Automation 101: Rethinking Tasks and Calendar Entries

In this day and age, it has become virtually impossible to keep our personal and professional lives organized without our electronic calendars and to-do lists to remind us where to be, what to do, and who to see.  The economic downturn forced many law firms to scale down, while asking each staff member to take on an increased workload.  Using our calendars, reminders, and tasks more efficiently means that we can relax a little knowing that nothing will be missed. 

Categories

Microsoft Outlook allows you to build a color-coded category system to be utilized across your email, tasks, and calendar entries. Create a category system that delineates between events (staff absences, networking events, and meetings), deadlines (filing deadlines, SOL deadlines, hearings), and personal appointments.  Instead of using flags in all shades of red to classify urgency, add “timing” categories to the list.  Instead of using phrases like “Very Important,” “Important,” or “Not Important,” think about categories sequentially, such as “Today,” “This Week,” “This Month,” and “Sometime.”  This will give your To-Do classifications a more time-oriented focus.  Feel free to use more than one category per email, task, or calendar entry.

Email.jpg

(This is an example of an email with two classification codes.)

Using the same system across all platforms means better organization, easier support staff assistance, and that the firm is kept aware of your schedule.

Calendar

Microsoft Outlook has significant organizational capabilities that most lawyers do not fully utilize.  One Outlook calendaring function that can help with organization is “rules.” You can set rules to automatically send reminders of important deadlines. Additionally, if a lawyer primarily uses the Outlook features of calendaring and tasks, they should include enumerated tasks and add a corresponding form to the calendar entry.

Calendar 2.jpg

This will eliminate questions of what needs to be done, when, and with what form.  Sharing your calendar entries (“inviting”) with your designated support staff is also an excellent idea to make sure that everyone on your team knows what is coming up next on your docket, with regard to travel, and so on.

If you have not created a firm calendar, implementing one is a great way to keep the entire firm aware of items like a trial calendar, staff absences, conference room bookings, and more.  Establish a firm-wide color-coding system to clearly label appointments, statutes of limitation deadlines, filing deadlines, and so forth.  Keeping a master calendar where an entire firm can see the high points of its practice allows the lawyers to focus their attention on practicing law, meeting with clients, or networking.

Tasks

Instead of having a piece of paper on a desk, a note stuck to a monitor, randomly flagged emails in an inbox, or an assistant keeping a manual, handwritten task list, a lawyer can track important upcoming tasks using the Outlook Tasks and To-Do Bar.

Use the same color-coding system to indicate the nature of the “to-do” (i.e. deadline, client meeting, networking, personal, etc.) as you do within your calendar color-coding.  You will then have a clear overview of the day, week, or month ahead.  An additional benefit to using a universal color-coding system is that at a glance anyone can see if each lawyer is meeting potential networking goals. Does this attorney have a certain number of lunches scheduled? Is this lawyer attending the correct number of meetings and events?

Tasks

Staying organized and consistent across Microsoft Outlook email, tasks, and calendar will alleviate frustration and miscommunication between an attorney, an assistant, and a firm.  It will also allow attorneys to focus on what they do best – practicing law.

CONTACT THE LAW FIRM WORKFLOW EFFICIENCY CONSULTANTS OF STACEY E. BURKE, P.C.

If law firm technology and efficiency overwhelm you, or you simply want to focus on your caseload instead of your infrastructure, you can contact Stacey E. Burke, P.C.  We specialize in maximizing law firm productivity through streamlining technology and internal processes. Give us a call, and we can help you.

Originally Posted at http://www.staceyeburke.com on October 6, 2013.


Automation 101: Increasing Law Firm Efficiency

As computers have proliferated our society over the last 60 years, one main fear has remained prevalent: computers will one day take our jobs. We fear that there will no longer be a “personal touch” to our business transactions, and that we will all just be talking to machines.  In the professional services space, automation and computerization are all the more scary, as customer relationships are paramount.

As professional service providers, lawyers pride themselves on giving clients top-notch, personalized care, and thus, many fear the practice of law becoming “too automated.” The valid fear decreased personalization keeps many law firms from fully utilizing legal technology to its optimal capacity.

What if I told you that in reality, increasing your firm’s technological efficiency actually creates more time for you and your staff to spend on face-to-face communications with your clients?  Below are a few easy suggestions you can implement today to drastically increase efficiency in your law office.

Forms

Each client’s case will be different.  Each client’s needs will be different.  However, using forms can help you streamline the intake, filing, and litigation process, while reducing error.

Intake Forms

Using the same intake form every single time means that your intake coordinator gets all of the correct information every single time.  The familiarity with standardized documents (and the corresponding procedures) enables your intake process to move quickly and efficiently.  It also means that if you decide to take the case, you can begin drafting initial pleadings immediately, because all pertinent information should be contained on the intake form.

