As an Admissions Advisor at Center for Advanced Legal Studies and a retired attorney, I always ask prospective students what qualities or attributes they possess that would make them a good paralegal. Many times I hear:
“I love the law, which I think will make me a good paralegal.”
“I enjoy legal research.”
“I enjoy reading.”
“I am punctual.”
And of course: “I am fairly organized.”
A love of the law, reading, punctuality, and research skills all contribute to a person’s ability to become a successful paralegal. Above those, organization is key to excelling both as a paralegal student and as a working paralegal.
Organization skills are vital to be an effective paralegal. They facilitate a paralegal’s ability to create and manage calendar systems, track court dates, and meet filing deadlines. Additionally, legal research materials, such as case law, must be organized in a method that they can be easily navigated and retrieved. Documents in a legal case are useless unless they are properly filed and indexed so that the documents may be pulled quickly and easily.
But how does one become organized? Whether you are already a fairly organized person or lacking in that department, organizational skills can always be developed and improved. Here are 4 simple steps to becoming more organized, and ultimately becoming a more efficient paralegal!
1. Make Lists and Prioritize
List-making is one of the most basic and useful skills of an organized person. Keep a list of your monthly, weekly, and daily tasks and responsibilities. Prioritize the tasks on your list by assigning numbers or placing them in order of importance. This will enable you to focus your attention on important tasks first and help you stay motivated to complete everything that needs to be done. You won’t waste time trying to remember or prioritize your next task(s). You don’t ever want to have to tell your attorney that you failed to meet an important deadline because you forgot a task or how important it was.
Your list(s) and calendar(s) should be the first things you review in the morning and the last things you check at night. Once a task or responsibility is completed, check it off your list. Personally, I have always felt a great sense of accomplishment when I review my list at the end of the day and see that all the items have been crossed off.
2. Use a Calendar
Everything should be noted on a calendar. Court appearances, appointments, filing deadlines, reminder emails, and phone calls should all be noted on your calendar. Update your calendar regularly, confirm appointments as necessary, and, as noted above, check your calendar first thing in the morning and at the end of the day.
3. Keep a Clean and Orderly Desk
Many people have the habit of piling their desks with files, papers, notepads, and other documents. Clutter creates a confusing and sometimes chaotic work space, resulting in loss of valuable time searching for important files or client documents. An organized work space requires that clutter be tamed as part of your daily routine. Always leave time to file papers and documents regularly. Don’t let them pile up.
4. File Documents
Maintaining, updating, and filing the documents in a client’s file is an essential responsibility of all paralegals. File, file, file. Don’t be a diva when it comes to filing by waiting for someone else to do it for you. No paralegal wants to tell their attorney or client they have misplaced important documents. Whenever possible, make copies of a client’s documents for your records and return the originals to them.
Simply adding a client’s documents to their file is not adequate. If a file is unorganized or pieced together in a haphazard manner, making it difficult to navigate, you can cause your attorney wasted time, frustration, and embarrassment in front of a client or judge. Files must be organized and documents indexed appropriately so they can be easily retrieved.
Paralegals with strong organization skills tend to be efficient, punctual, and reliable paralegals. Developing your organization skills can help make you an indispensable asset for an attorney or law firm. Take the time to apply these 4 tips for better organization, even as a student or in your personal life. You’ll be thankful you did!
Elaine Prappas, J.D., has experience in every aspect of the paralegal field, as a paralegal student, paralegal, practicing attorney, and paralegal instructor. She is now an Admissions Advisor at Center for Advanced Legal Studies, and she looks forward to helping you achieve your career goals. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 1.800.446.6931 for more information on the paralegal career or our paralegal programs.