Five Dumb Office Practices

It took forever for law firms to get on the bandwagon to utilize computers back in the day when all of CorporateAmerica was pushing ahead into the world of high-tech.  Law firms reluctantly followed suit [sic] when three things happened:

  1. Clients pushbacked and protested loudly that law firms were still on a manual system and doing things the "old-fashioned" way;
  2. Lawyers got over the stigma that "typing" meant they were doing secretarial work;
  3. Administrators and lawyers alike realized computerization did not mean the firm was going to lose billable time.  In fact, it probably meant they would be able to bill even more fees to the client.

In a Texas Lawyer article written by an anonymous secretary, five dumb office practices seem to linger in the law firm despite LegalAmerica bringing up the rear in the headlong plunge into the 20th Century:

1.  The e-mail tree nightmare:  Archiving, printing, filing into the physical file and entering e-mails into the electronic database can be an ominous task.  In one case, Ms. Anonymous has more than 700 e-mails waiting to be entered in addition to more than 3,000 e-mails already processed over the case's three-year life.

2.  Correspondence deja vu. A letter is received via fax, entered into the database and a paper copy filed. Three days later, a second copy of the same letter is received. But a good legal secretary never assumes two documents are identical just because they appear so at first glance. It takes a careful comparison to be sure.

If only we could have back all the time spent analyzing incoming mail to make sure it is, indeed, something already received by e-mail, fax or both. This doesn't even count the time spent sending the firm's lawyers' correspondence by two or three different means.

There was a time when new communication technologies remained untested and a little suspect, but that time is long past. If anything, e-mails and faxes are more reliable than physical mail.

3.   E-file, then refile. Opposing counsel e-files a lengthy brief and appendix with the court. Instantly, you receive an e-mail containing a link to the filed document, and print the file-marked copy. But three days later, a 6-inch stack of paper arrives in the mail from opposing counsel -- the same brief and appendix, not file-marked. It's trash that can't be thrown away. Somehow, it has to be to shoehorned it into your bulging file cabinets and sit there forever.

4.   The $2,000 typewriter. You ask your secretary to revise and prepare for filing a Microsoft Word document someone else created. Upon opening it, she finds a hodgepodge of hard returns, tabs, page breaks, manual numbering and direct formatting. She feverishly reworks the document, because she understand the pitfalls of treating Word like a typewriter, and has seen the embarrassment that can result. Then, she prays the original typist doesn't work on the document again before it's safely filed with the court.

Firms must acknowledge the time and money wasted by not providing adequate training to everyone who creates documents. It's time to stop this hemorrhaging of profits and make good word processing practices mandatory for all personnel.

5.  The paper chase. Your secretary sends a lengthy document to the printer she shares with eight other people. The phone rings, and a lawyer needs something, and she forgets her print job. An hour later, she checks the printer and her document has vanished. After a fruitless search of the piles of unclaimed print jobs littering the table, she gives up and sends her job again. This time, she rushes to the printer to claim her pages before they can disappear, and finds them mysteriously reordered. The only way she can ensure they're in the correct sequence is by printing them a third time.

When will the bean counters realize shared printers are more costly, not less? Aside from the reams of wasted paper, the gallons of toner and the needless wear on printer components, there are the hours staff and lawyers spend printing everything multiple times and sifting through stacks of unclaimed pages.

One foot in the current century is not enough. Firms must drag that second foot over the technology threshold and enter the Information Age fully and finally. Anyone with suggestions on how to effect that change can find Ms. Anonymous easily: "I'll be at my desk, printing e-mails, " she says. Is there any court that offers e-filing and still requires service of paper copies on e-filing registrants? Ms. Anonymous' words are harsh: "Lawyers who persist in this practice should have their computers confiscated."

No wonder there's an extreme shortage of legal secretaries.....Who wants to deal with this kind of stuff?

   

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