Lawyers should assist their intake staff in the creation of different intake forms for each type of potential new case (i.e. personal injury, divorce, commercial litigation, etc.). Put some time into thinking about each piece of information you need to make an educated and quick decision on whether you will take the case or not.

Motions/Pleadings

I recommend the consistent use of motion and pleading templates.  You can create as many templates as your law firm needs.  Think about which jurisdictions you practice in, and create forms that incorporate all the rules of that jurisdiction.  What is the font size? Do I need a certificate of conference? Can I e-sign or do I need an original signature?  Do the lines need to be numbered? How many? Having all of these rules hammered out in a form means that you, or your assistant, won’t need to reread the rules with each pleading. This is especially helpful if you work in several jurisdictions.

Include stock language, leaving blanks for specific information.  Create a caption template and use it on every form.  Not only will this eliminate the time needed to look back in your files for a motion “kind of like” the one you want to draft, but it will keep your documents from becoming corrupted over time.

If you your law firm does not have document management software or a case management system with an automated form option, create your templates in Word and label a folder on your network “Forms.”  Make sure that each form is labeled correctly and succinctly.  Using forms also means your firm’s work product remains uniform.

The Value of Automating

While automation may appear impersonal at first glance, establishing internal consistency means allows your staff to recapture time, and spend it working on files, talking to clients, or planning ahead for future deadlines.

CONTACT THE LAW FIRM WORK FLOW EFFICIENCY CONSULTANTS OF STACEY E. BURKE, P.C.

If law firm technology and efficiency overwhelm you, or you simply want to focus on your caseload instead of your infrastructure, you can contact me Stacey E. Burke, P.C.  I specialize in maximizing law firm productivity through streamlining technology and internal processes. Give me a call, and I can help you.

Originally Posted at www.staceyeburke.com/blog on September 28, 2013.


Auditing Your Law Firm’s Technology

Technology can be a double-edged sword if you aren’t careful.  You have to temper Shiny Object Syndrome with functionality.  While it can be easy for law firms to get caught up in the “pretty” aspects of new technology – hardware and software, the actual purchases of technology should be done with an eye toward rejuvenating your firm and rethinking productivity and work flow.

I recommend that law firms do an annual technology audit to ascertain whether 1) technological needs are being met, 2) hardware is measuring up to the tasks at hand, and 3) your firm has technological bottlenecks reducing productivity.  Below are steps to take and ideas to think about when looking at your law firm’s technology.

1. Talk to your staff. 

If we are going to have an honest conversation about law firm technology use, the support staff generally spend more time using technology than the lawyers.  Ask your staff what technology they use the most and what they use it for.  Don’t forget to discuss basic utilities like the scanner, copier, fax machine, and Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint).  Ask your staff what they like and don’t like about all of your firm’s hardware and software products, and if they feel their performance is stymied by a lack of technology or poor technology.  Write it all down.

Feel free to take a sampling of staff if your firm is quite large.  If you have 10-15 staff members, it’s worth calling a meeting with everyone involved.

2.  Create a workflow chart.

Know who is doing what work. This might sound rudimentary, but I promise that most firms are surprised at how job descriptions evolve over time.  Ask your attorneys – at all levels – who they allocate work to.  Write it down.  Track what technology is used at each step.  This chart should not be complicated or too in depth. For instance:

Work Flow Template

Include the names of the staff and attorneys involved in each step.  This will allow you to clearly see how many pieces of technology are in play and whether your processes can be simplified for increased productivity.  Use your law firm’s workflow chart to help allocate resources and redistribute workload if necessary.

3.  Research.

Take 20 minutes a week to research legal technology.  There are a variety of content aggregators that can help you reign in your reading list.  Feedly, Bloglovin, and Newsblur are just three good, easy to use options.  These aggregators let you know when your favorite blogs or news sources have new posts.  Read everything – reviews, articles, and technological specifications.  A few excellent resources include:

Legal Technology News

American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center

Law Technology Today

Legal Talk Network’s Law Technology Now

You only need twenty minutes a week to stay fairly abreast of options available to your firm for future use.  I create a folder in my bookmarks to save websites and pages that interest me.  Keep a list of software and hardware that inspire you.  You’ll want those handy when you determine you need something new for your firm.

Call Me at Stacey E. Burke, P.C.

If law firm technology and efficiency overwhelm you, or you simply want to focus on your caseload instead of your infrastructure, you can contact Stacey E. Burke, P.C.  We specialize in maximizing law firm productivity through streamlining technology. Give us a call, and we can help you.

Originally posted at Stacey E. Burke, P.C. on September 22, 2013.


