Are you organizing for yourself or for your attorney?

Posted on Posted in Basics

This may seem like a silly question, but when you consider that each and every person has their own way of doing things, their own sense of logic, their own sense of the proper order of things, maybe it’s not so silly. Let me give you a “for instance”:

Having worked with Attorney A for a number of years, you have come to understand what works for him: a well-indexed subfile with a cover sheet and corresponding numbered tabs for the supporting documentation. This works for everything from indexing the pleadings and discovery files to organizing the asset information. When either you or your attorney needs to review the file – whether for purposes of settlement negotiations, preparation for court or a status meeting with the client – all of the information is readily available to analyze and summarize in a detailed index which does double duty by guiding you to the numbered tabs containing whatever exhibits you might need.

Enter Attorney B, another seasoned attorney at the firm whose paralegal is on maternity leave and who needs to utilize your services to prepare for an upcoming equitable distribution hearing. Attorney B asks you to review, analyze and organize the documents which were received in response to her client’s discovery requests (which she has not been able to get to in her paralegal’s absence). You set to work processing the documents and information in the style to which you have become accustomed – one nice neat subfile (or set of subfiles) with a detailed index and corresponding numbered tabs. You meet with Attorney B to review the information and report your findings. Attorney B seems pleased with the work you have done and your grasp of the facts, but you sense that Attorney B is not quite making sense of the finer details despite your well-organized format. Attorney B ends the meeting by informing you that she is meeting with Client the next day to discuss the details of the marital estate and would like you to sit in on the meeting.

Throughout the meeting with Client, it becomes obvious that Attorney B is relying on your recollection and instinct in referring to asset values and producing from the file the documents indicating those values. At some point during the meeting, you realize that this system you have come to rely on with Attorney A is simply not working for Attorney B. Client’s equitable distribution hearing is scheduled for next week, and it is obvious you need to figure out a system that will work for Attorney B so that she has a full grasp of the information and documentation she needs in order to properly represent Client before the Court.

It can be a bit disconcerting for a highly organized person to realize that their system simply does not work for someone else. This is particularly true when that person is relying on you to, well, organize them. Now you need to come up with a new system.

Or do you? Attorney B’s paralegal has been working with her for some years now, and Attorney B obviously relies on her paralegal to keep her organized. This means that there is a model in place that works for Attorney B and you simply need to check it out.

I found myself in such a situation some years ago (not exactly, but similar). When I reviewed other files that had been managed by “Attorney B” and her paralegal, I discovered that Attorney B preferred to have a separate and clearly-labeled folder for each asset (and each credit card account and each tax return, etc.). In each folder, as applicable, would be individual statements indicating the value of the particular asset or liability as of the date of marriage, date of separation and the then-current value. When it was time to prepare for a hearing, the same folders were used to hold the individual exhibits for the hearing with duplicate copies clipped together in each folder.

Odds are you have identified with either Attorney A or Attorney B in the above scenarios. However, the point is not what works for you; it’s what works for the attorney. This is something to keep in mind if you find yourself working with a new attorney, whether it be a special project, a new position or some other reason. Always keep an open mind and be sure to address the situation if your system is not working for the attorney (or be willing to adapt if the attorney already has a system of their own in place). Don’t be afraid to discuss the situation with the attorney and ask what would work best for him or her. Most attorneys will be happy to realize that you are attempting to design a system specifically suited to their way of doing things.

Perhaps you have a system in place, an organizational scheme that you feel others in our profession could benefit from. If so, feel free to share your ideas by leaving a comment.

One thought on “Are you organizing for yourself or for your attorney?

  1. Deb, I met you at the Keystone meeting. I really enjoyed your blog/ Great job!


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