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This summer you studied for the bar, took the exam and then probably took a well-earned vacation. Sometime during the past couple of weeks you most likely started work. Welcome to reality: new job, new surroundings, long hours, a lot of work and just as many deadlines. There is a mountain of paper growing on your desk, and numerous files on the floor of the tiny office you share with another new associate. You have phone calls to return, e-mails to respond to, assignments to complete and, to top it off, everything is urgent. By now you’re probably wondering whether it is humanly possible to manage it all. We’re happy to tell you that it is. A little bit of organizational effort and planning will help you balance your increasing workload. Being organized will help you work more efficiently, spend less time looking for misplaced documents and files, and increase your billable hours. Being organized does not mean you have to be a neat freak. It simply means that you are able to easily retrieve important documents and files, as well as keep track of deadlines, meetings, conference calls, etc. Getting organized will take some time, but with these tips and tricks, it will be much easier than studying for the bar exam. We promise. YOUR WORK SPACE You will spend more time in your office than anyplace else (including home). Therefore, begin your organizing efforts here. � Your desk is a work surface, not a dumping ground. Keep only those items on your desk that you use on a daily basis. The file/document that you are currently working on should be the only one on your desk; everything else should be put away. This will help to keep you focused on the assignment at hand and will also prevent you from misfiling documents. Finally, keep personal items and mementos to a minimum. While a few photos are perfectly fine, your desk should not become a shrine to your family and friends nor a display shelf for your Derek Jeter bobblehead doll collection. � Keep the items you use frequently within arm’s reach. The key factors in organizing your desk are accessibility and retrieval. Whatever you use the most should be within arm’s reach. You should be able to reach the telephone, computer, reference books, pens, pencils and pads without leaving your chair. You should not have to lunge across your desk to reach for something you need while you’re on an important call. � Keep the floor clean. Walking to your desk should not be like navigating an obstacle course. The floor surrounding your desk area should be free of files, books, bags, newspapers, etc. While you will always have a lot of work to do, there is no need for you to actually see it all of the time. The less cluttered your office is, the less overwhelmed you will feel and the better you will be able to focus on the assignment you are working on. PAPER MANAGEMENT Paper is coming at you from all directions. Memos to write; correspondence, faxes and e-mails to read; research to compile and organize; and newspaper and journal articles to skim. These papers usually wind up stacked on your desk or credenza or in piles on the floor. Is it possible to get out from under the mounds of paper that surround you? Or, better yet, prevent them from growing in the first place? Of course it is. All you have to do is take a deep breath and make some decisions. Purge, purge, purge. Piles of paper are nothing more than postponed decisions. These piles grow because you fail to take some action with respect to each piece of paper as it comes across your desk. Now it’s time to make these decisions. What you need to do is ask yourself the following questions with respect to each piece of paper in your office: � What would be the worst thing that would happen if I threw this out? If losing your job, losing a client or committing malpractice are not part of your answer — out it goes. � When was the last time I referred to this paper? The longer it has been, the bigger the likelihood that you can throw it away. � Where could I obtain a duplicate of this paper if I needed to, and how easy would it be to do so? If it is a copy of a memo or a piece of correspondence that can be pulled from the file itself, chances are you don’t need to hold on to it. Action, action, action. Now that you have whittled the piles down to those pieces of paper that you actually need to keep, you have to take some action with respect to each item. Fortunately, there are only five things you can do with a single piece of paper (including the e-mails that you receive). You can: � Act on it. These are those pieces of paper that require you to take some action, such as making a phone call or writing a letter. � File it. These are those items that need to be filed either in your office or elsewhere. � Refer it. These are those items that need to be read or addressed by someone else. � Read it. These are all papers that you need to read. They can be anything from memos to law journal articles to brochures for CLE classes. � Throw it away/recycle it. This is self-explanatory. If you identify what you have to do with each item as it comes across your desk and act on it accordingly, you will prevent the piles from growing and increase your awareness as to what items need your utmost attention. FILE MANAGEMENT � Client matter files: respect, respect, respect. Remember, in a law firm, it is the clients who are ultimately paying your salary. Keep these files in a filing cabinet, drawer or on an open shelf. While your firm most likely has a system for labeling each file, make sure that these labels are legible, preferably created on the computer. Similarly, each client matter file should contain folders for categories such as correspondence, drafts, research, motions and final documents. If you do your own filing, immediately place papers in the appropriate folders to avoid losing them. If you take one of these folders out of the file, do not leave it on your desk. Try to put it back right away to prevent the folder from getting misfiled. You do not want a partner looking for an important piece of correspondence to find out you misfiled the entire folder — what a way to make an impression! Become familiar with your firm’s policy regarding forwarding papers to the records or file room. If the firm