There is no such thing as an organized mess
Anyone who tries to convince you that they work better in a messy office is simply avoiding the fact that they are unorganized. When you do not have good organizational systems in place, you create a situation in which clutter, confusion and unproductivity live. Being unorganized is a vicious cycle that leads to frustration and poor productivity. Organization is one of the keys to being successful; however, in a law office, being organized is mandatory for operating efficiently, ethically and productively.
If your law office is unorganized, your staff does not work as efficiently and this costs you time which in turn costs you money. You cannot bill clients for the time it takes to find a misplaced file or a lost document nor can you bill a client for the time it takes your staff to reproduce work that has been misplaced due to a lack of office organization. Furthermore, you run the risk of jeopardizing the success of each of your clients’ cases. Being unorganized leads to misfiled documents, missed deadlines, potential conflicts and a host of other malpractice scenarios that will not only cost you money it will cost you your reputation in the legal community.
Clear Out the Old Before Implementing the New
Before you can organize your law office, you must first clear out the clutter so that you have a clean slate. Once you have a clean slate to work with, you can implement an organization plan that is effective for your office.
Step 1: De-Clutter
It is virtually impossible to be organized when you are surrounded by clutter. The first step is to get rid of the clutter. One of the problems with being unorganized is that you duplicate work because you cannot find the original copy. Begin with one section of the office at a time and work through each area to get rid of everything that you do not need.
Step 2: Purge
Adopt the “one touch” basis for this step. Pick up a file or document and make a decision whether to keep it, destroy it or store and then do it – do not set the file down just to pick it up again later. Your office should only have files that are open and active. Keeping closed files mixed in with open files just creates more work as you sort through files to find the one that you need.
Step 3: Organize
Once you have purged your office of files, documents, books, etc. that are not used or needed, you must organize the remaining items. To begin you will need to create standard operating procedures for the office. The key to keeping a law firm organized is to have a standard set of rules that everyone follows. This creates consistency and clarity throughout the entire office. Your standard operating procedures will be tailored to your law firm and the type of law that your practice but typically they include instructions for how to handle the following tasks:
- Opening new client files
- Ordering office supplies
- Closing, archiving and destroying client files
- Accepting payments
- Scheduling new client consultations
- Scheduling appointments for existing clients
- Preparing trial notebooks
- Daily filing
Step 4: Develop a Filing System
Your filing system is the backbone of your law firm organizational plan. Organizing paper files and computer files is essential to operating efficiently. Develop a system that applies to all files to ensure continuity throughout the office. This helps everyone know where to look for a specific document within a file. Set up a security plan for protect confidentiality by using locked file cabinets and passwords for computers. Color-coding is an effective way to distinguish different types of cases as well as the case status.
Step 5: Use Technology to Your Benefit
Almost all law firms use some sort of technology; however, if you are underutilizing technology you are missing an opportunity to make your law firm operate more efficiently and be more organized. For example, using law office billing software to track billable hours is more efficient that paper billing and gives you a searchable record of all accounting transactions. Special software for managing case files and documents as well as maintaining schedules and docketing reduces paper, provides instance access to information and improves communication within the office. File-sharing and project management software makes it much easier for attorneys and supervisors to manage delegated tasks and track the progress of tasks within a certain case. Paperless depositions will save your paralegals and associates hours of time preparing paper exhibits. If you are unsure how technology to improve the organization of your law firm, you can retain the services of a technology consultant to help you determine what would be of the most benefit to your firm.
Law Office Layout
The layout of your law firm can also affect efficiency and organization. If you do not have a space that is functional, it will decrease your ability to remain organized and efficient. When designing your office keep the following items in mind:
- Choose furniture that serves a purpose and is functional. For example, can the top of your filing cabinet be used to store reference books or office supplies?
- Choose vertical storage units for the most storage space.
- Both closed and open storage space is essential to provide easy access to some items while protecting the security of other items.
- Tailor your office space to your specific needs. Ready-made office layouts may be convenient and cost-efficient; however, if they do not produce a workspace that helps keep you organized, they are a hindrance rather than a tool.
Personal Organizational Tools
Having an organized and efficient law office is not very useful if you do not keep your personal office and files organized.
- Take a few minutes each day to go through the files and documents you have on your desk to sort and re-file anything that you are finished with.
- Create and maintain a master “to-do” list to help keep you focused on the tasks and projects that need your attention from day-to-day. Here at AgileLaw, we've found Trello is a great project management tool.
- Review your to-do list at least once daily to add new tasks or projects and re-prioritize if necessary.
- Perform filing each day so that your filing basket does not become overwhelming and you are not searching for documents that have not yet reached the correct file.
Staying organized in the law office may seem overwhelming if you have allowed things to get out of hand; however, by taking the first step to de-clutter your office, you will be more motivated to continue your plan to organize your office to become more efficient and productive.