Paralegals – How to Organize a File


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Being organized is one of the things paralegals are called upon to do well.  We have to be able to find all things at a moment’s notice.  So to have a place for everything and everything in it’s place is a must for all of us.  In the  February Newsletter  I am starting a “Being and Staying Organized” series so make sure you sign up for more tips and tricks.

Most offices where you will be working or are currently working, have file cabinets labeled from A – Z along a wall in the hallway or sometimes inside a file room.  I even worked in an office where each paralegal kept a file cabinet in his/her own office with the files they handled.  The file cabinets are filled to the brim with large files which are also known as red wells,  in alphabetical order, by client name.  This is usually consistent across the industry and good thing too, because it makes it easy for everyone to know how to find the files and most of the time, unless the filing gets backed up, how to find the documents needed within a particular file.

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A red well is a large cardboard folder/pocket where you keep all the STUFF that goes along with a particular subject matter.  Think of a folder that you carry with you in school where you store all the syllabus and documents you receive from the professor.  When you open up a red well, you should be able to quickly find all the paper which relates to the subject matter you’re working on…. In the case of a paralegal in a law firm the red well should contain all the documents relating to a particular client.  Making sure these “pockets” the red wells stay organized and up to date is your job in most law firms.  A great way to ensure you are not going to get a call on your day off when your attorney or the paralegal taking over for you while you’re on vacation need to find something is to keep these files up to date and organized.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are things that never change from file to file.  Meaning that no matter where you’re working or what type of law you practice, there are things that you will always be able to find in a file.  However, there are nuances about filing systems that each law firm will have and to which you will have to adapt but those will be, or at least should be, part of your on-boarding and therefore nothing for you to have to worry about right now.

A typical file will have the following contents:

1. Correspondence folder
2. Notes folder
3. Memos folder

Then, depending on the type of law you practice, there will be other folders with which you will have to be familiar.    For example if you practice litigation you will need a pleadings folder, a motions folder.  Personally I like to have a folder for each motion – I will explain this in detail during my upcoming Paralegal Master Class  in a few short months.  For now feel free to subscribe to the Newsletter and I’ll make sure you get all the updates regarding the newsletter and my upcoming Paralegal Master Class.

Let’s put aside the type of law you practice and let’s instead look at the typical file, which is half the battle.

Correspondence Folder

I like to keep this file in chronological order starting at the bottom.  Eventually, you will probably have more than one correspondence folder so I like to number them “Correspondence 1 (date from – date to)” and then start a “Correspondence 2 (also with the dates).”  This helps me make sure that when I’m looking for something within a particular date range, I don’t have to pull all the files out of the red wells.  I can go to the one that I’m looking for and search in there.  Also, the reason I like to keep the oldest correspondence at the bottom is because more often than not the stuff you will be looking for is not going to be super old so it’s just easier to flip through less pages.

So what do I consider correspondence?  Anything that is a communication from one party to another.  Not sure letters from the client to you or from the experts or the court.  I consider anything that communicates one party’s actions to another party to be communication.  See my February Newsletter for reasons further tips.

The Notes Folder

This folder is pretty self explanatory.  Here you should keep anything that relates to any notes you take.  Who knows, you may be reviewing a report from an expert and find something that you think may lead you to something you want to add to an interrogatory question. Write it down and put it in the notes folder.  Make sure you add the date on the note and, again, file everything in chronological order.  Maybe even put a little tab sticking out so you can be reminded when drafting your interrogatories.

Did you just sit down with the lawyer to talk through some ideas and strategies about this particular file?  Make sure that once you get back to your desk you take out your notes and clean them up and insert them in the notes file, again with the date so you can be reminded.  I also use these notes to create my to-do lists on the various files.

Did you just get a call from an expert or from a witness and wrote down some notes?  Make sure you insert the date and put in the notes file…. You get the idea….. Any time you create a note, make sure you add the date and put it in the notes file.

See my February Newsletter for more information and tips on Notes Files

Memos Folder

Sometimes things that we do generate memos. For example, if you attend a deposition with the lawyer you will probably be asked to summarize your thoughts and what happened in the deposition so that the lawyer can get a view from a different perspective.  Most of the time that’s why paralegals attend depositions.  As someone who does not have to be asking the questions, the paralegal is able to see things that lawyers may not see because they are busy asking the questions and trying to follow up with another question.

