Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When organization is a weakness

All of us who practiced before entering ASP work remember colleagues who were disasters at organization.  If they were fortunate, they had a paralegal, secretary, or junior associate who "kept track" of them and their work.  If not, they misplaced files, had near misses on filing deadlines, forgot to log billable time, and rushed everywhere because they were late.

Our law students will benefit from learning solid organizational skills while in law school.  By learning how to organize their studies, their class materials, and their appointments/meetings, they will be better prepared for a legal work environment.  On-the-job-training as summer law clerks or on their first jobs could prove disastrous to their careers.

Here are some tips for law students who need to improve their organizational skills:

  • Have a study area in your apartment where you keep all of your casebooks, study aids, binders, highlighters, and pens.  If everything is kept in one area, you can minimize having to search your apartment for items that you need before you can study.
  • As a corollary, always return an item to its place in your study area after using it.  Have a designated spot for books and binders for each course, office supplies, and your laptop.
  • Have a binder/folder for each course that will include all papers for that course: handouts, articles assigned, practice questions distributed, and other "extras" from your professor.  The same binder may include your syllabus/assignment sheet for the course.  Alternatively, some students prefer a separate binder just for syllabi and assignment sheets for all courses.
  • Consider using computer software to organize your own class notes, outlines, graphic organizers, and other course materials.  Choose a product that has capabilities that match your study preferences, is easy to learn, and has flexibility within its categories.  However, make sure that you have sufficient backup of these materials so that you do not lose everything if your computer crashes.   
  • If you respond to color, consider having hard copy materials for each course in a different color.  If you know that PR has a green binder and folders while Evidence is blue for each, you can quickly pick out the necessary materials for the day.
  • Determine the best "vehicle" for your materials for school.  Get organized whether you prefer wheeled luggage, a backpack, separate computer and book bags, or some other method.  Make sure that your method includes pockets and compartments for everything that you need.
  • If your law school provides carrel space or locker space, determine how to use it effectively in conjunction with your "vehicle" of choice.  Some students prefer to store everything at home and take things to school as needed.  Other students prefer to store everything at school and take things home as needed.  The main thing is making sure you have what you need at any time at each location. 
  • If the trunk of your car is your storage space, then get it organized.  Consider collapsible crates or partitioned trunk dividers that can be used to sort items by course or by items (example, binders versus casebooks).  Avoid leaving items exposed on the back seat that might tempt someone to break into your car.
  • Have a designated spot in your apartment where you always place daily items that you need/use.  Put your keys, wallet, cell phone, eyeglasses, and other essentials in the same place every time you walk in your apartment door.  Stack bills to be paid in one place where they will not get mixed up with junk mail or other unimportant papers.  
  • Calendar all appointments and meetings.  Whether you use Outlook, a hard copy appointment book, or your iPhone for calendaring, it will do you no good if you do not look at it!  Regularly check your calendar and update it with new appointments as soon as possible.
  • Use "alert" systems on your computer or phone to remind you of meetings and appointments.  Alternatively at home, set your oven timer or alarm clock to alert you when to end a task or leave the house.
  • Set an artificial deadline two days before a real deadline for a paper, exam, project, or other task.  By working to the artificial deadline, you will have spare time if needed for a final edit, review of the one exam topic still confusing you, or finding another printer if your own printer jams. 
  • Whenever you have a "glitch" in your organization, determine what went wrong.  Then correct the problem or choose a new strategy that will work better to keep you organized.  Avoid excusing your error as "just one of those things."  Take action to make sure it does not happen again. 

Some folks are naturally organized.  Other folks need to practice organization.  All of us can become better organized if we continue to work at it.  (Amy Jarmon)  

     

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