Young Lawyer Perspective – How To Keep Yourself Organized

Young Lawyer Perspective - How To Keep Yourself OrganizedThis week we welcome back guest writer Shirlene Armstrong to talk about staying organized as a newly admitted lawyer.

Are you a newly admitted or “young” lawyer? Are you overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do? Are you not even sure where to start or how to get yourself organized? You’re in luck! I am a young associate who has a passion for organization. I am an attorney at a small-medium law firm that specializes in personal injury. I started at the firm in my first year of law school as a law clerk/paralegal (the only one for quite some time too) and became an attorney after I graduated and passed the bar. Because of this, I was able to learn how to manage assignments and cases and figured out very quickly I had to keep myself VERY organized. When you first get into practice, you are kind of just thrown into things. No one sits you down and tells you, “hey this is how you should keep yourself organized” or “here is a comprehensive guide on how to manage your caseload.” While I may not know everything there is to know about practicing law (yet), I still want to use my experience to help you keep yourself organized. Here are some tips and tricks that have helped me in my practice.

Email Labels

I hate having unread emails in my inbox, and I like to use my inbox as a “to-do” box. Once I am done with an email or task, I want to archive it. However, you don’t want to delete the email (honestly you never know when you are going to need it again), and you want to be able to easily access it in the future. What should you do? Make folders and labels in your email! I organize my folders by “open” and “closed/settled” cases. Then I make a folder for each of my clients. Thus, when I get an email I can label it based on which client it deals with. This makes my inbox very organized because I can see what tasks I still need to complete on my different cases. Once I am done with the task, I can remove it from the inbox but still keep it in the individual client’s folder so I can easily find it if I need it in the future (and I feel like I always do).

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize!

You may be looking at your to-do list and have no idea where to even begin. Obviously you need to get everything done eventually, but how do you know what to work on first or how to be the most efficient and effective? You have to prioritize! I start by organizing my assignments/tasks by whether or not they have a due date. Things without a specific date or those that are not time-sensitive get listed together. Then I list all my other assignments/tasks in order of their due date/deadline. This way, I am able to look at the week ahead and see what needs to be done and can plan accordingly based on how long I believe a certain task will take me. As I work on the time-sensitive assignments, I can also fill in the spaces with my tasks from my other “no date” list. This allows me to complete everything I need to get done, to keep everything organized in the different steps of my cases, and plan ahead!

Cloud Services and Apps

My firm uses Google Drive as a cloud service, which stores the individual folders for all of our different cases. We have physical folders for each of our clients, and we have assistants that are responsible for scanning and uploading the documents to the individual’s cloud folder. I cannot articulate how essential a (secure) cloud service is for staying organized in the practice of law. This allows me to easily access my client’s files, and I can just virtually search for a document I need, rather than thumbing through an entire file. I cannot count how many times I have taken a call and a question came up about a case that I did not have an immediate answer for or that I wanted to confirm before saying anything. Literally in seconds I am able to find the information I need and carry on business as usual. While I am partial to Google, there are several different apps and websites that you can utilize to keep yourself organized.

Calendar and Diary!

No one ever wants to miss a deadline. It is CRUCIAL to stay on top of your calendar to make sure you know when assignments are due, when important deadlines are, and of course, when you need to be in court or at a hearing! Personally, I use my Google Calendar on my work email and create events for due dates (like discovery, motion responses, and SOLs), court appearances and other hearings (e.g. depositions, motion hearings, conferences, trials), and even reminders about upcoming dates or tasks to complete (for example, “Follow-up with defense counsel regarding upcoming facilitation”). My calendar is synced to my phone, which makes it easy to quickly check and make sure I am on top of my cases. This also helps me diary tasks to complete in the future while also knowing what the next steps in my cases are.

Professional, Organized, and Ready for Practice!

Despite what pop culture may try to tell you, being a lawyer sometimes means performing unglamorous, boring tasks. This includes putting in the effort of structuring yourself and your practice. Being organized is extremely important in being a successful lawyer. Keeping yourself organized will allow you to be prepared for anything that comes your way. You will be able to stay on top of your cases and assignments, have foresight and anticipate any issues or conflicts, and you will be incredibly professional by doing so. Ultimately, you will want to choose what is best for you in keeping yourself organized. Maybe it is a combination of the tips I shared or maybe it is something completely different. Regardless of what you do, I know you will be a great, prepared attorney, and you can do it!


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About Shirlene Brown

Shirlene Armstrong is a first-generation student in her last year at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. At Wayne, Shirlene has been involved with numerous organizations and clubs, including mock trial, LexisNexis, the Women's Law Caucus, and the Journal of Law and Society. Shirlene enjoys mentoring others and sharing what she has learned on her legal journey and continues to work hard in accomplishing her dreams.

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