Anything with write up for your lawyer’s review about the case you should date and include in the memo’s section.

When I drafted a summary of a medical record I would print out two copies and one copy would go into my memos folder and the other into a folder for that particular medical provider.

See my February Newsletter for more information and tips on the Memos file.

 

Paralegal Basics – How to Organize a File


 

Cartoon from www.channel4Learning.com
Cartoon from http://www.channel4Learning.com

 

Files seem to take on a life of their own and the problem is that most of them are not happy creatures.  Left to their own devices files can grow into these incredible monsters.  Trouble is that with so many other things creeping up on us every second of the day the time we have to dedicate to these monsters is very short.  The file monster is not very forgiving either.  It totally demands your attention, at least a few hours a week.

More often than not we can find new paralegals sitting on the floor of their office (or the paralegal area) totally bewildered looking down at a bunch of papers not knowing which end is up.  How could this file have gotten like this?  Good question.  The attorney must have gotten to it.  But he only had it for a couple of hours……. Yeah, it usually only takes them a few minutes.  Especially if they are looking for something in a hurry, on the way to court or on a call with a client….. it doesn’t take much to get a file looking like it’s been through a hurricane.

Usually what I do is sit down on the floor with them and encourage them to cry if they have to.  It’s ok….. I’ve cried too.  Heck sometimes I still do!!!!!!! All those non-billable hours spent organizing a file to find it back at my desk looking like that?  Anyway….. it wasn’t done on purpose.  Filing and organization is not one of the classes in law school.  That’s why they hired you.  You got this.

First things first:  Let’s separate the papers into piles that make sense.  A legal file is made up of a few subsections:

1.  Correspondence – you know what that looks like right?  usually has a date up at the top with the name and address of the lawyer or sender way at the top of the page.  Don’t worry about the dates for now.  That’s not important, not at this stage.

2.  Pleadings – This can be confusing for a new paralegal.  Sometimes discovery can look like a pleading so the way I explain the difference to new paralegals as well as the way I learn it  and keep it straight is by knowing that all pleadings get filed with the court.  So, if it has a court stamp at the top or if it’s something that was sent to the court clerk for filing you can bet it’s a pleading.  That goes into a second pile.  Make sure you have all the pages.  Usually the last page is the signature page and all pages are numbered.  Easy enough right?

3.  Motions – This is one is a tricky one.  Some law firms file the motions along with the pleadings.  After all, they are filed with the court.  I don’t necessarily disagree with that.  By doing it this way your pleading file will tell a story.  Making it easier to figure out why a pleading has been filed with a court.  However, I like to keep motions separate from the rest of the pleadings.  My reason for that is that usually he attorney will need to pull motions out of the file or respond to a motion and he/she doesn’t necessarily need the whole pleading file.  Also, sometimes the attorney needs to go to court to argue a motion.  There is no need to have the complaint and the answer (it’s only going to cause the same chaos you are now facing if the attorney has to pull papers out of a file for one little motion).  So for me, keeping it separate is key.  If necessary I can make copies of the motions, mark them duplicate and note where to find the originals.  Then I put a copy in with the pleadings and the original in a motion folder….. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

4.  Discovery – This is going to be all the other things that look like a pleading but don’t get filed with the court.  These are answers to interrogatories, responses to document requests.  The funny thing is that sometimes some of these may look like correspondence.  So you will have to read the first and second paragraphs of the letters to make sure it’s not a letter supplementing answers to interrogatories.

5.  Misc.  – Depending on what type of file these could be anything so you will have to label the folder accordingly.  If it’s a personal injury file this is probably going to be your medical records, your accident report, the retainer agreement (very important that you find this one) and all other papers that do not fall nicely into any of the above four categories.

Ok, you see, not so bad.  Now you have a more organized chaos on your floor and a little bit more room to move around.  So we can move to a different area to dry our tears.