A Sad Story With No Commentary

This is a sad story about a friend of mine.  I relate it to you with no commentary of my own.

After getting her BA, she floundered around in the wide-open marketplace.  After a couple of years of lackluster jobs, she decided she wanted to be a paralegal.  After researching programs, she decided that she wanted a master’s degree.  After enrolling at a well-known college, she started her program where many of her classes were actually at the law school.  She was doing the same classwork as future attorneys in those classes.  She graduated at the top of her class and was hired on at a mid-sized firm.

I ran into her about six months after she started, and she was already looking for another job.  She said the culture just wasn’t a great fit for her.  I wished her luck.

A year later, she called to tell me she left the profession all together.  Shocked, I asked why.  This is what she said: I loved my job. I loved the work I was doing.  But I thought I was going to be treated like a professional.  Instead I was looked down upon by an attorney that I sat next to in one of my classes. In fact, I made an A in that class – he didn’t.  I thought I was going to be respected.  Instead, I was treated like a child that couldn’t be trusted.  When that happened at the first firm, I thought it was their problem, but that’s not true, is it?

Now she works in another industry that values all the skills she gained by becoming and being a paralegal.  She makes about the same amount of money, but she’s respected at her office.

Again, I will add no commentary.


Hey, Paralegals: This is Just for You

Many of my posts are written for paralegals and attorneys – I think. This one is just for you, Paralegals.

In fact, this post is more of a solicitation for your input.  Here’s my question: What do you wish other paralegals knew?

I’ve written posts on what paralegals wish attorneys knew and vice versa. Now I want to know what you, Paralegals, want other paralegals to know.

This is my list:

Continue reading


“Me” Time is Important, Too

I love to be productive, and sometimes that leads me to simply take on too much.  My personal inclination is to work (on something, anything) until I absolutely fall over.  Staying home for the evening and doing nothing seems like a total waste to me, but you know what, sometimes that’s exactly what I have to do.

Rest and Recharge

I actually don’t know a legal professional that doesn’t have a hard time sleeping.  Ask them why, and they say “I can’t get my brain to turn off.”  If we all went home and did “nothing” for an hour or two, forced ourselves not to think about work, maybe we could get some nice shut-eye.

Letting our brains calm down after a stressful day is of paramount importance.  We need to take this seriously or we risk burnout.

Why Firms Need to Care

This might sound insane, but I’m just going to throw it out there: Maybe firms need to start caring about facilitating “me” time for their lawyers and staff.  I’m not saying firms should send out detailed questionnaires every quarter (“Are you sleeping? Are you working too much? Do you feel burnt out?”), but by simply letting their employees know that their sanity is important to the firm, pressure could be taken off the employees’ shoulders.  Knowing that taking a “mental health day” isn’t going to get you fired is a huge step (and Lord knows we all need them).

Be Proactive

Look at your calendar a couple of months out.  Go ahead and take off a Friday.  Put it on the books.  If something comes up, you can move it, but do everything in your power to keep that from happening.  Use that day to get a couple of things out of the way: a doctor’s appointment in the morning, pick up the dry cleaning, do the grocery shopping during the middle of the day, then go do a thing for you.  Get that pedicure. Go take a nap (I know you don’t get them normally). Go to the pool. Do something lazy and regenerative.

Treat yourself like you’re important.  Because you are.


Whistle While You Work

This post will have nothing to do with advice. I simply want to talk about something that helps me work harder and longer.

Indexing, cite checking, and formatting are not the most exciting things in the world, but I look at those tasks as a time in my day to relax. Continue reading


Generation Why: Love the Infiltration

I could try to articulate to you the number of times I’ve gotten in trouble for asking the question “Why?” but it’s not necessary. It was a lot. A lot.  I never intend my questions to be rude or disrespectful, but I can see how it could come off that way.  The question “why” can seem like a criticism of a person, a procedure, or a policy. Continue reading


Feeling Good Means Working Good

Like most people, I would imagine, I really hate going to the doctor.  I wait until the pain is so bad or the problem is so disruptive that I simply have no choice than to make an appointment (and inevitably be annoyed by the fact that I have to wait a day or two: “I’m sick! Can’t you tell?!?!”), sit in a waiting room for who knows how long, have a nurse poke at me and ask personal questions, and then have a doctor do the exact same thing.  That’s not even the end! Then I have to mosey down to the pharmacy in the middle of my day and wait for what has been prescribed to me to fix that pain/illness/whatever that I’ve let get too bad. Continue reading


Why I Love My Job

Someone who wished to stay anonymous stated that my blog presented the not-so-pretty side of being a paralegal.  As I look back through my posts, I suppose that’s true to some extent.  Perhaps it’s about time for me to talk about why I love my job so much. Continue reading


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