Everyone has their own style of working. Some attorney/paralegal partnerships are better than most marriages, and some are worse than exploratory oral surgery. Why? Because we all have a certain way of doing things. Sometimes you mesh, sometimes you clash.
The problem with everyone doing their own thing inside a law firm is lack of consistency. For example, if I step into a case that I haven’t worked on ever before, I should be able to find things. If someone grabs any of my case files (or looks at them in the system, really), they should be able to find anything and everything they need. Sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. Let me illustrate:
Jane has 25 years of experience as a paralegal. She’s been with her attorney for over 10 years. They have “a system.” This system involves paper. Lots of paper. Everything is filed with a pretty label, and she can find anything. However, she hates scanning documents, and deplores looking for documents in the document management system. Usually, this is fine, because no one else works on her cases. She’s autonomous.
Enter Liz. Liz is a relatively young paralegal. Her files are immaculate. Why, you ask? Because there’s hardly anything in them. She keeps everything in the document management system. She shreds paper like it’s going out of style (which it is, by the way).
Now imagine Liz and Jane having to switch places for even a week. Productivity would plummet. Frustrations would run high. Little would get done.
Creating a Policy Creates Consistency
I’ve been in this scenario before, and I’m sure you have, too (attorney or paralegal, it doesn’t matter). If you work in a large firm, a policy has probably already been put in place. If you work in a small to midsize firm, you might still be working through the process of creating a policy or simply have no policy at all.
Back to the example, Jane and Liz probably would never meet eye-to-eye on a policy for document management. What should they do to ensure that everyone is happy?
Poll the attorneys. Do they care about going paperless one day? Do they have a goal? Do they care? How do they want to see documents?
Next, gather the troops. Bring the paralegals/legal secretaries/staff together and discuss the attorney expectations. If they all want to go paperless, Jane is going to need to suck it up. If they want paper always, Liz is going to need to learn to run a copy machine.
Asking for input from the people who will actually be implementing the system is the only way to go. Simply mandating a system probably won’t work. Why? Because paralegals/legal secretaries/staff are the ones that use it the most. Believe me, there are things you would never think of being issues because you never have to deal with them. Like I’ve said before, hopefully, you hired your paralegal for her killer skills, let her use them.
Teach the Goal
People are more apt to do what you want them to do when you explain to them why you want them to do it. Open up the dialogue between attorneys, paralegals, and staff. When you all know where you’re heading and discuss how you’re going to get there, everyone is more likely to be on board.
Explaining to Jane why she needs to learn to use the scanner or why Liz needs to learn to use the copy machine can make all the difference.
Allow for Idiosyncrasies
As long as people are following policy, give them the freedom to also do what they feel they need to do. Let Jane her keep her paper files as long as she’s also adhering to the document management policy. If that’s how she’s comfortable paralegaling (I’m making that a word), so be it. It’s not hurting anybody (although, it will probably be cost inefficient, but that’s a different article).
Our styles of working are what make us valuable, and creating a protocol for document management shouldn’t harm that style, only make it more consistent. And when we are consistent, the firm becomes more fluid and efficient.