File Systems and Checklists for Better Paralegal Work

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Few paralegals are born with the knowledge required to run a bustling law office (although some may give that impression). New paralegals, associated support staff, and even the attorneys will need to familiarize themselves with any new office management or case handling systems. If you're in charge of training the entire office to use some new procedures, keep this in mind and take your patience pills as necessary.Engineers write computer programs. And those same engineers often write the computer software manuals. If you don't speak "engineer," your computer familiarization process could take quite a while, both for you and your office-mates. If you're in charge of the training, allow your colleagues to learn at their own paces. Answer their questions, provide some helpful advice and examples to follow, and give them some selected positive reinforcement to keep up morale. Above all, allow more than enough time to get everyone in the office comfortable and up to speed with any new computer systems.

With money and time out of the way, our focus shifts to rules. A society without rules is a society in chaos. Similarly, an office without its own hard and fast rules is an office in chaos. Shoddy work habits, poor organizational methods, and outdated or poorly designed systems cause missing or incomplete files to become the norm rather than the exception. In a busy law practice, chaos is totally unacceptable.In a computerized office, you need to establish a set of rules about who has access to the software files and when and how the files are updated, printed, purged, etc. The "too many cooks spoil the broth" theory applies here. If many people can get into the computer files and add, change, or delete things willy-nilly, the potential for disaster looms large. If it's your job to update the client files, do it alone. Don't allow other people to gum up the process.

If it falls on you to choose a fellow staffer to be the designated "data entry/computer person," use good judgment and select the one with the most computer experience, not just the most legal knowledge. With a computer-literate staffer in place, you'll save training time, prevent lost data problems, and preserve your peace of mind. If your office runs on a paper system, strictly using client file folders to keep track of each case, you'll need to tighten the rules and procedures even more than with the computer method.Here, checklists make the most sense, and many law offices use them in one form or another. The reasoning and the history behind these checklists is clear: If every time you go into a specific file you document your work, anyone else who comes along and reviews that file (an attorney, another paralegal, an investigator, etc.) will know what has been done, when it was done, and equally important for purposes of follow-up, by whom it was done.

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