Fridays at work for lawyers are often like Fridays at school for children. As soon as the 5 o’clock bell rings, you’re out the door before any teachers (or bosses) can give you last-minute assignments.
However, the Friday afternoon rush can make the Monday morning doldrums even worse, with papers and case files scattered across your desk. All of a sudden, you open that locker door only to find thousands of homework pages and textbooks are falling on your head.
Worse yet, a messy office can send the wrong signal to your colleagues and supervisors. Although attorneys seem to be able to magically produce a specific document from the fold, a tidy desk with neatly stacked binders declares attorneys proficient instead of inefficient.
If you want to boast your managerial skills during bonus season, start by proving your organizational skills on the day-to-day. Here’s how you start:
1. Remove everything from your desk and place the items into three piles.
First pile should be folders, binders, and loose paper. The second pile should be planners and office tools. The third pile should be everything else, including personal items.
Start with pile one. Put away any loose papers into the cooresponding folder. These folders should be hidden and filed away in a desk drawer. Next, label your binders (or have a paralegal create binder spines for you). Organize them by case-matter number, then place them on a nearby shelf.
Staplers, paper clips, or other office supplies should be organized in a desk drawer. Paper clips, v-clips, tape, scissors, and staplers (to name a few) don’t sit on your desk, they overrun it.
Finally, display one or two personal items on your desk. Decided whether or not you need more than that. Clutter—especially with non-essential items—tells the world where your priorities lay (and lawyers should at least pretend to be preoccupied with work!).
2. Delete old phone messages.
Why are you keeping that week-old phone message in the system? Your computer or day planner should serve as enough of a reminder. If they don’t, your organizational system is severely flawed.
Jot down all remaining phone messages and either complete the task at hand, or schedule a time to do so the following week.
3. Create a “to do” list.
Whether through computer systems or a written planner, it’s important to have a running to-do list. Stacks of papers and binders on your desk should not be an attorney’s only reminder.
4. Organize your files.
Now that you’ve put them away, organize the files in your desk. Divide them between closed cases and open ones. Put them in case-matter order for quick reference. And, when in doubt, create superfluous sub-folders. There’s no such thing as over-organization.
5. Keep it up!
Whether it’s every Friday or for ten minutes each evening, keep up with the organizational process. It’s the first thing most professionals let slide, yet one of the easiest ways to make your workday pass more efficiently.
And, if ever work gets too busy, ask for help. Paralegals or office assistants are experts at organization. Solicit their services and advice to attain a tidier, more productive workspace.
Law firm managers, in particular, should pay special attention to the appearance of their office. There’s no better way to lead, than by example.
If you’re “too busy” for simple, ten-minute desk maintenance, you may have more serious issues to resolve—in terms of time management.