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?


"The Problem with Time Management"

Ah, the "trying to do my job, but people keep interrupting" problem. Do you have time management on the job under control?

"If you've been living in the corporate world for some time, you've probably attended a training session where one of the exercises was to conduct a 'time spent' analysis in order to increase your efficiency. You cracked open your calendar, reviewed how you spent your time for the past week, and identified black holes that were wasting your energy. Maybe you even went so far as to break your activities into categories, separating the 'urgent' things from the 'important' things and both of these from the 'insignificant' things.


"The problem lies in our approach. Time management programs usually focus on your personal productivity, analyzing how you choose to spend your time. This is all fine and dandy, but it misses one essential truth: In an organization that's devoted to banging pots, you better bang pots or have a damn good reason for not banging them.

"That's why, after the PowerPoint presentation had ended and the trainer went home, you fell back into your old, unproductive rhythms -- not because you didn't agree with the time management expert's analysis, but because you returned to normal life in the world of The Middle . . . which means doing what you think your boss wants you to do. Bang! Bang! Bang!"

Highly recommend reading this complete article. It contains some good advice for managing your managers.

BTW, the author of this article, Vince Thompson, also wrote a just-published book, Ignited. In it, "Thompson depicts the realm between upper management and the workforce as rife with turf battles, firestorms and ongoing struggles to keep the troops from revolting."

"Why Do You Always Need This Yesterday?"

How many times have you asked this question when handed a new assignment?  LawCrossing looks into why this happens & how paralegals can handle these situations:

"Some projects—especially the most urgent ones—seem to demand time traveling as a requisite skill. Everyone wants work done ASAP, but there's only one you and 24 hours in a day. What's to be done?

"Paralegals are the workhorses of the legal world. Unlike the attorneys they assist, paralegals and legal support professionals play a largely behind-the-scenes role. While feats of productivity and grace under fire can force many paralegals to take on superhero proportions, even Superman has to eat, sleep, and have a life outside of work.

"Everyone has heard the phrase 'I need this yesterday.' In almost all situations, it is intended to convey a sense of urgency and an impending deadline. After 'Is this billable?,' this is probably one of the most frequently uttered phrases in the entire legal world. Yet for many legal support personnel, the phrase inspires a sense of confusion cum frustration. How can every task be the most important?"

"Too Busy to Notice You’re Too Busy"

Does this New York Times article sound like anyone you know? Yourself perhaps?

"RECENTLY I’ve found myself annoyed by how busy my friends seem. Putting aside the possibility that they are avoiding me, some are so on the go that they barely have time to tell me they do not have time to talk. Every phone call, no matter how short, seems to be interrupted by several others. That is, of course, if I actually get a live person on the other end of the phone.


"Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap (Ballantine Books, 2006) writes about how he knew he had crossed into the dark side from busy to crazy busy when he got mad at a rotary phone while staying at a vacation house.

"Unable to use a cellphone, he was driven nuts waiting for the dial to return to start."

"24 Time Management Tips"

These helpful, common-sense tips come from Beth Dargis, a certified life coach & simplicity consultant:

"Planning is the best time saver there is. At the beginning of the week jot down your goals that you want to accomplish, fun things you want to do, work that needs to be done, and appointments to keep. Then write out a loose schedule for the week ahead, balancing it out between work, family, home, self and your other roles.


"My weekly planning session usually takes less than thirty minutes. My planning session includes gathering my papers and going through the in-box to find action items as David Allen suggests in his book Getting Things Done. I also plan goals, next action items for my projects, plan a two hour time alone, plan family night, and plan a date with my husband. I schedule work, exercise, fun time, time with friends and family, volunteer work, and self-care time. Planning allows the important to take precedent over the urgent for once.


"4. Let go of perfectionism. Not everything has to be done perfectly and some things are out of your control.


"22. Start with the worst item on your to do list. Everything else will be a piece of cake. You also won't be thinking and dreading it while doing other tasks. Procrastination sucks out your energy."

"Leave It to Lawyers to Think of Beating the Clock Like This ..."

I'm both surprised & not, really, after reading this post pointed to by Legal Blog Watch:

"Every once in a while, we lawyers hear about conduct by our colleagues that's so deceptive that it makes us embarrassed to be part of the profession. David Lat offers an example of the type of activity that I'm describing in this post about a law firm that discovered a way to give itself a couple of extra days to make its filings.

