Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category

Email shortcuts

Monday, August 26th, 2013

The subtitle to the first The Empowered Paralegal book is Effective, Efficient, and Professional. This blog has focused on the “Professional,” with occasional trips into “Effective and Efficient,” some like the encouragement to have only one file on the desk at a time somewhat controversial. One part of the typical legal professional’s day that can interfere with efficiency is managing emails. I’ve spoken here previously about “Email Rules.” So I’m passing on a link to post from Legal Technology Today ‘s site (a part of the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s Legal Technology Resource Center) entitled, “Email Shortcuts: Faster and Safer.” It includes instructions for both Windows and Mac users, and explains,

Email shortcuts are an easy way to save a few seconds and cut down on the risk of a misdirected email. An email shortcut is an icon on your desktop that, when double-clicked, will automatically open up your email client and address a new email to a pre-set person. For example, you might have a shortcut on your desktop that says “Email John Doe” and when you click on it, it’ll open and address an email to john.doe@example.com.

Those saved seconds can be precious, but I’m a bigger fan of this method’s ability to reduce the risk of a misdirected email. Fixing the problems caused by misdirected email takes a lot of time and, worse, some of those problems can never be fixed. Once the cat is out of the bag, it’s out.

Managing Stress the NFPA Way

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I’m just now making  my way through the August/September 2012 issue of NFPA’s Paralegal Reporter which you can subscribe to here. I subscribed during a special offer. I don’t know if the offer is still special, but the Reporter is well worth the regular subscription price. This issue has a number of good articles including one on Cloud technology, Estate Planning in the  Digital Era, Retaliation in the Workplace, and Medicaid: Estate Recovery and others. I was particularly interested in “Stress Management, A Plan for Working Paralegals.” The article works off the same premise as The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, i.e., that stress in best managed by managing your work (and personal life), rather than allowing it to manage you. While TEP discusses time, workload, workspace, client, and attorney relationship management, this article focuses on time management. It has quick, concise, clear suggestions for ten steps to follow and suggests following them for 28 days to establish their bona fides: 1. Assessing How You Spend Your Time, 2. Scheduling, 3. Setting Reasonable Goals, 4. Prioritizing, 5. Evaluating Tasks Once, 6. Learn to  Say No, 7. Delegating, 8. Limiting Interruptions, 9. Investing Time (an interesting concept), and 10. Maximizing Rewards.

Check it  out. I best the time it saves will outweighs the time it takes to read it!

Committed To Do Lists and Integrity

Friday, August 24th, 2012

In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional workload organization and management tools such as “To Do” Lists are discussed extensively. Using a “To Do” list is only helpful if there is sense to the list, so it is important to prioritize. One aspect of this is making eliminate as many items as possible through delegation and other means. In her most recent newsletter Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, puts an interesting spin on this in a feature entitled, “What to Do vs. Need to Do.” Vicki distinguishes between those things you are committed to doing and those you “want to do” this way:

Your “want to do” list. The items on your “want to do” list are those that you have either chosen to do or feel the need to do. This could include a home improvement project, taking a class, writing an article, etc.

While your personal life or your career may be impacted if you do not do these things, it is your choice. Also, this list is not prioritized so when you decide to do something on it, you may end up choosing a task that will give you a higher return over another task on your list. Also, this list is always subject to change.

Your “committed to” list. Your “committed to” list is made up of the things you have agreed to do for someone or something: write an article, serve as an officer, plan an event, obtain a speaker, etc.

The things you have committed to are critical to your career success. If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.


I started this post quite awhile ago and have since lost the link to Vicki’s article. If I find it, I’ll update this post. At the time I probably intended to make a different point than I am making now. Here I want to emphasize the importance of Vicki’s statement, ” If you do not do them, you lose credibility. If you lose credibility, you lose trust. If you lose trust, your career could be stopped in its tracks.”

As discussed at length in The Empowered Paralegal, a good part of professionalism for a paralegal involves “soft factors” – factors that cannot be measured by billable hours, documents produced, or even high praise from clients for work well done. Integrity, reliability, credibility are crucial. We (or at least I) talk a lot about managing time, workload, dockets, clients, and the attorney/paralegal relationship, but we are seldom interested in efficiency or effectiveness just for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness. The importance of tips like Vicki’s on To Do Lists lies not just in their ability to increase our efficiency and defectiveness, but in the way that translates into maintaining our integrity, reliability, and credibility.  The focus, in the end, is not just on what we do, but on who we are.

