Spring cleaning isn’t only for your house – the office could benefit from a bit of sprucing up too! Disorganization can hurt any office: wasted time trying to find what you need, low office morale and decreased productivity. But in law firms, the consequences can be even deeper, including missed deadlines and potential conflicts.
Spending some time going through and decluttering can wind up providing a pick-me-up to everyone while making sure that you and your staff are set up for success.
Put it on the calendar and create a plan of attack
Organizing and cleaning, especially when you’re thinking about doing it for your whole office, can seem like such a big task that it’s easy to find reasons to put it off. To make it manageable – and to make sure it gets done – break it up into bits and pieces.
Start out by listing everything you want to go through. Then decide how you’ll determine what to keep and what to get rid of. For example, some paper records only need to be kept for seven years so if it’s past that date you don’t need to keep it and it can be scanned (if it hasn’t been already) and shredded.
Then make an estimate of how long it will take to get the tasks done and put it on the calendar. You could three hours reorganizing your desk and files and then another day block off two hours to evaluate your stored records. Nothing says spring cleaning has to get done in a week!
Go through all your paper
Even in a paperless office, there’s still plenty that can accumulate over the course of a year.
“A place for everything and everything in its place” should be the motto for every firm. But sometimes, without a properly documented workflow or a clearly defined filing system, documents wind up where they shouldn’t be or simply not filed at all. Take some time to go through and spot check files, as well as making sure that any unfiled paperwork is put in its proper place.
If you’re finding it difficult to keep track of what paper goes where, it can be helpful to get plastic bins and label them according to what they relate to. Client follow-up, for scanning, to be filed and to shred are all possible options.
If your firm is paperless or you’re working on getting there, you want to take this time to make sure scanning is taking place as it should be. If there are any documents that need to be scanned in, now is the time to do it and get all caught up.
Lawyers are required to keep certain client records and accounting documents for a specific period of time. Once that timeframe is up, you should be purging your physical documents to cut down on storage costs and reduce the number of documents lying around. We recommend scanning in these documents before getting rid of them to ensure there is still some documentation.
Check with your local Bar Association or Law Society to determine record retention requirements.
Don’t forget the tech
Just because you can’t physically see where digital records are stored, it doesn’t mean they don’t need to be organized. If your digital files are stored on a local or remote server, or even on your hard drive, they should all be placed in the appropriate folders. You should have a defined layout for these folders so that everyone at the firm can easily locate documents if need be.
Your inbox is also another place that would likely benefit from some decluttering. While some people are diligent in maintaining the elusive “inbox zero”, for most of the inbox tends to quickly fill up with unread emails. Even if you’ve read them, if you aren’t using a practice management system that automatically ties emails to client matters, you may need to download and store them as part of your client files.
Looking for a quick clean-up that gives instant satisfaction? Clear off your computer desktop, putting files in the right places or deleting them.
Clean up your workspace
Don’t forget about your general office space and your desk! While you may have a junk drawer (or two), you may not need everything you have – or it just may need a better place.
Clear off spaces where possible, combining like items in one location (such as putting all office supplies together in the same drawer or closet). Evaluate items as you come across them to determine if you truly need them, especially ones in your own personal workspace. You don’t need to take it to Marie Kondo levels, but it can be helpful to ask how much use you’re getting out of something during the decision-making process.
Keep it neat
Once you’ve gone through the work of decluttering, you’ll find it will last longer if you stay on top of it. A little bit of maintenance organizing every couple of weeks or months can make next year’s spring cleaning a lot faster. It’ll also make sure you continue to benefit from an organized, neat office!