"According to the judge's order posted at Lat's site..., the law firm of Snell and Wilmer figured out that it could take advantage of a Utah federal court's after-hours filing system by stamping the first page of a filing on the due date and returning it to the office. The firm then attached the stamped cover sheet to a pleading completed a day or two later and slipped it back into the after-hours box. Apparently, the firm assumed that court staff would assume that the pleading had been overlooked when the box was previously emptied."

Lawyers cheating! I'm shocked....

"How Do You Decide What To Do from Your To Do List?"

Excellent question posed on the Web Worker Daily blog [links below from original post]:

"We’ve recently profiled two online apps for supporting David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to personal organization: Vitalist and Nozbe. With tools like that–or even just pen and paper–you can capture everything you need to get done. Once you’ve offloaded all those must-dos from your brain, though, you need to take the next step: decide which ones to do.

"How do you do that? How do you prioritize (or triage, as seems more often necessary for me these days)? And once you’ve prioritized, how do you decide which of the prioritized items to do?"

Hey, I'm doing good to have to-do lists!

"Time and Billing: Be Trigger-Happy"

I love how "trigger" reminders work:

"Does your current time and billing software help you manage your law firm's workflow? Does it identify key 'events' that trigger paperwork? If not, it may be time to upgrade.


"By simply defining certain conditions, or rules that must be met -- such as the payment of an invoice, the generation of a specific type of document or even billable time that does not meet minimum amounts -- event software integrates with your time and billing program.


"Once rules are established and thresholds are set, these systems are designed to be self-maintaining and will run transparently to automatically trigger notification alerts. Common events which can act as triggers in event-driven software include new clients, cash receipts over or under limits, vendor payments, new matters, unbilled time and/or cost write-offs, missing time, check processing, aged open vouchers, delinquent accounts receivable and hours-worked budgets on matters."

And here's a handy list of vendors from the article:

Cronacle, Redwood Software Inc.,
Elite Extend, and Elite 3E Business Monitoring, Thomson Elite,
Expert Notifications, Aderant,
EDA Suite, Oracle Corp.,
MyJuris, Juris Inc.,
Omega Legal, Omega Legal Systems Inc.,
Rainmaker Platinum Suite, Rainmaker Software Inc.,
RollCall and DTE, Advanced Productivity Software Inc.,
TABS3, Software Technology, Inc.,

"How to Talk to Your Boss About Being Overworked"

This career article comes from CIO magazine, but I think the advice applies to all knowledge/information workers:

"Twelve-hour workdays packed with mile-long to-do lists and meetings on top of meetings. Cell phones and BlackBerrys that are always on, and laptops you take home to squeeze in one more hour of work. With companies [& law firms] firmly focused on growth after several long years of belt-tightening, employees' workloads are heavier than ever. What can you do to cope with on-the-job scope creep? Stand up and say something before your head explodes. 

"To help you effectively broach the subject of your insane workload with your boss, heed the following advice from executive coaches and leadership gurus.


"'At the moment of additional assignments, it is critical to not immediately say yes,' says Kay Cannon, a professional business coach in Lexington, Ky., and president of the International Coach Federation. But you also can't simply say that you have too much work to take on new projects. 'Coming in only with problems makes you look like a victim. You want to be perceived as a leader,' says Barbara Somma, a former longtime director at Johnson & Johnson who's now a professional business coach in Sarasota, Fla."

"A To Do List That Works"

Yeah, been there, done that. But this article describes to-do tips that might really help!

"We have all done to do lists. Somehow there never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish all the things on your to do list. Here is the system that has worked for me. It can work for you too.

A List Is Not Enough
"Making a 'things to do list' is not enough. You have to rank them. You have to know which tasks are more important so you can focus on them. Then you have to allocate resources to those items, measure your progress, and reward yourself for your successes.

"I list all my to do items in a spreadsheet, although you can do them on paper as I used to do. You also can put them in your palmtop computer or PDA, write them on your calendar, or input them to a time management software.

"The first step is to list all you have to do.

"Then assign a rank to them so you can focus on the important items. (See my article, Pareto's Principle - The 80-20 Rule, for a refresher on why this is important.)"

Good thing you already know what tasks await you, huh?  ;-)

Author John Reh is an Internet Management Consultant & a management professional with broad experience.