You need the right tools to minimise the document admin you’re not aware you’re doing, and get on with your actual work, your deep legal work (not the preparation). Part One
In this series I’m going to look at why you need the right tools for the legal work you do and why these tools are just as important as being an efficient and effective legal practitioner. In fact, the wrong tools are a barrier to effectiveness. I’ll show how, for all its flaws, the traditional paper bundle remains a flexible tool attuned to case workflows, whilst digital replacements to working with paper bundles remain not fit-for-purpose. I’ll continue by explaining why your current workflow isn’t working, and in the final part will tell you what you need, why, and where to get it.
Throughout this article I’m going to use the term Matter (in capitals) to refer to the legal issues you’re working on. Matter, is this way also includes ‘Case’ and ‘Brief’.
In this first part of the article I’ll touch on
- why it’s important to know what kind of work it is that you do before choosing the tools
- the need for having the right tools for the right job
What kind of work do you do?
On the face of it, this is an easy answer, in terms of your job description perhaps, or how you feel about yourself and what you do professionally. But in order to be able to choose the right tools, rather than just falling into ‘choices’ as many of use do (for example there are easily more than 30 direct competitors to Adobe Acrobat Reader, many excellent, yet most of us stick with Acrobat, or whatever our computer came with when we bought it), you need to take a step back and ask yourself, what is it that my clients are paying me for?
PDF Editors are not all things to all people
So, you’re a legal practitioner, what kind of work do you do? At Casedo some legal professionals we speak to tell us “I use a PDF editor.” That suggests that the work they do is just reading / editing documents, and on the face of it this might seem the case. But it isn’t.
Besides the fact that PDFs were originally created to share consistently formatted documents without the need for editing, and that editing PDFs is clunky and time-consuming compared to say using Word, ‘just reading’ PDFs suggests an experience akin to reading a research paper or an essay, ie. in a linear, perhaps chronological, way.
As a lawyer, this is not what you do. You have a Matter before you, comprising of dozens of different documents of many types, you need to need to read and understand, make links, pick out common threads, and so digest the documents. In other words you need to make sense of all the documents related to the Matter, and thus reach professional legal conclusions based on this. It is not a linear reading process, it is non-linear. What you do is make sense of a Matter, how you do it is through non-linear reading of the documents related to that Matter.
Having the right tools for the job in hand is vital
If you’ve got to do some blue-sky thinking for your business, retirement, that novel you’ve been cogitating on for years, you need a pen and paper. There are no external inputs needed for blue-sky thoughts, the opposite, in fact.
But what about your legal work? There are external inputs; client emails, law, and other miscellaneous documents. They often arrive in a hotchpotch of ways, perhaps email or shared storage, and even then they come in different file types that need opening by different applications.
I’ve got this – But have you really?
You’ve already dealt with this, right? You’ve got a great way of filing your case-related documents, in a case management system or in, for simplicities sake, File Explorer. Add to that a PDF reader for reading documents and Word for editing / creating new documents. You’re satisfied that it works for you, even if it’s not perfect, what else is there to say?
Well, a case management system is for managing documents, not specifically for reading and understanding them. You open and then complete few matters on the same day, meaning that every time you are looking to work on this Matter as it progresses over the following weeks or months, you’re going to have to open each and every file individually. In a paper bundle you’d have everything in one place, in a digital case management workflow you might have hundreds of documents to open individually. Evidently, this is not the right tool for the right job. To stick to the paper analogy, imagine, instead of a single paper bundle each separate document related to that matter was bound and filed separately, that would not be fit-for-purpose.
Paper bundles evolved over many years, they are an excellent benchmark for a fit-for-purpose legal tool. In the next part of the article I’m going to look at paper bundles in more detail, explaining why they’ve been such a difficult tool to replace digitally.