August 18, 2019

Coach’s Corner: How Do You Fully Leverage Paralegals?

The Role of Paralegals

Paralegals have long been considered a highly cost-effective form of leverage, undertaking routine legal tasks under the supervision of a partner while at reduced billing rates that are attractive to the client yet supportive of the firm’s bottom line. These paralegals may be employed within the firm itself or they may provide outsourced services in a virtual relationship. Either way, the most typical tasks they engage in are generally technical in nature: research, document review, organizing client files and the like.

Paralegals Enable a Firm to Create Additional Business

A paralegal’s fundamental task is to allow a firm’s lawyers to do more client or marketing work without running up against the danger of not properly addressing client needs. Paralegals enable a firm to create additional business, using the principle of leverage, that would not otherwise be possible, in addition to reducing lawyers’ stress level.

How to Leverage Paralegals

Once they understand the firm and its culture, paralegals can be leveraged not just through their technical abilities but also for their client service strengths. Consider such strategies as these:

  • Failure to return phone calls or respond to letters is the number one complaint clients have about lawyers. Lawyers may be otherwise engaged, but clients want to be assured that their matter is being dealt with. Having a paralegal step in and assure the client that their inquiry will be answered as soon as possible can prevent many client relations problems.

  • Clients want to know what’s happening with their matter. Even though the lawyer might be doing a great job, if the client doesn’t know that, there’s bound to be a problem – usually at fee-paying time. Paralegals can often handle the kind of communication that clients appreciate, by sending copies of documents, by writing, or making calls for updates. Clients kept informed at every step of their matter are happier clients. Happier clients pay their bills faster and refer other clients.

  • Clients should be able to connect directly with paralegals who may have an impact on their matter or who might be able to answer one of their questions. The client who walks away with an answer, even if not from the mouth of the attorney, is far more likely to be a satisfied client. That means that client service education training is a must for paralegals.

Direct Supervision of Paralegals is Important

In such activities, of course, lawyers must continue to exercise direct supervision of paralegals. But given that, paralegals in such roles can enhance client service and firm profitability.

Ed Poll is a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant, and author who has coached and consulted with lawyers and law firms in strategic planning, profitability analysis, and practice development for over twenty years. Ed has practiced law on all sides of the table and he now helps attorneys and law firms increase their profitability and peace of mind. He writes the LawBiz® Tips E-zine, where this post originally appeared on November 1, 2011.

Short Interruptions Lead to Long Delays—Avoid Them with Time Management Tricks

Do you have a second?  Can I steal you for a moment?  Ring!  It doesn’t take much to break someone’s concentration, and restoring it can take longer than the interruption itself.

Some interruptions are important and welcome.  Everyone needs an occasional mental break, and avoiding all office small talk is bad for morale and cohesiveness. A fire alarm, or metaphorical one, also needs to be heard.

Most interruptions however, could be more efficiently addressed with better management and clearer expectations.  Here are three time management tips for side-stepping distractions and minimizing their effect while being available for true emergencies:

Better communication

Doesn’t he know I’m too busy for this?

Maybe not.  Maybe your coworker doesn’t realize that your deadlines are looming, your clients are on your back, and your stressball has burst.

Clearly and accurately communicating your tight schedule to the rest of the office may head off distractions before they become a problem.  Carefully, tactfully, respectfully mention in the weekly meeting that you’ll only be available for small talk after hours for the next week (and that you might be sleeping at your desk during that time).

Don’t let your computer distract you

Turn off your desktop email alert.  That’s the notification in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen with the sender’s name and the subject line.  Five minutes reading an email, five minutes responding, and five minutes getting back to the same level of deep concentration add up to 15 minutes of inefficient time.  This can multiply quickly.

Don’t let text messages or personal email distract you either.  Completely avoiding personal tasks during the day isn’t realistic, especially as the hours get longer, but by setting aside a chunk of time for personal calls, it won’t interrupt your train of thought at an inopportune time.

Recognize an interruption and handle it with ease

When your coworker walks in with a useful question (or a less than useful anecdote), take these three time management steps:

  1. Mark your place. Before you forget, write a quick note to yourself about what you were doing.  Finding your way back to your peak of concentration is easier with a map;
  2. Decide if the interruption is an emergency, an opportunity for rapport-building, a good topic for some other time, or a waste of time;
  3. Decide to allow the distraction, ask if you can put it off, or tactfully end the conversation.

A gentle way to end the conversation is to stand up.  A less gentle way is to stare at your computer screen. The least gentle way is to pretend you have a cell phone call from the President.

If the pressure is especially intense or the work especially complex, close your door, put your phone on “Do Not Disturb,” and ask your coworkers to give you some space.  You may even want to arrange for flex time on a weekend.  Saturday morning can be the most productive time of the week.