Perfecting Procrastination

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

A post on today’s ABAJournal.comblog reports that “expert” has linked perfectionism to procrastination. The expert is a consultant who has written a book on time management. She tells the New York Times that perfectionists often need deadline pressures to force themselves to finish projects.

We are all familiar with this phenomena as many people insist that they have such a need for dealines. Let’s just be clear: the link between procrastination seems somewhat tenuous and perhaps dubious. However, even if there is such a link it is a link such that all perfectionists are procrastinators (many recognize that their work will more closely approach perfection if they manage both their time and deadlines) and certainly not all procrastinators are perfectionists (as demonstrated repeatedly each semester by my students.) For a time, one of my children claimed he was perfecting procrastination. Fortunately, he’s given up on that project and is now getting his work in on time.

The ABAJournal.com posts also (and perhaps more astutely) notes the most effective people focus on progress over perfection, according to corporate trainer Rory Vaden. He outlines the extent of the problem in an interview with the Times. In one survey, employees admitted wasting, on average, two hours a day at work, he says. (I wonder if writing blog posts like this count as wasting time all  the time or only when I’m procrastinating in order to avoid having to grade papers!)

So don’t consider yourself a perfectionist just because you procrastinate and don’t use your drive for perfection as an excuse for procrastination. The effective, efficient, and professional paralegal manages time, deadlines, work, and even their own characteristices rather than allowing them to manage them.

 

KNOWing When It Isn’t Working the Way It Should

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The basic premise of The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional is time, file, calendar, client, attorney, and self management should be an integral part of everyday practice. But how do you know if the management is effective? Self-assessment is critical and the sooner a problem is noticed, the sooner corrective action can be taken. This is the point of an short article in a recent KNOWnewsletter: “15 Warning Signs of Poorly Managed Assignments.” Here are the first three and the link to the rest:

1.          Missing deadlines because you are handling too many matters.
2.         Receiving assignments from more than one attorney and cannot prioritize them.
3.         Consistently receiving assignments you don’t know how to complete.

Empowerment does not come from the outside. It comes from within. It is not granted, it is earned. The empowered paralegal gains that power  and the confidence that comes with being professional, and by being a competent, effective and efficient member of the legal team. The paralegal who self-assesses, indentifies problems, and develops a plan to overcome those problems will recognize in themselves the ability to manage their practice, gain self-confidence and the respect they deserve, and feel the satisfaction and gratification of being a legal professional.

“The Paralegal” Speaks on Time Management

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As regular readers of this blog know, time management is one of the basics of paralegal empowerment and professionalism. So, I enjoyed reading Ana Perrio’s post regarding time management onThe Paralegal. According to her website, Ana Pierro, “is a paralegal supervisor in the Office of the General Counsel at a large financial institution in the Greater New York area.   Ana has over 16 years experience working in law firms and in corporate legal departments with experience in insurance defense, plaintiff’s personal injury and product liability, asbestos litigation, securities litigation, compliance, regulatory work recently government affairs.”

Ana’s post two of the biggest impediments to time management: the telephone and email. The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional” devotes entire chapters to time, workload, and client management. Ana is correct that time management requires active management of email and telephone. If you do not control them, they willcontrol you. So, I recommend some specific rules. These are rules that you put in place to govern the way you manage emails and calls. Click here to check out the fundamentals for email rules and client management phone rules.

An Effective and Efficient Suggestion

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

I am a hugh fan of organizational techniques that serve mutliple purposes. As regular readers know, The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional focuses in large part on the ability to manage time, work, workspace, and calendar effectively and efficiently. Every now and then I run across someone with a manner of handling a task that I find well worth adding to the tool box. Here’s one that not only serves the organization function, but the function of creating a log in the event the paralegal is attacked by a vampire.

It is taken with permission from a post by Bob Sweat on the Paralegal Today listserv forum. Bob informs me he does a fair amount of writing for paralegal newsletters, CLE webinars & seminars and the like. Keep an eye out for his work.

