Paralegals: 15 Timesaving Techniques to Get Organized

Take advantage of these fifteen time-management techniques to systematize and organize your time. These techniques will help you increase your billable hours. The result will be the hastening of your career advancement.

1. Schedule your work. It is important to schedule your time yourself. Develop a habit of scheduling your work on a daily, weekly, monthly, and long-term basis as much as possible, recognizing that priorities may change as the need arises. Make scheduling your work and setting your priorities a routine function so that it will become habit and will allow you to judge the length of your work activities and to balance your time. Keep your daily schedule on your desk in front of you so that you can refer to it and check off items as they are accomplished. Realize that you will constantly be rescheduling your work and your priorities.

Time Saving Tips to Get Organized

2. Plan ahead to avoid crises. You must pay close attention to your deadlines and priorities to avoid crises. Try to anticipate any deadlines or crises that may occur in the future. Crises are often caused by lack of communication, failure to plan your work, failure to follow through on delegated work, and failure to make contingency plans. Think about your due dates, appointments, meetings, depositions, trial dates, etc., prepare for them and plan.   Keep on your toes constantly.  If it is your responsibility to handle the deadline calendar or tickler system, there are many types of software for this purpose. Make sure the system is one you like. Check with your attorneys often to see if they are keeping on track. Some attorneys will not allow you to “bug” them in this manner, and others will want you to. You’ll have to assess your own situation and act accordingly. There are enough unanticipated crises in practicing law without creating more.

For example, you know that your attorneys have a board meeting to go to on behalf of their corporate clients, and you have to prepare the minutes of the last meeting and other relevant documents; you should allow yourself ample lead-time in which to accomplish this task. Schedule a portion of these minutes to be prepared each day. Then a few days before they must attend the meeting, you will not have to put all your other work aside to accomplish this task on schedule. This would cause you unnecessary stress, and you could not do an efficient job. It is certainly much safer to overestimate the time it will take you to accomplish a task than to underestimate it. Then, if you complete it before the estimated time, you will have time for the emergencies you cannot anticipate.

When you have a crisis, analyze it to avoid its repetition in the future. Then you will save time for the unavoidable crises. If you plan to avoid these situations, your work will go smoother, you will be happier, and your attorneys will be impressed with your efficiency.

3. Make deadlines. If you are one of those people who usually work better under pressure, give yourself a deadline if you do not have one given to you. It will provide the pressure you need to pursue your assignment until it is completed. This technique is excellent if you are not a self-motivator.

Announce your deadline to the person who has given you the assignment. Knowing that that person is depending on you to accomplish the job by a certain time will help you to work better. Ask for an approximate period of when he or she wants the job done; use this time to set a realistic deadline, giving yourself ample time for unanticipated events that may occur. Qualify your deadline by saying that it is your “expected” or “anticipated” deadline. If you find that, you are not going to make your deadline, give your attorneys an idea of your progress and your new anticipated completion time.

Most important of all, respect your deadlines. Do not get into the habit of stretching them or they will lose their effectiveness. You will get a given task done more quickly by making less time available for it. Remember Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Avoid “spinning your wheels” needlessly while you are trying to do the task perfectly.

4.  Learn to communicate. Good time management requires concentration on one thing at a time. When someone speaks to you or you are engaged in a conversation, concentrate on the content of the conversation. Observe the speaker’s facial expressions and body language. Taking notes will force you to concentrate. Even though at the time you are listening to a work assignment you think you will have no problems remembering it, take notes anyway. You will be surprised how quickly you may forget the details.

5.  Gather all the information you need in advance. Before you can do a competent job on any project, it is imperative that you get all the facts or information you need in advance. If your attorneys call you into their offices to ask you to do a project, always take your pad with you. Take thorough notes on everything, even though they may seem irrelevant. Ask questions on any portion of the project that is not entirely clear to you even if the question may seem simple or dumb. Your attorneys will be impressed with your interest in clearly understanding the project. Also, make sure you clearly understand the project’s priority. Getting this information in the beginning will save you from wasting time later. Although there will be times when this is impossible, make sure you obtain the necessary information as soon as you can,

Make sure you understand the project thoroughly and the expected result. They may be unavailable when you begin working on projects, and if you don’t understand it, you will be stuck and unable to reach them for help. This will result in wasted time on your part and theirs too since you gave them the impression that you understood the projects and really didn't. Ask. Ask. Ask.

