You need the right tools to minimise the document admin you’re not aware you’re doing. Then you can get on with your actual work, your deep work, (not the preparation). Part Two
In the first part of this series I looked at making sure you knew the kind of work you did, so that you could make sure that you chose the proper tools for the job, rather than just using what other’s did, just defaulting to something, as people do, for example, with using email as their primary workflow whether it be for their legal deep work or not.
Throughout this article I’m going to use the term bundle (in capitals) to refer to the legal stack of papers that lawyers work with on a particular matter or case. Traditionally this would have been a paper bundle. Bundle is a UK term, in North America the term used is ‘Brief’. And of course you can exchange Lawyer for the word Attorney.
In the first article I alluded to the idea that, though we’ve been trying to replace them seemingly forever, paper bundles are not so bad after all. This is what I want to look in this piece.
Is working with paper bundles all bad?
Traditionally you’d do your brain work by printing all the relevant documents and putting them in a paper bundle. Then you’d tab it up with a table of contents to create an effective way to navigate the documents. On creating the bundle you then added documents to the bundle as they arrived, working through the bundle making annotations and comments as necessary. During periods when the case wasn’t moving forward you’d file it somewhere, but crucially, because of the way you put the bundle together, you could easily pick up where you left off, whenever you needed to. You could add documents at will as you went along (though unbinding some of these files could be tedious). Once the case was closed or otherwise dealt with, you had a ready-made archive which could be stored appropriately.
It seems, in some ways, to be a rather quaint way of working, nostalgic, almost, and many would decry its inefficiencies, but I would ask two questions:
1. How did you actually interact with the documents when they were in paper form?
There are many ways you’d have worked through the bundle, depending on how you chose to work. However, I can guarantee (almost) that you didn’t start at page one and work through the bundle in a linear fashion (this would have been particularly true once you were up and running with the bundle, once you were adding pages after the initial ‘building’). No, you made links and connections between different parts of the bundle. Letters and other documents were added at different periods during the course of the case. In other words, you read the bundle in a non-linear way. You followed the trail of the sense of the matter, not the page numbers.
2. How do you interact with your papers now?
If you are still stubbornly printing your papers to make a paper bundle as above, then good for you. However, this is a poor choice in terms of time and cost (and I guess you are getting it in the neck on costs, time and the sheer urgh of whoever is putting the bundle together for you, if someone is).
If, as is more likely, you’ve got a digital filing or case management system, your way of interacting with the documents couldn’t be further from the workflow you did with paper, not that many years ago. And this is where the problem lies, and the inefficiencies creep in.
Digital things are meant to be improvements on analogue. We know this to be the idea, but we also know that the reality can be very different. And different in this case, it very much is.
Paper bundles are cumbersome, heavy, massively time-consuming to produce, and not-backed up (not to mention environmentally suspect). Digital solves all of these issues.
However, as previously stated, paper bundles are flexible, easy to understand, excellent for focus, marking up and ultimately archiving. Apart from perhaps the latter, digital to date has not managed to match any of these things. Digital solutions have solved the admin problems of paper bundles, but by doing so have also removed all the benefits that bundles have.
So what is it about these supposedly great digital workflows that is causing such trouble? In the third part of this article, I take a look.