The biggest issue for a lot of Paralegals today is case management. We’re overloaded and overwhelmed, and a lot of the time, we are either working with no case management software or outdated case management software loaded with bells and whistles we simply don’t use, don’t know how to use, and truly don’t need. When law firms do not have procedures in place for case management, it is up to the paralegal to develop the best solutions for his or her cases and manage all the files in their cases.
I coach a lot of paralegals on this very issue. I tell them not to give up, and together, we solve the file management issue. To their surprise, many of the solutions I show them involve using applications readily available to them on their office computers. The key is knowing the tools are there for you and learning how to use them. I’m going to give you my tips on how you can use software on your computer to be the most effective paralegal for any attorney and, more importantly, for your cases.
Having good organization skills is the number one trait any top-notch paralegal must have. Why is that? Because good organization skills lead to excellent file management skills. However, organization doesn’t start with the papers you have in your hand to file away. Rather, organization starts with your thinking process.
Start With the End in Mind
When you start with the end in mind, you can save yourself valuable time later on when you don’t have the time to spare. Let’s take medical records in a litigation setting as an example:
When you get records, and hopefully you are digitally downloading them, what do you do with the records? If your answer was “save and file them,” you’ve missed a few steps. Instead, consider completely processing them, and have in mind where those records are going to end up in your case.
For me, I know records I get will be shared with a consultant, bates labeled, produced to opposing counsel, perhaps provided to an expert, and even shown as an exhibit in trial. I want to have all of these things in mind when processing the records, so that I can save myself time later on. Even by digitally requesting and downloading the records, I’ve already saved myself time from having to stand at the copier, scan and save thousands of pages. I’ve got no time for that.
Having said that, if you are thinking that you have too many processes and can’t stop what you are doing every time a record comes in, then think again. If you don’t have time to do it now, will you really have time to do it later? If the answer is yes, then I hope you put down processing those records on your to-do list.
Although there are many steps to take when processing digital records, many of those steps can be automated. “How,” you ask? That’s another coaching question I get a lot, and then I tell my client to consider the power of Adobe and to take the following steps.
Start Using Action Wizard In Adobe Acrobat Pro
You can build an Action Wizard to run the processes you need, however many there are. While those processes are running, that’s the time you should be doing the next productive item on your list (or taking a little breather for you). In sticking with the medical records example, you can create a custom Wizard to run the following steps:
OCR for Text Recognition
Number (or Bates)
For a document production, you can customize a Wizard to run the following steps:
OCR for Text Recognition
Remove Hidden Data
Just follow the Wizard and try setting up your own list of commands to automate your next process. It may look a little overwhelming at first, but believe me, you can do this. After all, you work for attorneys!
Keeping a case organized is a tremendous help to everyone working on a case, and more importantly, to you. It is very imperative to know what you have, where it came from, when you received it, etc., so that when it comes time to producing documents or speaking intelligently about your case, you know what you have, and you’ve got the answers. For this reason . . .
Start Indexing Right Away
I call this my mapping process. I start by opening a OneNote Notebook full of indexes—Pleadings Index, Medical Records Index, Written Discovery Index, etc. I work with complex injury-type cases, and because my job is complicated enough, I’ve created simple templates that I can easily import (or copy) to my Notebook and start mapping away when data starts pouring in on the case. If I’m going to maintain my sanity (in the office), I must start with my case and assignment load, which means creating case maps. I don’t need fancy case management software to do this.
BONUS TIP: Indexes kept in OneNote Notebooks are completely searchable. This means when you or your attorney need to prepare for a deposition, motion, petition, mediation, or trial, they can conduct keyword searches across all case notebooks or just one case notebook and access their file materials much faster and on-the-go. OneNote is completely free and comes with all Windows operating systems. If you’re using a Mac, you can download OneNote through the Apple Store on your Mac. For that on-the-go use, OneNote is available for download on any iOS or Android device, including tablets.
So how do I create searchable case maps? It’s simple! Hyperlink your shared files to your index. Scratching your head yet? Don’t worry! I’ve still got you covered. Learn how to create case maps and hyperlink your shared documents by watching this video.
As a youth volleyball coach, I tell my players, “Control the ball. Control the game.” The same concept holds true for your cases and everything that comes in them . . . control the organization. Control the file management.
Need simple templates to stay ahead of your file management and complex cases? Then hop over to my resources page to download your free index templates—no opt-in or sign-up required, but of course it would be appreciated.
Misty Murray is a Paralegal of 20 years and founder of Arrow Consultants, which provides coaching services to paralegals and early-stage entrepreneurs through one-on-one plans and mentorships. Misty’s unique approach to providing customized online plans tailored to your needs in a real-time virtual classroom provides the most hands-on experience. In addition to her passion for helping the paralegal community with her coaching services for paralegals and freelancers, Misty is leading the #workfromanywhere march, and teaching attorneys how to ditch the traditional “office” by making technology work for their practice. Through her blog, YouTube channel, website, and social media, Misty provides valuable information to assist paralegals in case management, time management, technology, and much more. A leader in her communities, Misty is also an active member of the American Association for Justice and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, as well as a volunteer Youth Volleyball Coach, and a hobbyist storm chaser. You can contact Misty Murray on Instagram @ParalegalCoach_Misty.