6. Tackle the most important tasks first. The most important items in a given group normally constitute a relatively small portion of the total items in the group. This means that these tasks are only a small percentage of your total tasks.

For example, if you have a long list of projects that overwhelms and perhaps discourages you, instead of being frustrated and bogged down with the list, choose two or three of the most important items on the list. At the end of the day, don’t feel guilty about those items you were not done. You will do the most important tasks, and you should feel so good about it that you will be able to do the other tasks with ease. Keep this in mind when assigning priorities.

7.  Aim for excellence but don’t spin your wheels. All of us want to do the best job we can, to strive for accuracy, excellence and even perfection in our work. However, you must be realistic in your endeavor to do this. You should always do the best job you can, but at the same time, you
should avoid spinning your wheels by going to the extreme in always expecting total perfection of yourself. You are going to make occasional mistakes. Learn from them. Guard against wasting needless time. Give your best, then relax and don’t worry about it. Interestingly enough, you will find that relaxing and being at ease with yourself will enable you to be freer and more productive.

8.  Learn to delegate. Your first reaction to the word “delegate” is probably “to whom?” To the receptionist, secretary, office clerk or office courier? Yes. In addition, delegate to someone you never thought of—another paralegal. One of the most basic principles taught to management trainees is
delegation. Although most legal paralegals are not in management positions, they do hold positions of heavy responsibility. Anyone with a great deal of responsibility can use assistance. Delegation is one way of obtaining this assistance.

Let’s take the receptionist, for example. The work of most receptionists is light, especially those whose sole duty is to answer the telephone in a small- or medium-sized firm. Most conscientious receptionists would much rather be busy than try to look busy or sit around looking bored. If you have developed a good working relationship with the receptionist, and other clerical staff, then the chances are they will be glad to help you.

Try to give the receptionist or office clerk meaningful jobs that will allow them to utilize their creative or intellectual abilities and secretarial skills. If they don’t have any secretarial skills then maybe they can learn from you. Don’t just give them menial tasks. Give them a chance to learn to do something interesting. Perhaps, they want to advance to a legal secretarial position and with your help, they can. Give them room to learn new skills. If the work you give them is a challenge, their egos may be nourished. Warning—Don’t over delegate. Always be sure you show your appreciation to the person who assists you. Let others see the chance to assist you as an opportunity for them to learn more about being a legal secretary.

You may delegate other more simplified and clerical jobs to the file clerk or the office courier or mail room clerk. Perhaps, the clerk can make routine calls for you, verify addresses, type address labels or make Rolodex cards for you. The office courier can run errands such as going to the post office, delivering rush packages, or letters, or purchasing special supplies.

9. Don’t procrastinate—do it!  If you have developed the unfortunate habit of procrastination, you do not need to have anyone tell you that it is a bad habit. You know it! But, what can you do about it? How can you change this wasteful habit?

You must change your thinking to change the habit of procrastination. Instead of thinking: “This unpleasant task must be done, but I will do it tomorrow when I am more in the mood,” think: “Although I know this is an unpleasant task, it will probably take less time to do it than to think about doing it, so I’ll do it now; then I can do the things I enjoy.” Often, if you will just pick one of the most unpleasant things you must do on your To Do list and make yourself do it the first thing in the morning, you will obtain a feeling of achievement. This will motivate you and make you want to finish your other work.

10. Increase your knowledge, skills and techniques. Working in the practical aspects of the law, you must constantly keep up with court rule changes, new court procedures, pleadings, forms of legal documents, and changes in civil procedure, among others. Keeping abreast of these changes is another way to better utilize and manage your time.

