Getting on the Same Page: Creating Consistency

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.

7 thoughts on “Getting on the Same Page: Creating Consistency

  1. Stacey

    We are going through some big transitions in the way our files are kept and managed. The younger staff embrace and learn way more quickly. Hard to motivate older staff to change away from what works for them even with open dialogue. Only thing that seems to work is bosses telling them they have to. Wish we could do more of a team approach. Suggestions?

    1. haleymac Post author

      I’ve been exactly where you are with this, and sometimes the only thing you can do is demand they do things a certain way. If you have some time before “the big transition,” maybe taking baby steps would be a way to go. Start doing something simple first like file-naming. Or just get them to simply scan everything in (it’s amazing how many people just hate the act of scanning).

      In the past, I might have been harsh and said something like “you can either help with the process or fight the process, but either way you’re going to be the process.” I don’t know that I would recommend saying that now. :)

  2. Practical Paralegalism

    Well said, Haley. I’ve experienced the same thing over the years as technology has changed in law firms where I’ve worked – and some have been more receptive than others. Even finding a consistent file-naming system that everyone in the firm will use can be a challenge, but it’s one that everyone needs to rise to in order to find documents in directories used by other co-workers.

    We’re getting ready to take the next big step to paperless here, with new, high-powered scanners coming. It’ll be an adventure, but we’ve laid the groundwork for a while, so hopefully it will be a welcome and not unexpected one :)

    1. haleymac Post author

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      You’re going to love being paperless! Laying groundwork for a big transition is always better than steamrolling, but sometimes you just have to do it. :)

  3. Stacey

    I wish we could go paperless. We scan but then maintain HUGE paper files that take up entire offices and storage units. Don’t get me started haha. The naming is not uniform and the file folders on the server are not uniform. Problem is that the partners don’t designate one person to be in charge of telling everyone how they have to do it so everyone just does their own thing, leading to disaster if someone ever dies or leaves. I am working with the partners on creating a more seamless, transparent system overall including with accounting. We are using Needles now and it has really helped a lot. We need document management software as well. Is there some you can recommend?

    1. haleymac Post author

      I’ve heard good things about Worldox. I’m really hoping for a web based system soon… probably a pipe dream, but I’ll keep dreaming.


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