Next you are going to one pile at a time.  Let’s say you picked the correspondence file.  I usually pick this one because it’s usually the largest pile and because after reading the correspondence I’ll more of less know what should be in the other piles.  I will also know the story of the file a little bit better.  So go ahead, read on.  It can be fun.  I have found some really funny letters written by the clients or the adversaries and it always makes for some good humor while doing a really boring job.  While you are reading this file make sure you put it chronological order.  At this point, if it’s a very old file, I start making piles with the correspondence.  I separate it by year.  Make sure you start with the oldest correspondence.  Work your way to the present.  Now the correspondence is done.  Have you noticed?  There aren’t that many more papers.  All the other stuff is just bulky but usually not as much as the correspondence.

By doing the largest pile you will feel more accomplished and you will feel like you can conquer any other task thrown at you.  Be ready, other tasks will be thrown at you….. Just a thought.

Now pick up the pleadings.  You also want to make sure you file these in chronological order.  Most firms file pleadings in pronged folders.  If this is the way your firm operates then go ahead.  They are less expensive than three ring binders so usually that why they do it that way.  I like the three ring binder because if I have to get a pleading out of the file I don’t have to get all the other pleadings out.  Anyway, in this case you have to go with what you’re given.  Wait… Don’t put them in yet.  At this point, punch holes in the the papers and organize them.  Next sit at your computer and let’s start the pleading board.

For those of you who don’t know what a pleading board is….. it’s not a scientific term.  Yeah, I know, lawyers like to speak in their own language.  I find it interesting.  A pleading board is a table of contents.  Begin by entering the name of the first pleading and with number tabs separate each of them.  So your pleading board will look something like this:

1.  Complaint ………………………………………… January 1, 2014

2.  Answer to Complaint ………………………….. March 15, 2014

So on and so on and so on….. continue until you’ve listed all the pleadings.  This always gives me such satisfaction.  By the time you’re all done it will look so pretty and the file starts to take shape.  It’s starting to look more like a legal file and not so much like a crazy pile of papers and you are taming the monster.

Once you are done with the pleadings move on to the motions.  For me, each motion resides in it’s special folder.  I worked at a law firm where the motions had a special color folder….. actually all documents had special color folders.  I liked that very much.  It made it easy to find the documents you were looking for.  However, if that’s not what you have then a regular manila folder is fine. Just make sure you label each folder appropriately and include the date the motion was filed with the court.  All corresponding documents go into that file.  So when you pick up the motion file you have the entire history of that motion.

Same thing goes for discovery.  The only difference is that discovery (answers to interrogatories, responses to document productions) will have to be broken apart.  Reason?  Well, answers to interrogatories and responses to production of documents come with large documents.  If this is a personal injury file you will have medical records and these are very bulky at times.  So what I do is keep the responses neatly in the folder and then right behind those I put in files for each of the records received with the responses.  So I will have hospital records, doctors’ notes and records, auto accident…. etc.

The last thing you have left on your floor will be the misc. stuff.  These can be anything.  There will be attorney’s notes, which I suggest you keep in a separate file.  Attorneys sometimes take notes on post-it notes, napkins anything they can get their hands on when they’re on the phone or speaking to a client on the way out of the court house.  make sure you put all these in the folder. I normally make a copy of the post notes so they are the same size as the other papers in the file.  It ensures that these little papers are not going to get lost and the file looks neater.

You will have deposition transcripts and these although not necessarily misc. stuff need their own folders.  Most of the time there will be a manuscript and a regular transcript.  I keep both together with my summary.

There you are.  In a few hours we have organized a file.  Don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer than a few hours.  My suggestion is that you do it when it’s a quiet in the office and you have a few straight hours to do it.  Remember most of it is going to be non billable time so make sure you can afford to do that.  It needs to get done so you will have to find the time to do it.  Maybe it can be done over the course of a few days.  This way you are not losing that much time on your billable hours.  Also remember some of it can probably be billed.

1.  Are you reviewing the medical records as you go along?  If you do, remember to bill for review and analyze medical records pertaining to …..

2.  Are you going to respond to document productions? or Interrogatories?  Then bill time for the review of documents (name the documents) to assist in the preparation of responses to…..