Steven Nichols works with Mission Critical Systems, a Denver Training Company, offering classes in Time Management and Microsoft Office. He can be reached with questions at (303) 383-1627 x 1104. He contributes to the CBA’s SOLO in COLO blogwhere this post originally appeared on October 10, 2011.

Larry Port: Working Like A Computer

We can learn how to be more efficient from our silicon-based friends.

Let’s face it: those of us working are lucky to be employed in our apocalypse-teetering day and age.  But we’re asked to do more with less, and our attention is scattered in a million different directions.  We multitask, we communicate with people through Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, email, and who knows what else.  It’s increasingly difficult to focus, and performing all of our responsibilities at a level we’d like to is a tall order.

As a software engineer and productivity junkie, I can’t help but make comparisons to my evolved system of personal management and the way a computer works.  The irony is that many ideas in computer science, like memory, are analogies to human cognitive processes, which have been abstracted for so long they seem to be forgotten.

Organize Daily To-Dos The Way a Computer Uses RAM

We all know we’re supposed to look for a certain amount of RAM when we buy a computer, but a lot of people don’t know why.  When people talk about how much memory a machine has, they are referring to RAM, and it’s what the computer uses to operate.  RAM is an acronym for Random-Access Memory.

But RAM is not permanent memory like a hard drive:  it’s a temporary workspace.    When you launch a program, such as Word®, your computer loads it from the hard drive into RAM, and Word then uses as much memory as it can get a hold of to do what it needs to do.  If you’re composing a long document with a lot of pictures, Word will require more RAM than if you’re writing a one-page letter.  And when you shut off a computer, everything the system stored in RAM is cleared out.

My approach to my daily to-do list is analogous to the hard drive/RAM relationship.  The whole idea is to keep a global store of everything you’re tasked with and differentiate the global store from daily activities.  For example,  I capture everything I have to accomplish in an electronic management program, both short-term and long term, and across multiple projects.   I use Rocket Matter, but plenty of programs manage to-do lists, including Outlook, Mail.app, Remember The Milk, and others.

This global store of my data is like a hard drive.  It’s there every day when I “boot up” in the morning.  Then, every morning, I move some of these tasks into my own personal RAM: I write down everything I’m going to do that day on a fresh page in my notebook, and cross them off as I complete the list.  Organizing my to-do items globally and also on a daily basis is one of the most powerful productivity boosters I’ve experienced in the past year.  It allows me to prioritize my activities every day in the morning and not become overwhelmed by my heap of to-dos.

Reboot: Downtime is Critical For Clarity

When a computer reboots or shuts down, a lot happens system-wide, and as we discussed previously, all data stored in RAM is cleared out.  Computers are more stable now, but those who have worked with earlier versions of Windows remember the need to constantly reboot to clean out all the gunk.  Even today, occasional rebooting is required on our most stable operating systems.

Like a computer, you need to step away from the task at hand.  Rebooting is critical to your performance.  You need your sleep, you need your exercise, and you need your vacation days.

With careers, clients, and kids, it’s difficult to get enough of any of those things.  But when you forgo downtime, you’ll encounter a litany of problems, including decreased memory and ability to concentrate, increased stress, and an increase in your potential for injury.   And that’s leaving alone the obvious benefits of a healthy lifestyle.   Recent studies on sleep indicate that when adults get less than 7-8 hours of sleep a night, the ability to solve problems and recall details decreases.  So you have an excuse to sleep more:  you’ll be less liable to make a critical mistake.

Employ Algorithms to Standardize Processes

Computers execute programs, which are really just a series of commands that operate with data.  A sequence of instructions to solve a problem is called an algorithm, and guarantees that given the same inputs, the program will operate exactly the same way every time.

For example, consider a chess program.  The following algorithm would dictate the moving of a pawn:

  1. If an opposing piece sits in an adjacent, diagonal square, move to that square to capture the piece.
  2. Otherwise, if the space in front is open, move forward one space.

These are simple rules, and would have to be elaborated for opening moves, strategy, and en passant.  But that’s the idea.  The pawn has a very simple algorithm, or set of instructions, and never deviates.

Likewise, to the best of your abilities, you should identify steps for repeatable processes.  Your monthly invoicing, client intake, and hiring processes should be follow the specific instructions of an algorithm.  When you have standardized repeatable processes, you introduce fewer errors into your process, cut down the time needed for operations, and free yourself up for your core work:  providing legal services.

Larry Port is the Founding Partner and Chief Software Architect of Rocket Matter, the leading web-based legal practice management and time tracking product. A speaker and award-winning writer at the crossroads of the legal profession and cutting edge technology, Larry writes extensively for legal publications, including Legal Management, Law Technology News, Law Practice Today, ILTA’s Peer to Peer, Lawyerist, FindLaw, Chicago Lawyer, and others.Larry spoke about legal technology for solo attorneys at the Hanging Your Shingle program this August. The program is available as a homestudy in three formats: video on-demand, mp3 download, and audio CD recordings. The course materials are also available in hardy copy or as an electronic download.