If you share an assistant with two or more lawyers, he probably stays pretty busy. To prevent backlogs and priority conflicts, your assistant must become increasingly efficient to handle the workload. Think of the Japanese Kaizen philosophy. If your firm uses Microsoft Office, improving on a few essentials will make work much easier. Even small, incremental gains in productivity can really add up. So instead of piling on more work and stress, familiarize yourself with Office’s features and suggest ways your assistant can improve his skills. Here are four quick tips to try.
1. Flagging Email for Follow-Up
If your assistant is receiving instructions from multiple attorneys and sending and receiving requests from other staff, keeping it all straight becomes a real challenge. Microsoft Outlook’s Flag for Follow-Up feature can set a reminder to pop up so your assistant won’t forget to make that phone call for you. Plus, if he’s sending requests to other staffers, he can embed a follow-up flag that will remind them as well. Your assistant’s For Follow Up Search Folder and Task folder will include everything that’s been flagged, providing an at-a-glance view of his own workload. Keeping track of everything becomes a lot easier.
2. Using Rules to Route and Flag E-Filings
Another key skill is setting up Rules and Alerts in Outlook to deal with routine emails. For instance, your assistant could set up Rules to re-route e-filings from the inbox to case-related subfolders, and flag them for follow-up within one day. That way, he never forgets to print out an electronically filed pleading for your review or for the physical file.
3. Categorizing E-mails, Appointments and Tasks
Outlook also allows you to assign a Category (such as a case name) to each Message, Appointment or Task. Taking seconds daily to do that can save minutes or hours later when you need to know everything that’s pending, for example, in Smith v. Jones.
4. Autogenerating Tables of Contents and Authorities
Many legal staffers’ Microsoft Word skills stay at the beginner level far too long, typically out of ignorance of what’s possible. They continue to do manually many tasks which, with practice, could easily be automated. One example is Word’s References feature. Setting up a document so a user can update a Table of Contents or Table of Authorities by simply pressing the F9 key should be considered a mandatory law office skill, but often it’s only the office “power users” who know how. Use of the References feature, however, may require some extra training or even the purchase of add-on software to make the feature user-friendly.
Deborah Savadra is editor and chief blogger at Legal Office Guru, which specializes in helping legal professionals learn Microsoft Office features like Flagging Outlook Emails for follow-up and Using Outlook Rules & Alerts. You can follow her on Twitter @legalofficeguru.