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Chaos Is King, Until It’s Not: A Solo’s Guide to Order

By | Apr.04.17 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Productivity, Solo Practice

Chaos sounds the death knell for any solo attorney’s practice. It breeds confusion, distraction, and disorder. Unfortunately, for most solos, chaos is the natural state of affairs. The reason is simple: The practice of law consists of many moving parts at all times, each of which is dynamic and contingent.

Take a simple example from my practice: a car accident. The people involved include the client, the injured party, and the defendant, the responsible party. In addition, there are the client’s health-care providers and lienholders, and the defendant’s insurance company, which is represented by an adjuster. Easily, several people are involved in even the most straightforward personal injury case. If litigation is filed, the plaintiff and defense attorneys become involved. And every piece of paper sent between the parties is subject to a deadline once litigation is filed.

Take that simple example and multiply it by 10 other cases, or by 20 other cases, even 30. Now chaos opens like a chasm.

How to Tame Chaos? Implement Order

Here is the system I use to implement order in my solo law practice.

Emails. Dozens of emails arrive hourly, flooding my inbox with requests, denials, information, questions, answers and updates. Even a cursory glance at my inbox leaves me restive. Here are the actions I take to implement order:

  • I unsubscribe to any nonessential emails (e.g., social media notifications, company discounts, concert listings, online sales).
  • I check my emails at set times throughout the day — starting when I arrive at the office, never immediately after waking up and grabbing my iPhone.
  • When I check my inbox, I scan for important or time-sensitive emails and address those first; the remaining emails are then placed within specific client folders.
  • After I reduce my inbox to zero, I close it and work on other matters until my next set time occurs.
  • I repeat this process four to seven times a day.

Paper. My office is paperless, which is a tremendously helpful way to maintain order. I do not have to shuffle through realms of paper searching for that elusive document. I can locate it within seconds by performing a search on my computer. Here is what I do with all the paper coming into my office:

  • When I receive the mail each day, I scan each document into my ScanSnap iX500, the perfect scanner for a solo. (It sits on my desk next to my computer.)
  • I date each document and place it into the appropriate electronic client file.
  • I take all scanned paper and shred it.

Client files. Each client has a client file. Every client file is stored on Dropbox Pro (now Plus), which encrypts it. Currently, I have no reason to distrust the security and encryption offered by Dropbox Pro. Even so, every client fee agreement contains a paragraph stating that the client “acknowledges that there may be risks, including related to confidentiality and security, in using cloud services and email.”

All client files are organized the same way. Every client file includes a master document labeled “notes” created in Microsoft Word. All contact information, research conversations, costs, dates, tasks and other relevant matters are contained in that master document. When I open it, I can identify all persons involved, review all research and conversations, tabulate costs incurred, and learn all past and upcoming dates. Most importantly, I can quickly see what needs to be done. For example, when I place an email into a client folder, I also put a memo in the note document to read that email. I do the same thing for mail received. So when I open the master document, I know within seconds that I need to read certain emails and mail. Then I do it, along with other tasks listed.

Case status. Every Sunday, I review my cases by opening their “notes.” From there I see what tasks I need to do for the week. I also learn the current status of the case. At that point, I plan my workweek based on completing the most important tasks for that week — for example, attend a deposition or court hearing, answer discovery, respond to an email or letter, research an issue.

“Good Order Is the Foundation of All Things” – Edmund Burke

Of course, this is an imperfect process. And even then, I fail to follow it exactly. But I’ve found that this process allows me to sustain some order over an inherently chaotic practice.

Evan Walker is the founder of The Law Office of Evan W. Walker in La Jolla, CA, where he practices personal injury claims and insurance disputes. Before opening his practice in 2015, he practiced in-house with Travelers’ Insurance. Evan received his J.D. from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law in 2008. Follow him in Twitter @evanwwalker and on LinkedIn.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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