Most of all, have fun.  Organizing a file is a boring job but you can make it fun.  See if you can tell a story.  See if you find something no one else has found.  I would always compete with some other paralegals when working on large files to see who could come up with the best story or the better angle.

Being a paralegal can be and is fun if you take pride in what you do.  I have been doing it for 20 years and I still think it’s one of the best career choices I ever made.

Let me know how you do and if you have questions, please feel free reach to to me.  I’d love to hear from you.

XoXo

Ana

What to Wear to the Office – Enter the Pencil Skirt


Ok, this is a bit of wishful thinking but this, at least for this paralegal, is just an illustration on how the pencil skirt does not have to be a boring piece in your closet.

When I can’t figure out what to wear I always go with a pencil skirt.  Just keep in mind that there are many styles and lengths but for the office only the one that hits just at your knees or just above your knees is appropriate, at least in my opinion.

I tend to wear lots of black but in the Spring and Summer I feel the need to add some color to my office wear.  When I’m feeling a little more daring I would pair this skirt up with a yellow blouse.  When I don’t feel so daring, or when the occasion called for a more conservative outfit, a while silk blouse would look amazing when paired with a nice simple pair of pumps and maybe a yellow purse just to give the outfit a little bit more interest.

So, because we are paralegals and we all know that the price of this skirt is somewhat beyond our reach (at least for now, one can dream right?).  I have decided to go on the hunt for something similar that we can all wear to the office and make a statement.

This 5th & Mercer Pencil Skirt is bright and it comes in both this nice pink and a bright yellow.  If you pair it a white blouse you have an amazing outfit for the office.  If a pattern is what you are looking for, this one by Zero Maria Cornejo is another alternative.  A bit more pricey but we can all wait for a sale.  The good thing about pencil skirts is that they never go out of style. I still have some that I’ve had for 6 or 7 years.

If you are a paralegal just starting out and your budget doesn’t yet allow you to splurge on yourself as it will, I promise in a year or so…. I found this great Ellen Tracy pencil skirt that will make you look like you spent a million bucks.  It comes in a myriad of colors, all appropriate for the office.

Wearing office appropriate clothing does not have to be boring.  You can add color, an interesting scarf or a nice colorful cardigan (remember the office is going to be cold in the Summer…. a cardigan may not be a bad idea).

Hope this helps.

XoXo

Ana

RedactIt Software


Last month I received an email from, Jessica, a representative of Burk & Company LLC, asking me if I would do a review of a software application called RedactIt.  At the time I was getting ready to go on vacation so I asked that she contact me after vacation and I would look into it.  As promised, Jessica emailed me when I got back and we scheduled a meeting with a representative of RedactIt.  The meeting took place over another application called GoToMeeting, and because I work a full-time job and cannot be available during the day while I’m at work (I don’t think the boss would appreciate it) we scheduled it for Good Friday.  I know, I know, not very christian of me.  But one’s gotta do what one’s gotta do.

I want to thank all that were present at the meeting for taking the time on a holiday weekend to walk me through the application, which I have to say; looks amazing.

For about one hour I was able to see and experience a small sample of what the software is capable of and came away not regretting my decision to agree to do the review.  So why have I not done a review yet?  I still have not had the time to download the application onto my computer.  I am hoping to do that this weekend and then test it for 15 days.  Jessica did mention that if I needed more time I could just call and they would allow me more time on my trial period.  I intend on taking full advantage of the application and provide you with a thorough review of it. Just give me a few weeks.

My initial thoughts?  Well, during the meeting I was advised that the software is not Mac compatible and although I can download Parallels on my Mac, I do not want to go that route.  In this house we are Mac people and the only PC I currently own is a notepad that I absolutely hate.  I stressed that this is a very important upgrade for me and if it is important to me, some of my readers may feel the same way.  Despite this Mac compatibility problem my first impression of the application is good and I am looking forward to testing it on my own.

So, what’s been going on?


It feels like forever since I’ve been here.  There has been so much going on which should not be an excuse but…. since this is my blog I’ll make it an excuse just so I can feel better about not being here :).

I want to thank all of you who have stuck around waiting for the next post and I promise that this time it will be coming very shortly.  I’m working on doing some software reviews and will be doing some reviews of Apps on the iPad.  I may even review some fun apps just because I can.

