Paralegals interview witnesses, schedule appointments, monitor court dates, research case studies, brief attorneys, prepare legal documents, file records and much more. They may also need to prepare presentations, make travel arrangements and accompany attorneys to court or depositions. About the only thing they can’t do is give legal advice or represent someone in court. In a nutshell, they have their hands full and need to be well organized.
Some people are innately good at organizing and managing their time. Paralegals must be; they have no choice if they want to do their job efficiently. That means managing calendars, tracking court and filing deadlines, filing and indexing documents – and being able to access information on a dime.
Not everyone uses the same system to stay organized, but there are some general guidelines to follow that can make a paralegal’s job less stressful. Here are some ideas:
- Make lists – lots of them. Prioritize daily, weekly and monthly duties, but make your “to-do” list realistic. If you have big projects that will take a lot of time to complete, break them up into smaller tasks that have shorter goals. They won’t seem so daunting. Once you complete one, check it off. Be sure to focus on the more important – and more urgent – tasks first.
- Keep a calendar. A digital calendar is good, but a paper calendar may also aid in an “at-a-glance” situation. Document everything, including court appearance dates, appointments, filing deadlines, reminders and phone calls. Sync your “to-do” list with your calendar so you don’t overlook something important. When you see the same task in several places, you’re more likely to do it.
- Develop an excellent electronic file system to file all client’s documents. Some firms are exclusively paperless so find out your firm’s practice first.
- Limit the clutter. Keep your desk tidy so papers don’t get lost in the clutter. When you need a document fast, you don’t want to be rifling through a large stack to find the one paper you need. A clean desk also gives you ample work space so that you can focus.
- Label everything. This doesn’t just refer to documents. Remember Milton’s red stapler in Office Space? Label your desk accessories and personal items so that you – and everyone else in the office – know where they belong.
- Index and file documents. Set a reasonable time for filing papers and documents (preferably weekly), and put them in a dedicated, labeled file folder. Any file that might have privacy restrictions – most legal documents do – should be in a safe location. Consider making a registry of files. Note the file name and contents. Date it and note where you’ve put it. When you take it out – or if someone else needs to see it – note that on your registry so it never is misplaced.
- Download helpful apps. RescueTime keeps track of how much time you’re spending on various online activities. It can help you manage your time better. CalenGoo lets the people in your office connect and sync shared schedules and projects. You are able to set personal events as well.
- Create your own resource guide. As you collect information from colleagues, libraries, courts and facilities, enter it into a binder resource guide that you can refer to. There are no restrictions on this. Add anything to your guide that could help you down the road or that you might need to access frequently. You may want to include inspirational quotes, photos, your personal mission statement or even a picture of your pet.
- Organize your mind. Take time for yourself to breathe, relax and restore. That might mean meditating for 15 minutes or coming in a half hour early to drink your coffee and catch up on social media. Make time for yourself so you can focus on the responsibilities of the day.
If you’re fascinated by the legal world but don’t want to invest the time to become an attorney, consider registering for the MTI paralegal program, an ABA Approved program. It gives you the education you need to work in a law firm, government agency or corporate legal department, assisting lawyers and performing many of the same duties.
The MTI paralegal program provides you with the minimum requirements for paralegal in California. In just two years or less, you can earn your Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies and head out to begin a career that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says is growing. In addition to the need for paralegals in law firms, California is expecting jobs to grow in the private sector in major cities as corporations expand and diversify their legal departments.
If you have the interest and the necessary personal traits to become a paralegal, enroll now in the MTI College Paralegal Studies program for the education you need to get that important first job.