I keep a 9.5 x 6 college ruled, spiral bound notebook by the phone with a pen always laying on it. I draw a line down the page about 1 in from the left margin (if there isn’t a preprinted one there). Each day I make an entry for the day to the left of the line and the date to the right of the line and underline it. For ex: M | 08/30/10.

When the receptionist says Mary Smith is on the line two – before I pick up the phone – on the first open line under the day and date I look at the time and while picking up the call I write 9:15 Mary Smith XYZ firm, then make notes of whatever the conversation entails. If I am to do something that I am not able to do at the time of the call, I put a box out to the left of the line and go back to what I was doing or on to the next call. When I get a chance to do the task, I then put a check mark in the box.

M | 08/30/10
9:15 Mary Smith, XYZ Firm, provide pricing for scanning, OCR and creating Dii for Summation for 5 boxes of documents and estimate the cost for converting a CD of PDFs to TIF. Needs by mid afternoon.

9:37 Jane Jones, ABC, Send brochures and pricing list for services. No Hurry.

10:03 Bob Wesson, BBB Lawfirm, send a copy of production CD to CCC Lawfirm, Rush.

In that way, I have the daily conversations one after another, never have to transfer anything from a post note or paper scrap and the check marks let me know if something is completed. If there is nothing to do after the call, I will make the box and check it off just so I know that nothing needs to be done. In that way, when things are really hectic and less urgent items get left undone, it is very easy to see each day what needs to be done or at the end of the day, what needs to be done tomorrow.

Cell phone civility

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

A post on ABAJournal.comtoday reports on some very pominent people who have stopped using cell phone, “giving them more power over their time and eliminating distractions that interrupt their work and their relationships.” I like this idea as a matter of time management and have written on the need to institution phone rules, cell or land-line, for both time and client management purposes. Of course, completely doing away with the boss’s ability to contact you as a paralegal is not a good attorney managment technique. The key is to manage the phone (and email) rather than let it manage you.

This post is really about another aspect of the ABAJournal.com report though:

A Los Angeles-area college dean, Jonathan Reed of the University of La Verne, said ditching his cell phone helps him pay attention in meetings and frees him up to talk to strangers. “A cell phone signals that my whole world is me and it excludes everyone else,” he told Bloomberg. He recalls a recent trip where he saw two men in a restaurant sitting with beautiful women, and both were on their cell phones.

“Do they have someone better on the other line?” he wondered.

I have noticed a growing tendency on the part of legal professionals, including attorneys, to leave their cell phones on while meeting with clients.  Aside from being just plain rude and unprofessional, this is disasterous for client management. When the cell phone is left on and caller ID is being checked, the implication is that there is someone out there who is more important to the legal professional than the client who is right in front of them. Clients note the distraction and wonder if they are being billed for the time taken to check the caller ID. In general, they feel disrespected – and rightfully so. It also prevents the legal professional from being able to sell the idea that when they are with another client, they focus only on that client and, therefore, cannot take their call. The client knows this isn’t true, because the legal professional is willing to take other calls while with them. What this tells the client again  is that they are simply not important enough to garner the professional’s attention while the professional is with them or to be a distraction to the professional when the professional is with another client.

Civility does seem to be on the wan. The courts have started to take action against the lack of civility given by one attorney to another in the courtroom and the litigation process in general. Legal teams who want to keep their clients ought to start by being civil to those clients.

Distinguishing Clerical and Professional Tasks

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Most paralegals are charged with file management and other “clerical” tasks. In some small offices, even the attorneys must take on such tasks. The professional paralegals handles these tasks effectively and efficiently as part of their role in the legal team. Many paralegals are also charged with tracking and billing their time.  A recent case from the Nebraska United States Bankruptcy Court posted by Leagle.com deals with the relationship between the performance of clerical tasks and billing of time (among other issues). Here’s what the court has to say:

In addition to the matters discussed above, there is an issue concerning a law firm charging for secretarial or administrative functions, which, traditionally, have been treated as overhead and either not charged at all, or not charged at professional or paraprofessional rates.

