When you’re starting a new paralegal career, these case management tips will help you if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Most likely, there wasn’t a class on case management in your paralegal certificate program. If there was, it was a chapter in one of your reading assignments and hard to put into context until you actually put it to practice. Unless the law firm you work for only takes on one case at a time (and, let’s be honest, there are no law firms that only take on one case at a time), you are going to have to juggle more than one case and keep things organized.
Here are some tips to help keep everything under control:
Develop a methodology
You might see other paralegals doing things that seem a little OCD: like a color coding system for file folders, triple-checking the number of exhibits or color flagging emails by case or priority. These are all methodologies that they’ve developed over the years to reduce the amount of time it takes to find things in their cases and to help keep them organized. This is also a way to know when something is wrong early on in a project. For example, if you have a methodology in which you always put your initials in the upper right corner of pleadings that you’ve seen and calendared the deadlines, then you’ll immediately know something got missed when you see a pleading without those initials.
Learn to prioritize your cases
This will require you to be in constant communication with the lawyer or lawyers that you work for or to develop a system where you’re automatically notified of upcoming deadlines and new pleadings that have been filed. Do you know which cases are the most important? Do you know which cases are coming up? These are the two cases that you need to be giving the most attention right now. In order to know those two things, you will have to be familiar with the docket and either read your lawyer’s mind or make sure that you ask him or her which cases he believes to be the highest priority. Once you know, make sure you tag those cases so one does not slip through the cracks.
Write yourself a checklist
There is probably a long list of things that you need to prepare for the cases you are working on. Don’t just try to remember whether or not you have done those things or what exactly you need to do. Keep a “master to-do list” on your computer that has the list of everything you have coming up on all of your cases. Then print out the list by case and tape each case’s to-do list to the front of the case file or binder. That way, you can always know exactly where you are with that case and what you need to do. If you can include deadlines for those tasks, even better. This will make compiling your daily to-do list much easier and will ensure that nothing is left undone.
A filing system that works all of the time
Even if most of your discovery these days is e-discovery, you probably are still going to need to file some paper. Deciding how you are going to file these things before you actually open up your drawers and start filing them is essential. You need to know what your paralegal organizational system is before you actually try to start organizing anything. Why bother? Because how well your cases are organized is going to determine how easy those cases are to prepare. Setting up a system that ensure that the same types of information are placed in the same areas, that the cases themselves are filed in the same way, makes it very easy to find information, even if you have not visited that case file recently.
Keep a project list
On top of your to-do list, you might want to start keeping a project list. This is a list of all of the big projects you need to do, who assigned those projects to you, what the project is, and its due date (both the “want by” and “need by” dates, if applicable). Why bother having more than one list? While you might put tasks on your daily to do list that help you complete these projects, having a project list will actually prevent you from forgetting the bigger picture as you work towards completing those projects. There might be days when you do not work on these projects at all, but this will help you make sure that you actually are working on them.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
As a new paralegal, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a silly question. Your organization hired you as an entry level paralegal. They don’t expect you to know how to do everything yet. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from other paralegals or your supervising attorney. I’ve seen too many problems arise later in the case that could have been less costly if questions were asked early on.
Finally, as a new paralegal, you can also add a Google alerts on “litigation case management tips” so that you are getting articles and tips delivered to your inbox each week.