Attorneys and legal staff devote time and effort to organizing their email inboxes, but how often is paper mail organized? The paper that stacks up on your desk is just as distracting as having 1,000 emails in your digital inbox. Your desktop mail inbox pile likely contains a number of extremely important items.
Law firms can implement the following procedure to help their personnel overcome the paper:
1. Scan, scan, scan
From the moment the postman drops off the mail, the first step in your office protocol should be to scan these inbound items. If your law firm has a dedicated mailroom worker, the mail should be routed directly to them. All mail should be date-stamped and scanned in with the envelope attached. Once the items are date-stamped and scanned, the second step should involve an email containing the scanned attachment (or a hyperlink to their location) to the recipient, the legal team surrounding the matter, and/or the appropriate staff. Step three involves the electronic and paper filing of the original item.
Several services on the market provide scanning technology that allows for scanned documents to be directly sent to all legal team members. This ensures consistency and accountability for viewing the mail. With this system, designate a team member to digitally file all scanned documents as well as filing the original, hard copy.
Paper mail cannot be reviewed every single day, especially if the lawyers are traveling or litigating. A workable solution involves an accordion folder system. The folders should be classified as Monday through Friday and “weekend.” If the folders are not accordion style, it is best if they can be different colors. Each day’s mail is time and date stamped, put in that day’s folder, which becomes a replacement for the attorney’s physical inbox. This keeps mail in order of receipt and helps keep the review of paper mail manageable. Use of different colored folders also gives a clear visual on how far behind an attorney is on their mail review.
An alternate way to use folders to help manage physical mail is to create an importance scale. Red for emergency, orange for same day review, yellow for weekly review, and blue for monthly review. Organizing mail in this fashion means that urgent mail is always seen first. The downside of utilizing this system is that communication between attorney and staff must be clear on what is important and what is not.
Many law firms are already paperless or are moving toward paperless offices. If this is the case in your firm, take the mail folder system digital. Use Microsoft Outlook’s “categories” in lieu of a physical folder. Establish the categories in the same manner as the physical folders: 1) a different color for each day of the week or 2) a different color per importance level.
Legal assistants and attorneys must create a follow-up system to ensure mail is catalogued and responded to in a timely manner. Once an item is date-stamped, scanned, and filed, don’t let it collect dust. An attorney’s paralegal or legal assistant is responsible for immediately calendaring any deadline contained in the mail item. Acceptance of the calendar entry by the attorney indicates that mail has been read. If an attorney decides that a folder system is for them, a “read by” stamp proves the attorney read the mail, which can now be filed in the physical case file..
There are many ways to organize your law firm’s paper mail, but consistency is the key to keeping important information and deadlines from falling through the cracks. Do not create a system that is too burdensome, but ensure that a safety net is instituted to keep you and your legal staff on top of the paper.
Contact Me at Stacey E. Burke, P.C.
If law firm technology and efficiency overwhelm you, or you simply want to focus on your caseload instead of the business efficiency side of your law firm, you can contact Stacey E. Burke, P.C. We specialize in maximizing law firm productivity through streamlining technology and internal processes.