Posts Tagged ‘efficiency’

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.

Paralegals and Process Management

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

ABAJuornalreports that the new office buzzword is “process management.” In process management firm attorneys focus on discussing how they could develop a model for efficient law practice in various contexts.

Much as a builder relies on blueprints or an automotive assembly line can be used to put together the base model, law practice, too, can be standardized, as far as some elements are concerned, Goldstein and others tells the legal publication. By focusing on such process management, a law firm can more efficiently handle standard work while freeing up seasoned attorneys to oversee strategy and other aspects requiring greater skill.

Process management is expected to reduce law firms’ need for associates, as they outsource some work and use paralegals for other projects that have traditionally been handled by lower-level attorneys. But that, says Silvia Coulter of Hildebrandt, will mean more profits for partners. [Emphasis added.]

In my view process managment is not just about developing efficiencies so paralegals can do more work formerly done by attorneys. Effective use of professional paralegals, who can manage time, dockets, clients and workload is process management.

It also seems to me that firms are making a mistake if it is only the attorneys who are “focused” on this process. No process set up to increase efficiencies through use of paralegals will be as effective as it could be unless paralegals are involved in the process of developing process management! After all, the paralegals are frequently the members of the legal team intimately involved in, and familiar with, the existing process, so they are best situated to improve that process.

Do you have slackers in your office?

Monday, September 7th, 2009

The New York Times“Career Couch” yesterday had some sound advice for anyone who works in an office with colleagues. The article is entitled “When A Colleague Doesn’t Pull His Weight.” However, its first question and answer asks us to consider the possibility that we are mis-judging the situation when we feel that a colleague is not pulling his weight:

When we compare our own work with that of others, we can easily overvalue ourselves and undervalue them, said Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist in New York and founder of Dattner Consulting. That’s partly because we know much more about our own work, he said, and partly because most people have a self-serving bias, believing that they’ve made greater contributions than others recognize.

“How much time you perceive someone is working is not necessarily a valid reflection of the effort they are expending or the results they are achieving,” he said. “They may have terrific time-management skills, stay late or work weekends.”

They may also have legitimate personal reasons for their behavior — for example, the stress of dealing with an ill relative, problems with a spouse or the foreclosure of a home, he said.

To avoid overreacting, ask yourself why you are so angry. “Did you miss a deadline because of this person?” said Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist at Administaff, a human resources outsourcing firm in Houston. “Did you have to stay late because he left early? Your goal is to establish the impact on your performance.”

I’ve emphasized the comment regarding time-management skills above because time management is such a large part of the discussion on this blog and in The Empowered Paralegal. I agree with much of what the Career Couch says in this column. When I first started applying time-management skills and techniques after attending a time-management workshop, I found myself with time at the end of the day rather than a pile of unfinished work. I’m certain office colleagues would have wondered what was going on except for the fact that I was continuously marveling aloud at how much can be accomplished through time management!

It is, of course, a different situation if work is not being done, especially if the colleague’s failure to complete work on time delays your work. The Times article has several good suggestions for dealing with that situation. However, I would like to examine this a bit more not from the standpoint of the slacker, but from the standpoint of the person who, through the utilization of sound time and workload management techniques is able to complete their work efficiently and effectively. There are many questions to ask, many of which relate to personal integrity and work ethic.

What is the purposes of efficiency? What are the benefits and who gets them? If I can complete a “full day’s work” in seven hours and it takes the paralegal next door eight, do I get to “slack” for the extra hour? These questions cannot be answered fully here and there is good reason to doubt that there are firm “right” answers to them that apply in all circumstances.

Certainly the primary beneficiary of sound time and workload management is the person who engages in the management. It relieves that person of stress. A “good life” is one of balance between work and non-work. Time and workload management provide the possibility of reaching that balance.  That balance requires that work not be overwhelmingly stressful. It also requires that there be non-work personal time.

However, both personal integrity and work ethic should dictate that the non-work time not occur on the job. You will not be viewed as a professional if you do only what you are told to do, no matter how efficiently you do it.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t do what you are told to do by your attorney, but if that is all you do – put in your time, do what you are told efficiently and wait for the next task to be assigned filling in time by surfing the internet, you will not be considered to be professional. Take the initiative. Suggest ways you could be helpful. When your assigned work is done, don’t just pass the time – let the attorney know you are ready for the next assignment. Just being there is not enough. Make yourself useful.

If you truly have “down time,” learn something. Find out how to do something you do not already know how to do that will be useful to you in your capacity as a member of the legal team. Use this time to participate in professional associations, rather than just be a member of one. Offer to help others who are busy. Avoid distracting other staff by talking about topics unrelated to whatever they are working on.

The goal is to be viewed as a terrific time manager who is efficient and effective while minimizing stress, without being viewed as a slacker. You can have it both ways.

Paralegals: An Asset to Your Team

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The North Carolina Bar Association Paralegal Division has produced a nifty brochure entitled, “Paralegals: An Asset to Your Team.” In essence itemized some of the many tasks paralegals can perform as a member of the legal team. The tasks are listed separately for each area of law. For example, its Criminal Law section includes:

• Communicate with clients, court officials, attorneys, private
investigators, law enforcement officials
• Interview witnesses
• Investigate facts related to case
• Identify and interview expert witnesses
• Obtain accident reports, police reports, arrest records, SBI
reports, AIR reports, CCBI reports, driving records, tax
records, medical records and insurance information
• Draft documents and pleadings
• Schedule appointments, mediations, arbitrations and substance
abuse assessments
• Prepare subpoenas for witnesses
• Assist in preparations for trial, including preparation of exhibits
• Prepare for depositions and mediations
• Assist at trial
• Gather information for plea bargain
• Assist with post-trial briefs, motions and appeal documents
• Communicate with Parole Board and Work with parole officers

The brochure does not purport to be a complete listing, but it does make a general introductory statement that recognizes the importance of paralegals to the legal profession:

Since it began in the 1960’s, the paralegal profession has evolved into much more than a step to law school. Paralegals continue to assume a more comprehensive role in providing legal services to clients by performing a wide range of tasks that contribute to cost-effective, high-quality legal services for clients. The professional relationship  between an attorney and a paralegal can be an asset to a law firm of any size.

This brochure is not intended to be an exhaustive list of tasks a paralegal is capable of performing. Rather, it is intended to guide lawyers and paralegals in designing and implementing a team concept for providing legal services to clients more efficiently, thus increasing productivity and profit for the firm.

This is important for a couple of reasons. One is the focus on the attorney and paralegal as a team rather than just an attorney and staff. (I argue elsewhere that in order for the legal team to be complete it must include the client.) The second is the phrase “thus increasing productivity and profit for the firm. Many times both the lawyers and the paralegals lose track of the real economic contribution of the paralegal.  That contribution increases as the paralegal learns to manage time, files, dockets and clients efficiently and effectively. That contribution can also be measured and quantified. Finally the economic reality can be used to convince attorneys to treat their paralegals as professionals and to maximize the opportunities for the paralegal to do what they do best.