One of your biggest responsibilities as a paralegal is going to be making sure that what you do and what your firm does is properly recorded. Keeping track of those records, of discovery, and of just about every other communication that comes into and leaves the office will often fall on your shoulders. Many attorneys prefer to give these tasks to their paralegal because the paralegal is most familiar with the client and the file.
Whether you work for a very busy attorney as a personal injury paralegal or as a litigation paralegal in a solo firm, keeping the office organized and the records updated is going to be a very important task and one that you constantly have to stay on top of. This can become an overwhelming job, especially for paralegals that work in very fast-paced environments. Getting behind on these tasks can leave you swamped with work, unable to get back on top of the job, and missing deadlines. Add to that, most paralegal training programs that offer paralegal certificates do not offer much, if any guidance on how to stay organized.
Here are a few organization tips for new paralegals to make sure your record-keeping is as good as it possibly can be:
Learn your office’s case management system
Your office likely already has a case management system in place. If they don’t, now is the time to start looking for one and to implement it. This will be integral to making sure you are keeping the best possible records of what happens with each case. This is because, in order to keep great records, you will need a platform for tracking what happens with a case. Most of the organizational problems you will encounter can be solved by simply relying on the established management system or by implementing one if your current office lacks one entirely.
Develop your own system
If no one in your office has an adequate record-keeping system, it will be up to you to develop your own system. This will likely take some trial and error in order to perfect, but everyone will thank you in the end, when you have the system in place and when it is preventing the issues that come along with not having a record-keeping system. Many a client has been lost because the law firm was disorganized and did not have the information or records on hand that the client required. This can be extremely embarrassing for the attorneys and bad for the law firm as a whole. Computer-based record keeping is almost always the better choice unless there is already a pre-established paper record-keeping system in the office that is functioning smoothly.
Prioritize your record keeping tasks
What are the most important things to record? What records do the attorneys most often need access to? Make a comprehensive list of everything that needs to be kept and then write out the formula for keeping and storing that record. This will make it easy for someone to find a record they might need, even if you are not in the office that day. It will also make it simple for other staff members to keep records. When you all use the same system and the records are filed in the same way, throughout the office, you have to worry far less about something that falls through the cracks.
File something as soon as it comes across your desk
Unless you need to use that piece of paper immediately, file it where it needs to be. When documents are simply left on your desk, they sometimes disappear. They are picked up when people are looking for other documents, they are thrown away, stuck to the back of other pieces of paper, sometimes they really do just disappear. Instead of losing those documents, when something comes to your desk, go and file it immediately. Do not let those documents pile up on the corner of your desk. Do not let file folders become a tower in your outbox. Some paralegals will leave this task to the end of the day, but there is a much higher chance of actually getting it done if you file things as they arrive.
Do not rely on your own memory
This is probably one of the biggest pieces of advice that we can offer. You might think that you have a great memory and that you will remember to record something or file it away at a later date, but the moment that that task is no longer right in front of you, you are much more likely to completely forget about it. This means that it is not going to get done until you later discover again that you were supposed to do it. Especially when it comes to record-keeping, hoping that you will simply remember a detail when the time comes can become a serious issue. You could remember it incorrectly or simply not remember it at all—there is a very real chance of this happening, and at that point, there is nothing you can do.
For more tips and paralegal training, check out our article on Paralegal Time Management Tips.
About the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, specializing in training for paralegals that focuses on the important paralegal skills not taught in certificate programs.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting her own company in 2010. When she’s not working, you can usually find her somewhere near an ocean – either scuba diving, boating, cleaning up a beach, or volunteering to help save sea turtles.