Time Management and Organizational Tips for Paralegals

Paralegals are key components of any successfully functioning legal team. While paralegals cannot set fees, establish client relationships or provide legal advice, the American Bar Association explained that paralegals can perform most other tasks that lawyers can accomplish. From preparing court documents to conducting legal research to organizing case files, paralegals are the true backbones of most law firms.

In addition to these tasks, paralegals can interview clients and witnesses, assist in trials, draft pleadings, coordinate zoning matters related to an acquisition and investigate product liability issues. Due to the expansive nature of the work, many paralegals find themselves overwhelmed on the job. Working long hours in a high-stress environment can be tiresome for many new or veteran paralegals, especially if they are not well organized or do not manage their schedule effectively.

Hourglass sitting on table

Time management

Proper time management efforts require intentional strategizing, and the ability to be flexible, as some of the best plans can change instantly based on urgent cases or deadlines. Here are three time management tips to help out busy paralegals:

1. Schedule out undisrupted work time

The constant flood of emails, documents and phone calls can easily distract even the most diligent of paralegals. To remain productive throughout the day and remove distractions, paralegals should block off set times to turn off their phone, log out of their inbox and more. This way, they will be able to focus on their research or documentation without feeling the need to multitask or accidently ruin their concentration.

2. Set personal deadlines

Law firms are incredibly deadline-driven when it comes to managing caseloads, requesting certain documentation or meeting with clients. Instead of working on someone else’s timetable exclusively, paralegals should take initiative and set their own personal deadlines. For example, if paralegals need to complete a certain amount of research or documentation by a set date, those who want to manage their time effectively may decide to finish the work a day or two before this deadline.

Within this same line of thought, it’s important for paralegals to make lists and prioritize certain projects or tasks over others. This way, they do not spend the majority of their limited time on assignments that could be pushed off until later. Paralegals should ask plenty of questions to establish how involved it will be and make an estimation of how long it might take, to know what work should be a priority.

3. Be aware of productivity limits

All employees have their limits when it comes to being productive. During especially busy times, it’s not unusual for paralegals to put in long hours or never have a moment to spare throughout the day. Despite this, paralegals should be aware of when their productivity level may be dwindling. To mitigate this occurrence, some experts recommend that paralegals take a short break every hour or so to reset and refocus on their work. After all, well-rested, motivated paralegals are much more of an asset to law firms than disgruntled, exhausted ones.

Messy workspace with lots of papers

Organization

Being organized in a law office may seem like a losing battle, especially during times of high caseloads or when a client is going to trial. Despite this challenge, a poorly organized law firm leads to staff inefficiency, lost clients and dwindling profits. When staff members misplace files or write down wrong deadlines, law firms could run into potential conflicts, such as malpractice concerns or a plunge in industry reputation. With this in mind, here are three organizational tips for paralegals struggling to keep their office in order:

1. Get rid of clutter

As mentioned previously, a cluttered, disorganized office has the potential to be disastrous. Misplaced bills or files can lead to lost clients or poor community standing. In a less consequential way, a messy office could cause paralegals to duplicate work they have already completed because they cannot locate the original. This not only lowers office-wide productivity, but can also damage team morale. To begin purging clutter around the office, paralegals should consult the office attorneys about what files, books or other items should be destroyed, kept or stored elsewhere.

2. Organize what remains

After the initial office cleansing, paralegals must begin organizing what remains. Before this happens, they need to create a set operating procedure and organizational standard. Without a set system, disorganization will creep back into the office within just a few days or weeks. These organizational rules will create clarity and consistency regarding any file, book, document or piece of paper that comes through the firm’s doors. Although these procedures will be different for every law office, some of the baseline standards may include:

  • How to open new client files.
  • How to order and store office supplies.
  • How to schedule new client consultations.
  • How to close, archive or destroy client files.
  • How to prepare trial notebooks.
  • How to handle daily document filing.

3. Leverage new technology

The vast majority of law firms use some form of digital technology. On a widespread scale, law firms can use billing or appointment scheduling software to cut down on man hours and become more efficient. The National Law Review wrote that one of the top three characteristics of high-growth law firms was frequent technology use. According to the study, successful firms were three times more likely to leverage technology than their peers.

There are other specialized law software tools that can electronically manage case files and documents, as well, to reduce paper and provide instant, easy access to client or case information. Some firms leverage file-sharing or project management solutions to allow attorneys to delegate tasks and share research faster.

From a personal organization perspective, paralegals can download to-do list apps or online software to manage their own daily workload. When paralegals implement a set of organizational standards at every level and use innovative tools to achieve these goals, these efforts benefit the law firm as a whole.

Anyone looking to make a career change or further their career advancement opportunities should consider George Washington University’s online Master’s in Paralegal Studies. As one of the few paralegal master’s degrees in the country, the program will equip current and future paralegals with the skills, experience and knowledge they need to succeed.

Sources

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/resources/information_for_lawyers_how_paralegals_can_improve_your_practice.html

http://www.acc.com/legalresources/publications/topten/rup.cfm

http://www.natlawreview.com/article/top-3-characteristics-high-growth-law-firms

http://www.pacoparalegals.org/documents/time_mgmt_paralegals_04222009.pdf

https://online.gwu.edu/master-professional-studies-paralegal-studies

http://www.paralegalalliance.com/time-management-for-the-busy-paralegal/#axzz4Y6LNbOK4

http://paralegaltoday.com/issue_archive/columns/career_advice_ja02.htm

http://www.legaco.org/lex/12/08/24/3

https://www.thebalance.com/the-8-worst-things-about-being-a-paralegal-2164598

http://www.agilelaw.com/2014/09/law-office-management-tips-organize-work/

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