It’s 2023 and everyone in the legal world is inundated with emails. Much like a congested roadway, your inbox can quickly become backed up with electronic correspondence, also known as, email jam.
Microsoft Office is a widely used program among law firms in the United States, and if used to its full potential, Outlook can be an extremely useful tool in your paralegal career.
I’ve seen way too many paralegals who have hundreds (if not thousands) of unread emails, junk mail, and personal mail floating around their inboxes.
And I get it – coming to work and seeing all those unread emails can be overwhelming, to say the least when we are juggling all of our other responsibilities. But isn’t it more overwhelming to have opposing counsel or your attorney ask you for information that you know is only in an email… somewhere?
In this blog post, we’ll list four simple but effective ways to stay ahead of email jams.
1. Organize Your Inbox
One of the best qualities of a paralegal is the ability to be organized. You can never be too organized in this profession, and you probably read about it in every blog because well, it’s the truth!
And while it is mostly geared toward keeping your desk or paper files organized, it also applies to your emails and is imperative to avoid email jams.
For me, I need my inbox to be free of clutter and useless information so I can find my way around, and fast!
After years of being a paralegal, I just got in the habit of organizing my inbox to fit the needs of the firm I was working at.
When I used to practice solely personal injury, I created folders for the cases that were in active litigation and then a sub-folder with the case name. I also created folders for settlement negotiations, electronic medical record requests, and disbursements.
Now that I work on a variety of different matters for different attorneys, I have a folder in my inbox for each attorney. Within the attorney folder are subfolders for each project that I am actively working on.
When I see an email pertaining to one of those projects, even if I don’t have time to read it right away, I drag it to the corresponding folder.
When I’m ready to read it, I know exactly where it is, and I don’t have to search through Outlook. I do the same thing for invoices that need to be paid, and even referrals that have been made electronically.
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Keeping my inbox organized in this manner has been a game changer. I’ve found that I use the search bar less and less, and I physically feel better because I know where things are.
There are tons of researchers out there who suggest that when you feel better, you work better. Plus, there is nothing like forwarding an e-mail to someone who accused you of not sending it in the first place.
I can’t tell you how many times an attorney has asked me to print out that one specific email string or re-forward the entire thing to them. I am able to do these tasks in a matter of seconds and their response is the same every time, “Wow, that was quick!”.
2. Utilize Your Resources
If you want your employer to invest in you, you should probably invest in yourself first. Get a little proactive and take the opportunity to really get to know the programs you are working with. The more knowledgeable you are, the more of an asset you will become to your firm.
I’m not just talking about the specific area of law you practice in, but programs like Microsoft Office, Needles, Worldox, Title Express, SoftPro, and Amicus. I was at a law firm where the paralegals (some of whom had been paralegals long before I started), had no idea that emails could be automatically filtered into another folder.
These programs have shortcuts and tools available to make your job easier! So why not utilize them to your advantage? If your firm has an IT person or company, it’s worth it to schedule a time to go through your email settings. Express your needs and let them guide you through the different options.
If you’re in a smaller firm, go to YouTube! There are plenty of “how-to” videos you can learn from on your own. Working in real estate, I would get over 50+ wire confirmation emails a day. Couple that with all the other correspondence and my inbox would quickly resemble a Los Angeles freeway during rush hour.
So, I learned how to change the settings so all of the wire confirmation emails would go into another folder – avoiding email jam altogether. My inbox became easier to manage because I didn’t have to do that step myself. If you get those types of reoccurring emails, like those File&Serve Xpress notifications, I highly recommend setting up this feature in Outlook.
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3. Screen emails as they come in
Paralegals have to be on it, right? We are multi-tasking masters of drafting documents, researching new or updated statutes and codes, and answering client phone calls all at the same time.
Time management is everything when you have deadlines and statutes, or if you have an extra heavy case load. In order to keep my inbox traffic flowing smoothly, I find it extremely useful to screen emails as they come in.
I’m here to tell you, you do have time for this. If you don’t make time, you will probably find yourself spending more time searching for that one specific email and stuck in an email jam.
The reward here is an organized inbox, one that you can find and retrieve information from quickly. My inbox is empty because as soon as I see I have unread messages, I take the time to see what it is, decide if its time sensitive or not, and then move it to its respective folder or delete it if it’s unnecessary.
If it is something that can wait, when I am ready to work on it, I know exactly where it is, which frees up the time it would take to search for it amongst 50,000+ emails. I have made this part of my general practice and getting in the habit of keeping up with emails has kept me incredibly organized.
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4. Unsubscribe, delete, rinse, and repeat.
Like I said before, we are inundated with emails and avoiding email jam is harder than ever. When I left my firm after six years, the total number of items in my inbox was staggering.
My outlook was literally a wealth of information, and also a dump filled with junk and marketing emails. Do yourself a favor and unsubscribe from those spammy emails that no longer serve you.
Paralegals have several logins, and we are constantly having to make new accounts where we unknowingly subscribe to marketing emails and the like. While we appreciate the discount codes or constant information, if you don’t utilize them, they just clog up your inbox and folders.
It’s easy to hit the delete button, but why not nip it in the bud and hit the unsubscribe button! The more you limit what flows into your inbox, the less you will have to worry about the important stuff getting lost in the sauce. And trust me, it will.
Once I deleted an email that a few weeks later I needed. My deleted folder was filled with recurring junk mail, and it took me forever to find it. There are hundreds of things outside of our control as paralegals, but our inboxes are not one of them.
You decide what comes in, and what gets sent, and can tailor your Outlook to fit your specific needs. If you make this your general practice, you will notice a significant decrease in traffic on an already busy road!
Technology is always changing and advancing. Electronic mail has become the new postal highway and we are depending on it more and more.
It has allowed us as legal professionals to evolve from time-consuming practices to a more cost-effective, standardized approach to sending and receiving the information we need.
Email correspondence is fast, easy and leaves behind a bread crumb trail of information like who it was sent to, and when. As a paralegal, you know that can be some of the most crucial bits of information that your attorney will ask for first.
Whether you’re a new paralegal starting out, or a seasoned paralegal – it is never too late to organize your inbox and avoid email jam because being organized and keeping track of your emails is just as important as being organized and keeping track of your paper files.
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Meet the Author
Christina West is a paralegal at Parkowski, Guerke & Swayze, P.A. After practicing in personal injury for six years, she decided to expand her knowledge of the law and transitioned into a real estate paralegal role. After a year of learning all things real estate, her journey led her to her current firm where she handles estate planning and business corporation matters. She is a Delaware native and graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She continued her education at Delaware Technical Community College earning her Paralegal Certificate in 2017. She lives at the beach with her family and enjoys reading, movies, and being outdoors.
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