Seriously, though.  I have been really busy at the office and even though I probably could have found the time to post here, I have to admit that I am so tired by the time I get home that I am not able to think of anything to talk to you about.  We have had a few paralegals leave to pursue other opportunities and for a while there we were trying to hire as well as keep up with the influx of work.  It looks like we’re ok now and my head is finally above water.

It has been a really busy couple of months in the financial industry.  1) a lot of the laws that were passed due to the financial “fiasco” have come to fruition this year, so we are being bombarded with regulations and audits; 2) Because the economy is bound to get better (keeping my fingers crossed) we are positioning ourselves to take advantage of the upturn as soon as it happens and this leads me to why the past 4 months have been feeling like I was run over by a Mac Truck.

An opportunity presented itself for me to take on a new type of work.  Currently, along with being the paralegal supervisor and the lead paralegal on all regulatory matters I have also developed a new role as a corporate and foreign registration compliance paralegal.  The position never existed at the firm and I have been lucky enough to make it into what I want.  Although I’m having a really good time with it and learning a lot, I am exhausted by the time I get home.  There are a lot of things to learn and plans to put into practice.  I am hoping to be able to write a couple of posts about it but still don’t know exactly how to do that.

Anyway, I just really wanted to say hello to all of you and thank you for sticking around.  Please feel free to come by and kick my tired butt so I get on here, Facebook and Twitter more often.  After all, I really do enjoy talking to you all and should make the time to do it.

For now, I’m going to have some dinner and I will try to work on a post for next time.

Ana

The iPad2 and The Smart-Cover


Much has been said about this Smart-Cover for the iPad2. I will review it in depth, shortly. However, I feel compelled to give you my immediate thoughts now.

Picture from "themacspace.com"

Two weeks ago I decided that I “needed” an iPad 2. I don’t think there will be much more the iPad 3 will be able to do that I can’t do with the ipad2 so, before my first generation iPad is worth nothing I thought I’d get myself a second generation. Besides, the Smart-Cover is so cool. I got the pink (“girly”). Now working is fun and ohhh so sexy ;).

Anyway, the cover is great. The magnets work very well. Although I have to remember to store it in my purse facing down otherwise if the cover slides backwards the iPad turns itself on and wastes battery. That’s an annoyance, although not my biggest gripe. The biggest gripe I have is the fact that it does not seem to want to stay at an angle when I want to type on my lap. Yes, it’s true that you can fold it and turn it into a convenient typing angle, if you’re at a table. If it’s on your lap, as I often am when typing on the iPad, it slides all over the place. I find myself using my thumb to holding the iPad in place. I place my left thumb at the bottom of the ipad and type with only two or three fingers, ok, four fingers (both index fingers and both middle fingers). Takes some getting used to and it’s not very comfortable. I have small hands and the reach is not all that comfortable for the left hand.

These are the only two issues I have found with the smart cover. It’s difficult for me to EVER find anything wrong with Apple. I love their products and, I guess you can say, I’m addicted to anything Jobs and now Cook. However, I am hoping they come out with a new and improved cover that works for the ipad2.

Have you bought an iPad2? If so, what do you think of the Smart-cover?

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of the ipad2 as well as how my workflow has changed in the past year since I became an iPad addict.

“All Roads Lead to Rome”


This to say that there are many routes to get to where you want to be.  I get asked, many times, how I became a paralegal.  My professional ascension to the paralegal halls was not much different from those paralegals that have been in the profession for as long as I have.

While in college I thought I wanted to go to law school, however, all I knew about the law was from watching legal shows on television.  It all looked so glamorous.  They all had great cases and were all stars in court.  They all knew exactly what to say and always wore the nicest clothes.  Was that what I was wanting to be or did I really want to be a lawyer?  I decided that in order to better understand what a lawyer does I would have to spend time with lawyers.  I was determined to find a job in a law firm and give myself some time to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up.  I’m still waiting for the grow up part, but at least now I know that I am doing is exactly what I always wanted to do…. but I digress.

