Time for spring cleaning

Spring has sprung! Along with the return of the Toronto Blue Jays, longer days, and patio season, it’s also time for spring cleaning.

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of an organization freak. When my mom visited the new Paliare Roland offices on Wellington Street for the first time, she identified immediately which office was mine. “Lindsay,” she whispered, “they’re going to think you’re not working!”

She was pointing out my office is almost bare. Besides the usual desktop stuff and a few family photos, my desk was clear and almost always is. It’s one of my special skills. I once auctioned off a few hours of my “paper purge” skills in our firm’s annual charity auction. It turned out my freakish brand of neatness was in high demand, which sparked a bidding war and sold for several hundred dollars. I’ve had co-workers tell me they love visiting my office because it feels so calm and peaceful. Others find it uncomfortably tidy and sarcastically apologize for leaving fingerprints on my desk. I resist the urge to wipe the fingerprints until they leave.

Even with a messy desk (gasp!) it’s still possible to be organized. One of my favourite organizational tools I’ve adopted is my file status chart. It’s not at all revolutionary but it has been tremendously effective for me. As Getting Things Done author David Allen says, your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. The chart is a tool anyone can use (regardless of whether you’re a desktop piler or filer) as a way to get your “to dos” out of your head and into a single document. I’ve been using the chart since last spring and it has been key to keeping me organized and on top of my work.

Here’s an idea of what my file status chart looks like (sadly, none of my clients include The Good Wife characters below):

Last updated: April 10/13







Gardner, Will



Statement of claim issued Nov 26/12


Made offer to settle on April 8 – follow up with D. Lockhart if no word by April 16

Next settlement conference May 13/13 – documents and proposed witness list due 14 days in advance



Florrick, Alicia



Discoveries in July 2013


E-mail copy of Schedule A to K. Sharma’s office by June 30/13


Prep meeting with client July 2/2013

Consider research question re: use of discovery transcripts on SJ motion


To point out the obvious, it’s important to have a system to know what’s going on with your files. Failing to monitor their progress can lead to unhappy clients, damaged credibility with opposing counsel and courts, and possibly allegations of negligence. This kind of chart keeps all the important information about the status of your files in one document for easy, frequent access. It doesn’t eliminate the odd slip-up, but should prevent the ones most often caused by disorganization. It’s difficult to miss a limitation date or forget about a file entirely for months if it’s listed on a chart you review every single day.

I use the chart to monitor the status of my files and to set out next steps and upcoming deadlines. Notice the Alicia Florrick file is shaded in grey.  When I review the chart, I know I can skim through the grey files as they don’t require any immediate attention, which makes my review more efficient.

Like many organizational tools, the chart is only as useful as you make it. Equally important with having a system is keeping it up to date. This means I sometimes remove old information (for instance, I probably could remove the “Statement of Claim issued Nov 26/12”) date from the Will Gardner file in the chart. This information, if I really need it, can be found in the file.

One of the added benefits of this chart is it keeps my mentor and my assistant informed about the status of my files. Not to be grim, but I take comfort in knowing that if I were suddenly out of commission and couldn’t attend to my files, anyone could review the chart and make sure my clients are looked after.

I spend about five to 10 minutes with my file chart every day. I appreciate that over the course of a week I could be spending 30 minutes or more of non-billable time maintaining this chart. I still think it’s worth the peace of mind in knowing where my practice stands and that files aren’t slipping through the cracks. It also allows me to keep information somewhere other than in my head. If I’m working hard just to remember basic to dos for 43 files, I’m nowhere near as creative and focused on my substantive work.

Happy spring cleaning. Go Jays Go!

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