry, I also include information on any extensions granted. This is also a good time to include any notes on how the court likes a document prepared and/or filed.
Another tip when creating ticklers and hard deadlines is to include the relevant document within the calendar entry. If you use Outlook, you can drag and drop documents from an email right into the Notes section of a calendar entry!
Finally, don't forget to include the client name on every calendar entry to help you and your attorney recall what the heck the entry is for! #proactiveparalegal
Welcome to Legal Calendaring 101! Literally every paralegal and assistant I know spend significant time inputting critical dates into a calendar, no matter what type of law they're in. There are hard deadlines, ticklers, appointments, general reminders, events, travel, etc. Mine go so far as to be color-coded and have special symbols if it’s one of those ‘miss this deadline and the court will FIND YOU’ deadlines. Keep in mind that I work primarily in litigation and I use Outlook to calendar everything, so my thoughts are focused on that, but can be similarly applied to whatever system you use.
Before we dig deep, let’s discuss the two most important aspects of legal calendaring:
#1 DON’T forget to do it! When something comes in with any sort of date or deadline included, especially from the court, stop everything you’re doing and calendar whatever deadlines there are. Add yourself some ticklers too (we'll discuss these in the next post), depending on what kind of deadline it is. One of the WORST things a paralegal can do is miss a deadline. Not only can it affect your relationship with your attorney, it could cause sanctions to be imposed on your attorney which, realistically, could be horrendous for both of you. Trust me, I know how easy it is to see something come in and think "Oh, if I put this right over here I'll get to it as soon as I'm done with the project I'm working on." A week later you remember it and one of the deadlines could have already passed! Do yourself a favor and ALWAYS make calendaring a top priority.
#2 Figure out an easy to use system that works for both you AND your attorney. The second worst thing you can do (first being forgetting to actually calendar a deadline), is make a system so complicated or duplicative that neither of you will use it, rendering it ineffective. Everything I do may not exactly work for you, but parts of it could. No matter what system you develop, just make sure it's efficient for everyone involved.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
There are a few crucial things almost every calendar entry needs:
That's it for the bare essentials to a calendar entry, but of course, as paralegals, we don't stop at the bare minimum! Next stop on the calendar train, ticklers!! #proactiveparalegal
In thinking about what blog posts to start with, I thought, “What have I always had the most trouble with?” or “What can I always improve on?” That, my friends, is calendaring. It will always be calendaring. There is always a way to improve calendaring because systems advance and you realize more efficient ways to do things. Sometimes even the simplest improvements you can make to your calendaring can make a huge difference. So I decided to write down my entire calendaring process in hopes that maybe even the smallest part of my process will help you improve yours! Legal Calendaring 101 is about to commence! Here are your topics:
Let me tell you a little bit about myself (so you know what you’re getting into). I have worked in the legal field for almost ten years. Feelings of shock are coming to me now as I write these words that I can say I’ve worked in a field for almost ten years, but I digress.
I’ve done various things in the legal field: legal administrative assistant, special projects, scanning project lead, and paralegal/office manager. I have worked for a solo practitioner, a mid-size law firm, and a national firm. Two of these firms have consistently been ranked in U.S. News and World Report. While at these firms, I worked in a variety of areas including litigation, transactional, healthcare, a dash of construction law, and a smidge of real estate at the beginning of my career. I don’t purport to be an expert in any of these areas. I can confidently say I am expert-y at organization.
At every firm I’ve worked for, I’ve tried to improve upon the processes already in place. This could be something as simple as revamping the calendaring system to ensure deadlines aren’t missed and everything is properly input. Or it could be something as complex as working with management and various partners and staff to propose and implement a firm-wide document retention and destruction policy. Seeing a problem and trying to find a solution that can be put into place effectively, efficiently, and with majority approval is my drug of choice (do you think that will fit on a bumper sticker?).
Sometimes, my recommendations work firm-wide, sometimes just in one department, and sometimes just for one person (usually me). I am NOT one of those paralegals that wants to hoard all of her knowledge like classified-level secrets. Um, hello? I started a blog for goodness sakes! I am more than happy to share any tips, tricks, and crazy ideas I have in hopes that, just maybe, it may help just one other person. So, go ahead, ask me anything. #proactiveparalegal