There has been little guidance on this issue from courts in the Eighth Circuit. Most of the case law around the country suggests that “ministerial tasks” (typing, file organization, document preparation, searching or filing documents on PACER, etc.) performed by a professional or paraprofessional should not be allowed as a separate charge because it is part of the office overhead which should already be built into counsel’s hourly rate. See In re Dimas, LLC, 357 B.R. 563, 577 (Bankr. N.D. Calif. 2006) (“Services that are clerical in nature are not properly chargeable to the bankruptcy estate. They are not in the nature of professional services and must be absorbed by the applicant’s firm as an overhead expense.”). There is some older authority, however, for the proposition that the court should look at the “sum total” of the services rendered in determining whether a specialized service was performed which benefitted the estate, even if it was a clerical task performed by a professional. In re Interstate Restaurant Sys., Inc., 61 B.R. 945, 949 (S.D. Fla. 1986).

With regard to billing for clerical work, the Supreme Court said, in a case involving the award of attorney fees under the Civil Rights Act, that:

It has frequently been recognized in the lower courts that paralegals are capable of carrying out many tasks, under the supervision of an attorney, that might otherwise be performed by a lawyer and billed at a higher rate. Such work might include, for example, factual investigation, including locating and interviewing witnesses; assistance with depositions, interrogatories, and document production; compilation of statistical and financial data; checking legal citations; and drafting correspondence. Much such work lies in a gray area of tasks that might appropriately be performed either by an attorney or a paralegal. To the extent that fee applications under § 1988 are not permitted to bill for the work of paralegals at market rates, it would not be surprising to see a greater amount of such work performed by attorneys themselves, thus increasing the overall cost of litigation. Of course, purely clerical or secretarial tasks should not be billed at a paralegal rate, regardless of who performs them. What the court in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717 (CA5 1974), said in regard to the work of attorneys is applicable by analogy to paralegals: “It is appropriate to distinguish between legal work in the strict sense, and investigation, clerical work, compilation of facts and statistics and other work which can often be accomplished by non-lawyers but which a lawyer may do because he has no other help available. Such non-legal work may command a lesser rate. Its dollar value is not enhanced just because a lawyer does it.”

Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 288 n.10 (1989).

Many of the time entries in this fee application for work performed by the employees identified as paralegals appear to be, functionally, clerical. File setup, scanning, setting up appointments, would be considered, according to the authority cited above, clerical in nature and not billable. I will, therefore, discount the amount claimed as paralegal time. I suggest that in the future Mr. Skrupa, and other law firms using a similar billing system, review the functions performed by the “paralegals” and bill, or not bill, accordingly.

The court thus recognizes the value of paralegal professional services, but requires that clerical task time be built into the paralegal’s hourly rate, just as it is for the other professional on the legal team – the attorney.

A clerical task remains a clerical task whether done by a file clerk, a paralegal, or an attorney. Law office might want to take this into account when structuring the office. Since clerical tasks are not separately billable by a paralegal, it might make more sense to hire a file clerk as part of the office overhead and free up the paralegal time for professional work that can be billed separately. In The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional, I discuss delegation of clerical tasks as one aspect of paralegal time management. There I attempt to assist paralegals in making the argument for hiring persons to whom clerical tasks can be delegated. This case supports that argument.

Delegating your way to effective time management

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

As discussed in The Empowered Paralegal, time and work management requires analyzing the work you do and the way you use your time to do it. Once the work is analyzed, it can be prioritized and managed. Sometimes tasks are best managed by being eliminated.  (Yes, some of what you are doing may simply be a waste of time with no real purpose. It only feels like most of it is.) Often, tasks are best managed by being delegated to others, even if this means convincing your employer to higher an “other” such as a high school student willing to do filing after school for a couple of hours. Delegation only works, however, if done properly.

All this is just a lead-in to an article you should read by Vicki Voisin, The Paralegal Mentor. It appears in the most recent issue of her newsletter, “Paralegal Strategies.” Vicki not only lists, but explains, five important steps to successful delegation. Here are the steps:

1. Plan.

2. Decide to whom you’re delegating.

3. Give clear directions.

4. Follow Up.

5. Reward success.

Head over to www.paralegalmentor.com and sign up for the “Paralegal Strategies” newsletter for the full article.