Paralegal Time Management: Tips for Handling That Ever-Growing Case Load

For paralegals, much of your time is spent managing your ever-growing caseload. The stack piles up day in and day out, without ever looking like you’re making a dent in it. And the only way you will make a dent in it is through better time management.

“Paralegal time management” …Does that sound like an oxymoron to you? It’s not. And here are some tips to help:

Being strategic about your time management
You already know you won’t be able to efficiently manage your caseload without first managing your time. However, managing your caseload more efficiently will take work on the front-end. In order to start seeing time-saving results some strategic planning is required prior to working on the execution-strategy.

First, figure out your time management challenges
To practice better paralegal time management, first figure out what robs you of your time. Is it the myriad distractions of the day, those that come with the job like emails, phone calls and colleagues? Maybe it’s procrastination and a tendency to focus on the easy tasks while avoiding the hard ones. Or maybe it’s something else, like time spent looking for files. Figure out what your “time wasters” are and come up with ways to avoid them. Until you do this step, the term “paralegal time management” will be an oxymoron.

Schedule, schedule, schedule
When you’re proactive about planning your day, paralegal time management is much easier to achieve!

  • Take the time to have a set schedule and stick to it. This might be the most important first step, so take it seriously. Take 15 minutes at the start of every day to organize your schedule for the day.
  • As your caseload piles up, you’ll need to be clear on when you owe what to whom. Every day spend 15 minutes sifting through your cases to pencil in the due dates and specific times of the day to accomplish certain action items. Make this part of your schedule. Give yourself deadlines that will push you to complete your tasks, but don’t get so sucked into the time limits that you complete them in haste.

Next, turn to technology
Once you have determined the challenges, look for tools or other processes to help. For example, could you use a calendar app to keep all your dates—court dates, transcription processing, etc.—in one place? Or use case management software to track the cases you are working on and schedule the due dates or work time for each of the cases. Finding strategic ways to save time doesn’t mean you have to do it on your own. A little technology might help.

Then, figure out that filing
Electronic fling can be helpful in the courts, but physical filing is still important around the office. How much of your day is spent on this manual task, both the paper end of it and the digital end of it? If it’s too much, then try these tips…

  • You must be able to locate a document when an attorney needs it, meaning you need a system not just to save you time filing, but to save you time looking for something later. Find or develop a filing system that works for you.
  • Think in terms of filing it away and finding it later. Organize your filing system in a way that makes sense so you can easily find or file what you need, whether it’s a paper file or a digital one.
  • Don’t wait until the end of the day to do your filing. Do it midday to get out of the way or better yet, file as you go. Then pass on the remaining filing (see below) that you don’t complete to someone else so you can spend time on billable hours that matter for the rest of the day.
  • If filing takes you more than 15 minutes, find someone who can help you with it. Ask your office manager if there is a resource. Maybe you have help within the office for these administrative tasks?

Finally, eliminate distractions

  • Put your cellphone in airplane mode for a few hours at a time and only check it during certain time periods (that you’ve determined ahead of time and put on your schedule).
  • Email is the big time waster for many people, not just paralegals. The problem with email is that we get sucked in to it and answer messages that could wait, thereby losing our focus on the task we were doing. Research shows it takes 23 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted: 23 minutes! So schedule the time for checking email. Many time management experts say allow 30 minutes in the morning, 30 in the middle of the day and 30 at the end of the day…and that’s all.
  • If a colleague wants to chat, tell them you have to catch up later because you have a deadline; they’ll understand and you might provide a good example for them to follow in their own time management

Sometimes, it takes more time to get organized than you’d like, but it’s worth it in the long run. Consider it a short-term investment for long-term gain. For example, taking 15 minutes to organize your schedule could be one of the best 15 minutes you spend all day, and could lead to an additional hour of productive time. All of these paralegal time management suggestions have the potential to increase your productivity long-term if you take the time to implement them.