requires all original documents to be sent to the records room, make copies and keep them in the working file that you maintain for that case. Clearly label all documents you send to the records room. This will ensure that they make it to the proper file, which, in turn, will make it easier for you and your colleagues to retrieve them. Finally, when it is time for you to close a client matter file, go through the file before sending it to the records room or off-site storage. Take out all extraneous papers, such as the extra legal pads, drafts, and multiple copies of the same document. � Reference files. The longer you practice, the more you will begin to write and receive common documents and memoranda. Reference or form files should contain copies of documents relevant to your practice area which you may need to use or refer to again. Do not limit yourself to your own work, but include the work of your colleagues and even opposing counsel. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, especially if you’re under a tight deadline. Make sure that you index or categorize these documents so that they will be easy to retrieve when you need them. � Computer files. Your computer files can become just as cluttered as your paper ones, possibly even worse. Being able to quickly locate a document on your computer is just as important as locating a piece of paper in a file. You should create folders that accurately identify the documents contained within them, i.e. correspondence or summary judgment motion. Name each document so that it is easy to recognize and retrieve. Do not waste memory by saving duplicate documents. Decide whether to save or delete e-mails as you read them. If your firm requires that all substantive e-mails be printed and saved to paper files make sure you do so. Finally, clean out your computer files on a regular basis. � Administrative/personal files. Create folders for those forms that you use regularly such as fax cover sheets, supply request forms, car vouchers, etc. If you cannot generate a form and save it on your computer, keep it close to your desk for easy access, preferably in a file drawer. If there are certain forms that you use repeatedly, personalize them so you do not have to keep filling in the same information. As for personal papers, try to keep as few at work as possible. If you have to, place them in a locked file cabinet or drawer. TIME, INFO MANAGEMENT You’ve now cleaned out your office and have a system in place to manage all the paper that comes across your desk. Now it’s time to keep track of important information and what you need to do. � Keep a to do list. Create one master list where you record all of your “To Do’s.” This will help you get everything out of your head, off of Post-Its and napkins, and into one place. This list should include everything from long-term projects to telephone calls. You should prioritize your “To Do’s” from low to high, addressing them accordingly. � Do not overschedule yourself. Do not overschedule yourself with too many tasks; always save time (especially on Friday afternoons) for emergencies and unplanned events. Knowing what you have to do and when it needs to be done will help you realistically manage new assignments. We’re sure (or at least we hope) your boss would rather know that you already have four “emergency” assignments due tomorrow before he adds a fifth. � A time sheet a day keeps the managing partner away. Studies show that attorneys who do not complete their time sheets on a daily basis fail to account for as much as 20 to 25 percent of their billable time. Therefore, you should complete your time sheets as you finish a particular task or assignment. It is very difficult to “re-create” time once a few hours (or days) have passed and you are assigned more work. This will help ensure that you precisely account for your work and that your firm sends accurate bills to its clients. � Maintain your contacts and your calendar. The longer you practice the more contacts you will make. Start entering contact information into an electronic organizer or paper Rolodex before your desk drawer gets filled with hundreds of business cards and Post-Its. Maintain one calendar in which you record both work and personal commitments. Having to duplicate information on more than one calendar is time consuming and easily leads to unrecorded information. Electronic organizers that can be downloaded into handheld and wireless devices solve any portability problems and insure that your calendar, as well as other information, is always up to date. � The “team of two” — or three or four. The value of a secretary, especially to a new attorney, can be immeasurable in terms of implementing and maintaining good organizational systems. Get his/her input as to your firm’s procedures and what type of system he/she thinks will work best for the both of you. Remember, your secretary will be busy doing not only your work, but probably that of a partner and another associate. Therefore, the more organized that you are, the easier your secretary’s job will be. � Take stock before you leave each day. Even though you may want to literally run out of the office at the end of your long work day, we suggest that you take five more minutes — the “Final Five” — to straighten your desk, put things away, finish your time entries and create your “To Do” list for the next day. This will significantly change the way you feel when you walk into your office the following morning. Knowing exactly what you need to do as soon as you walk in will help you start your day out more focused and less stressed. CONCLUSION Well, the time has come to take your feet off the stacks of files they’ve been resting on and jump in. Once you are organized you will see the immediate benefits: an increase in your productivity and efficiency, and a decrease (at least somewhat) in your stress level. Just remember that getting organized is no different than getting through law school; a little hard work and perseverance is all it takes. Jan F. Arkwright and Debbie Selig Harwin are former practicing attorneys and principals of JD Organizing Consultants, a Manhattan-based company providing CLE seminars and organizing services for law firms and attorneys.

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