Increasing and broadening your knowledge and refining your secretarial skills, techniques and procedures in your day-to-day work will undoubtedly increase your output. As you become more knowledgeable and experienced in your area of expertise, it will take you less time to do your job. For example, you will save time in some instances because you will no longer have to stop to look up a legal procedure or court rule. In addition, your increased knowledge and new skills will enable you to develop systems, procedures, and habits that will save you time.

Be alert to national and local legal secretarial continuing education seminars and classes. Many local and state legal secretarial associations conduct seminars on a regular basis. Also, business colleges, colleges, private associations, and businesses frequently advertise and hold valuable and worthwhile seminars. Attend as many of these seminars as you can. Check with your firm or your attorneys to see if they will cover the cost of the seminars. In many cases, the cost of the seminars is tax deductible.

11. Improve your note taking. One of the most valuable skills that you can develop in your job as a legal secretary is the ability to take good notes. Take brief, concise and readable notes so that you understand what it is you are supposed to do.

Find the note-taking method that will be the most comfortable and the easiest for you. Develop your own system of abbreviations. Take complete notes on everything, as previously mentioned. Again, you cannot always trust your memory, and it is easy to forget something when you are under pressure. You will definitely increase your efficiency by taking concise notes.

12.  Monitor your social interactions. Often we do not realize how much we waste time in small talk or gossip. While it is helpful to develop good interpersonal relations with office personnel, it is important to keep in mind the priorities of your work and not to let social amenities get out of hand. Successful people find that it is better not to become too personally involved in work relationships. Save your social activities for after work when you can enjoy them more.

13.  Be observant and learn from others. One of the best ways to obtain new ideas is to observe and model other people and to learn from them. We all learn from each other. Observing efficient people may help you determine the secrets of their efficiency. Many times, you can model the things you like in other persons and use their techniques for success in your jobs.

Talking with other legal secretaries, paralegals, attorneys, and other law office personnel may give you good ideas on how to do things better, more efficiently, or even faster. Ask them questions. This is another good reason for attending legal secretarial association meetings and continuing education seminars. You can use this opportunity to exchange ideas with other legal secretaries and perhaps learn new methods, techniques or procedures. On the other hand, you can learn about new books, magazines and seminars that are available. If you have a particular problem or if you reach an obstacle in your work, having a network of legal secretarial and paralegal friends is a good way to get new solutions to your work problems. Discuss it with another legal secretary, even one in another firm. This is a way to find a possible solution.

14. Exercise self-discipline. It is a human trait to have difficulty getting started in a task, and sometimes it is even more difficult to finish it. To overcome this natural inertia, you will have to use extra push and energy.

By exercising self-discipline in your working habits, you can accomplish your goals more efficiently and expeditiously. One proven way to do this is to reward yourself when you exercise self-discipline and accomplish your goals. Buy yourself a new book or a plant for your office. Take a long walk at lunch and enjoy the fruits of your accomplishments in your mind.

15. Take regular work breaks. It is important to take frequent small periods during the day to relax. A coffee or a soda break serves this purpose well. However, sometimes you may find an occasional change of pace from periods of concentration in talking with clients or in conversations with office personnel. You should alternate short tasks with longer, more difficult tasks to break the monotony.

Plan your work schedule to suit your best work pattern. Some people work better with periods of continuous concentrated work, while others work in spurts of short, intensive work. Some people are morning people and can accomplish the more difficult tasks or projects early in the day, while others tend to be night people. Find the way you work best and learn to judge your fatigue level. For example, if you are a morning person, then schedule tasks that require more concentration for that time.

If you have heavy telephone duties, make it a point to get away from the telephone for short periods. Perhaps the main receptionist or switchboard operator can relieve you while you take a break.

It is also a good idea to get out away from the office at lunch. Although there will be days when this is impossible, try to get out of the office as many days as you can. Window shopping or just enjoying the sunshine can lift your spirits and recharge your batteries for the rest of the day. If you always stay in and work during your lunch hour, your attorney may expect this behavior, and when you do want to get away, your attorney will wonder why. It is really better for both of you to leave your desk and your office for at least an hour.

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