top of page

GOODWork: Staying Organized

Aside from a few office stints here and there, odds are that most of us have likely never been in a formal corporate work environment before.

We waltz in on the first day, are shown our fancy spacious offices, and get overcome with excitement. We take pictures, send them to our parents, and really start feeling like "we've made it!"

Then training ends, the work starts flowing, and suddenly we realize, we haven't "made it" - this isn't the finish line, it's the starting line.

As I near the completion of my second summer, I finally feel as though I have a good grasp on a critical success factor: organization. Trust me, it can soon become overwhelming, lawyers will call or email asking you to complete a whole spectrum of tasks, and if you don't stay organized, things will start to slip through the cracks, and the last thing anyone wants is the dreaded "how far along have you gotten?" follow-up phone call when you've completely forgotten you had to do that thing at all.

Here are some best practices I've found have helped me stay on top of things. Keep in mind, what works for one person, might not work for the next. One of my mentors has a spotless artsy office, while the other's looks like an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive, and both are excellent lawyers.

1. Use a Notebook

During orientation, everyone and anyone that comes to teach you anything hands you some merch, and often this involves a notebook. By the time you start actually working you likely will have more notebooks than you do pens (more on this later!). Use them. Every time I get a call, or go to a lawyers office, I bring my notebook. I've almost exhausted its pages, but what's nice is that since everything is in one place, if I ever need to recall something, I just flip backwards.

In my first summer I used a notepad, but I would constantly be ripping off pages, and eventually throwing them out. This meant that if I ever threw out something I hadn't meant to, it was gone forever (literally, everything you recycle is shredded on site...). Summer 2017 has been all about the #notebooklife and I've never looked back.

2. To-Do Lists!

Kind of piggy-backing off the notebook tip, to-do lists are an absolute must. Every Monday I make a new list. Anything leftover from the previous week gets bumped to the top, and as tasks come in I tack them on.

In an ideal world, you could just chronologically work through your list. But in reality, you will likely be in the middle of something, when a lawyer calls with something "urgent." This requires you to drop everything you're doing and get whatever needs to be done done with priority.

Making a new list every week helps to keep things organized, and highlights what I may have been putting off for a while. For example, if I have a student project that has been #1 for four weeks in a row, I know that maybe it's time I actually get it done, because the summer is flying by and non-billable work is just as valuable to the firm as the billable stuff!

3. Supplies

Order. Everything. Post-its, pens, highlighters, paper clips, rulers, flags, thumb-tacks, lamps, plants... anything and everything that will make your job easier and more comfortable, order it. We have an amazing facilities team that delivers anything we need directly to our offices in record time.

When I first settled in to my office, I ordered everything I thought I might need based on my previous summer's experience, and that meant that when those situations did arise ("hey can you tab this signature package?" or "do X complicated research" -> multicolored pens and highlighters are your best friend in this case) I didn't have to run around looking for office supplies.

I also requested a desk lamp which definitely helps on those late nights by keeping a warm natural light in the office.

I may also have requested a change of art.... but come on, I had cows grazing in a meadow.....

4. Docket In Real Time

There is nothing worse than finishing a full day's work where you've worked on multiple files, and realizing you haven't been accurately recording your time. Trying to recreate the day and "guesstimate" ultimately does a disservice to you, the firm, and the client. Don't add unnecessary stress to your life, docket as you go along, even if it's as simple as jotting down your start time when you begin and end time once you're done. Future you will thank you.

5. Use Your Calendar

At the firm you'll find that everyone sends a calendar invite for everything. Coffee date? Calendar invite. "Let's chat in 5 minutes?" Calendar invite. Your calendar is so full of activities short and long, any passerby would think you're the busiest person in the world.

But there's a reason for this. With so much going on, it would be impossible to keep track of everything without a little reminder here and there. As a student, you want to be eager, punctual, and most importantly you want to make the lawyers' lives as easy as you can.

Offer to send the invite, show up 5 minutes early when Outlook reminds you that it's coming up, include notes in the invite. Whatever you think will make life easier, do it, because people notice, and they really appreciate it.

6. Laptops

For the first time, students are granted laptops that live in docks on our desktops. This is a God-send.

Bring your laptop to meetings, book conference rooms to work with other students, and most useful of all - if it's 6:30 PM and you think you're done for the day but paralyzed because a lawyer might email you asking for that one thing and you'll be home - just bring your laptop home with you. Now you have access to all of the same resources.

Not that working from home is a common thing, but knowing I could log on at a moment's notice if necessary definitely helped me ease my separation anxiety.

There are endless more ways to stay organized, but these have been some of my most effective strategies. Give them a shot, and if they don't work for you, please share what does!

bottom of page