Organizing a law office is a great way for paralegals, legal secretaries and legal assistants to support attorneys. In small law offices, attorneys may even have to organize themselves. Most law offices have a centralized filing system, and case files are checked out to attorneys only when needed for case work. Because attorneys spend their time meeting with clients, attending court proceedings, taking depositions and performing other case work, they depend on office organization to find paperwork when needed.
Each attorney in the law office needs a system for tracking information related to prospective cases. Jim Wirken, civil trial attorney and chairman of the board of the Wirken Law Group in Kansas City, recommends using a form called a Prospective New Matter Report. This standard form helps an attorney track a prospective client's information, keep notes about conversations regarding the matter and record time spent consulting on the matter. If a case file is opened later, an attorney or support person can use this form to create a paper file and a new file in a case management database system.
File organization is the key to organizing a law office. This process is important for organizing case files and for organizing accounting records. File organization also helps a law office curb client perceptions of malpractice and facilitate client retention. For paper files, a law office should develop a system for organizing each file folder. For example, in each section of a file, the same type of documents should be placed every time. In each section, documents might need colored tabs (with numbers or dates) to indicate where each document begins and ends. Papers should be filed in chronological order, either with the most recent document on top or in the back of each section.
A law firm can develop a file folder guide and provide it to all employees. New filing clerks may need training to understand the file guide. Attorneys and legal support staff should rely on the professional filing staff for most filing tasks.
Electronic Data Storage
An organization may also use a case management database system to track case and accounting information. Some database management systems include the ability to attach faxes, electronic documents and scanned documents to case files in the electronic database. Some database systems are especially useful for non-routine tasks, such as checking if an attorney has a conflict of interest in representing a client (which could lead to an ethical violation).
Employees and attorneys should receive training in how to use this database management system to electronically store information. A law office may wish to limit profiles of users who can insert or delete records to prevent losing important client information.