In this day and age, it has become virtually impossible to keep our personal and professional lives organized without our electronic calendars and to-do lists to remind us where to be, what to do, and who to see. The economic downturn forced many law firms to scale down, while asking each staff member to take on an increased workload. Using our calendars, reminders, and tasks more efficiently means that we can relax a little knowing that nothing will be missed.
Microsoft Outlook allows you to build a color-coded category system to be utilized across your email, tasks, and calendar entries. Create a category system that delineates between events (staff absences, networking events, and meetings), deadlines (filing deadlines, SOL deadlines, hearings), and personal appointments. Instead of using flags in all shades of red to classify urgency, add “timing” categories to the list. Instead of using phrases like “Very Important,” “Important,” or “Not Important,” think about categories sequentially, such as “Today,” “This Week,” “This Month,” and “Sometime.” This will give your To-Do classifications a more time-oriented focus. Feel free to use more than one category per email, task, or calendar entry.
(This is an example of an email with two classification codes.)
Using the same system across all platforms means better organization, easier support staff assistance, and that the firm is kept aware of your schedule.
Microsoft Outlook has significant organizational capabilities that most lawyers do not fully utilize. One Outlook calendaring function that can help with organization is “rules.” You can set rules to automatically send reminders of important deadlines. Additionally, if a lawyer primarily uses the Outlook features of calendaring and tasks, they should include enumerated tasks and add a corresponding form to the calendar entry.
This will eliminate questions of what needs to be done, when, and with what form. Sharing your calendar entries (“inviting”) with your designated support staff is also an excellent idea to make sure that everyone on your team knows what is coming up next on your docket, with regard to travel, and so on.
If you have not created a firm calendar, implementing one is a great way to keep the entire firm aware of items like a trial calendar, staff absences, conference room bookings, and more. Establish a firm-wide color-coding system to clearly label appointments, statutes of limitation deadlines, filing deadlines, and so forth. Keeping a master calendar where an entire firm can see the high points of its practice allows the lawyers to focus their attention on practicing law, meeting with clients, or networking.
Instead of having a piece of paper on a desk, a note stuck to a monitor, randomly flagged emails in an inbox, or an assistant keeping a manual, handwritten task list, a lawyer can track important upcoming tasks using the Outlook Tasks and To-Do Bar.
Use the same color-coding system to indicate the nature of the “to-do” (i.e. deadline, client meeting, networking, personal, etc.) as you do within your calendar color-coding. You will then have a clear overview of the day, week, or month ahead. An additional benefit to using a universal color-coding system is that at a glance anyone can see if each lawyer is meeting potential networking goals. Does this attorney have a certain number of lunches scheduled? Is this lawyer attending the correct number of meetings and events?
Staying organized and consistent across Microsoft Outlook email, tasks, and calendar will alleviate frustration and miscommunication between an attorney, an assistant, and a firm. It will also allow attorneys to focus on what they do best – practicing law.
CONTACT THE LAW FIRM WORKFLOW EFFICIENCY CONSULTANTS OF STACEY E. BURKE, P.C.
If law firm technology and efficiency overwhelm you, or you simply want to focus on your caseload instead of your infrastructure, you can contact Stacey E. Burke, P.C. We specialize in maximizing law firm productivity through streamlining technology and internal processes. Give us a call, and we can help you.