One thing I cannot stress enough in litigation file management is – organize your file from the VERY beginning. Our firm is paperless, and every e-file we have is set up exactly the same. When I had paper files, this was also the case. I have specific folders that are always in the file – Notes (any attorney or paralegal notes), Correspondence (incoming and outgoing in chronological order), Discovery Incoming (all discovery requests, answers, and documents produced to us from other parties), Discovery Outgoing (discovery requests, answers, and any documents produced by us), ECF (the Court file), and Pleadings (anything in draft form, to be filed with the Court). As the case progresses I add - Hearings (for each hearing that takes place), Witness (for any witness identified), Trial (witness lists, exhibit lists, motions in limine, etc.), Medical (any medical requests, records, and bills). If you keep everything the same for each file, any paralegal or attorney that needs to utilize the file knows where everything can be found. And, even though we are “paperless”, there are some originals that need to be kept. For those originals I have individual hanging files that I keep and add to our closed boxes when we close the case.
Recently, I was showing a colleague the matrix I created and use to track every aspect of the cases I am managing. Her response was – How do you even have time to do that? To me, taking the time to do things like tracking motions, dispositions, discovery responses, etc., is very valuable to my attorney because I have the answer within seconds when he asks when something was served, what our deadline is, etc. I do not have to fumble around trying to figure out what happened, sift through months of calendars, find the specific document and calculate the deadline again, etc. It is all right there in one place. I also think about these things at the beginning of a case, because I have seen the end of a case. I know the Contact Information sheet I am keeping up throughout the case can be printed and put in the trial binder when the time comes. The fact that I have kept it up, and it already exists at the most important moment in litigation puts me at ease. If you are ever completing something and you say to yourself, I don’t have time to organize that or track that, think about the next time you will need it and if doing it now will save you time in the end.
Each morning I look at my calendar and write down everything I have to do that day and then time-block sections on my calendar for completing those tasks in order of priority. Here is my logic - #1 deadlines, #2 everything else billable, #3 everything else non-billable. I also have a portfolio that I keep on my desk that has a notebook in it that I can scribble in to my heart’s content. Each time an attorney walks up and asks me to do something I write it down and fit it into my time block. If I am filing something with the Court, I write down each piece that needs to be submitted and check it off as I go. Anything I can write down into a list, helps me get my mind focused and ready to attack.
Now, Not Later
I have noticed in my career that people like to procrastinate. Oh, it is just one piece of paper it can set on my desk for a bit and not be put in the file – you know the one I am talking about, the one where after three years and many layers of dust later it is still there? Okay, so that might be an exaggeration, but it gets the point across. What really is the point of waiting until later? Sure, it may be a mundane, boring task, but it is a task nonetheless. Do it now, do not let it collect dust. In the end you will always have a tidy work space.
You know that one time in 1985 when you were too busy to take lunch, and ever since you figured what is the point in starting now? Again, maybe a slight exaggeration, but it is important to give your mind a break. I know we’ve all had those days where you feel like you can’t come up for air and if you take a break now it will all come crashing down and never get done. In the end, that is typically not even close to true. I can tell when I’ve been going at it too long because I start making simple mistakes that would not normally happen. Even if you really feel like you can’t take an hour to go for a walk outside, just getting out of our chair and making a lap around the office will help your mind reset and get you back to a more focused place.