Growing up I lived in an area with a large population of Portuguese immigrants.  I can speak the language and I could translate, I thought.  I just needed to get my foot in the door.  I lived with my parents and they were going to pay for some of my college and the rest would be loans so I would not need that much money from a job.  Yeah, I was one of the lucky ones.

I searched the papers for any job postings in the area law offices.  There were some but most of them required experience.  As I said, unless they were looking for experience watching law shows, I was not going to qualify.  However, I have always believed that the only limitations are those you impose on yourself and I was determined to find something, therefore, I couldn’t let anything stop me.  I called one of the telephone numbers that was advertising for a legal secretary.  The advertisement called for someone with one or two years experience as a legal secretary and fluent knowledge of Portuguese.  Hmmm… I thought.  I have one of those.  So one out of two is not bad.  I made an appointment with the hiring partner.  It was a small firm, there was no Human Resources Department.  I interviewed with the attorney for whom I would be working.

After a few minutes of speaking with the attorney and explaining to him that I had never had a job in a law office or been a secretary.  Heck… the only thing I knew about typing was the one course I took in high school on how to type.  I could type a college paper but I had never taken dictation.  Yeah, in those days secretaries took dictation.  I started to realize that I was not going to get the job unless I was able to give him something he was not able to say no to.  So I explained to him that I was very fluent in Portuguese, I had just came from Portugal a few years prior and I would do all of his translations.  Although I could not, at that time, take dictation, I was willing to learn and I was a fast learner and I would work for him for free for three months in any position he chose.  If at the end of the three months I was not working out he could fire me, no questions asked.  He smiled.  He thought about it and right there and then he decided that he would give me a job.  He told me later that the reason he did that was that no one had ever been that eager to get a job and he thought that someone with that much “guts” would be a good worker.

I started out being a file clerk. I learned to tell the difference between a pleading that needed to be filed in the pleading board and interrogatories that needed to go into a discovery folder.  I learned how to type a request for medical records and what types of paperwork needed to be filed with a motion.  I read as much as I could while I filed all the millions of paper that are produced in a law office.  I asked questions when I couldn’t figure things out on my own and I made it a point to learn from everyone in the firm.  I even learned how each lawyer liked his coffee (there were only three lawyers).  I stayed late and started early and I made myself available when there was a need for witnesses for wills or other documents.

After the three months were up, the lawyer called me into a meeting with the other two partners and offered me the secretary position.  This is how I started.  I still had a lot to prove but I had a good foundation at this time.  Had this not worked out, I would have at least had the foundation and been able to get a job somewhere else and claim to at least have some knowledge and … If you think about it, my goal was reached.  If you recall when I decided to get the job I was only trying to find out if I wanted to go to law school.  I wanted to see what it would be like to be a lawyer.  After three months I had spent enough time with lawyers to at least have an idea if I wanted to attempt law school.

So that was my first job.  From that first job I’ve worked in other firms.  I was a legal secretary for very large law offices as well small law firms and sometime after I learned about paralegals.  I set my goals on becoming one.  I was always good at finding opportunities and when they arose I was never shy about taking them.  There is nothing like taking the bull by the horns.  Decide what you want to do and do it.

It has taken me close to seventeen years to get to where I am and along the way I decided that law school was not for me.  Ohhh I applied, was accepted, deferred my acceptance and ultimately decided that being a paralegal was exactly what I wanted to be.

Do you need to go to paralegal school?  For me it was not necessary.  I came into the profession at a totally different time.  The competition was not as steep as it is today.  Most lawyers didn’t know what a paralegal was or how to assign work to a paralegal.  Most of time the secretary would do all the work done by a paralegal today.  There were enough hours in a day for a secretary to accomplish both tasks.

Today I am a paralegal supervisor for a very large bank in New York.  I supervise a small paralegal department and looking towards my next goal.  I’ll keep this one to myself for now until I can figure out how to go about it.  It’s in the works.  Stay tuned.

So…, why does it always seem like I have such a long winded ways of saying things?  Anyway, there are many ways of becoming a paralegal.  Today, there are other opportunities you can take.  There are many schools that offer paralegal programs as well as internships.  Take every opportunity placed in front of you.  Keep your eye on your long term goal and go for it.  Don’t discount anything just because it does not fit into your immediate plan and have fun.