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By: Jamie Collins
There are certain days when the things we each “need” to accomplish and that list of things we “want” to do become intertwined in a seldom fleeting duel. It’s usually not a particular task or errand on that gargantuan to do list, a single professional obligation we must fulfill, nor any one endeavor that stops us in our tracks — it’s the 3,000 other things swirling all around us at any given moment, as we attempt to accomplish them.
Admittedly, when I pondered putting up today’s post (in addition to normal work demands, a fabulous zoo fieldtrip, family time, dinner time (ugh), personal time, work out time (double ugh – followed by “what’s that”), and an array of things you can vividly imagine as a fellow human being on this planet), I breathed a deep, self-pitying sigh. I had no clue what to write about.
Had the inspirational river run dry?
I certainly wondered.
I feared it.
I even reached out to my writing mentor, Chere, for help. I was sitting on the side of that ultra dry riverbank on a fast slide toward uninspired waters, when I read her response (which was brilliant), and decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, as I plotted my postless demise on that motivationally parched riverbank. I reluctantly pulled myself up, grasping a virtual tree branch, and sauntered into my home office, where I sat before the keyboard to see what words would come to me, as I began to fill that blank, white screen.
Pull up a chair. We’re going to talk about the death (and resurrection) of one of my nearest-and-dearest paralegal resources; one which I carelessly left along the wayside somewhere along the career highway. The reason why? I have not a single excuse. Along the wayside this valuable resource went, and I have not one pathetic excuse to offer in its place.
We’re here to talk about Paralegal Binders. I know the utterance of the word “binders” is typically equated with trial exhibits, near-death experiences, and/or large volumes of documents tidily locked and stored into their plastic, 3-ring, makeshift prison homes. But today, my friends, we’re here to talk about YOUR paralegal binder…or lack thereof.
Early on in my career, I decided (quite intelligently, I might add) to begin a paralegal binder. This binder became a home for all of those random tibits of information, helpful articles, important websites, key resources, attorney gleaned insight, and career-related advice that crossed my path.
By all personal accounts, I was an elite, legal-information-collection ninja. Dewey Decimal had nothing on me.
I took pride in that binder. I even tabbed the thing by topic. If I needed to know anything about anything I’d read of any importance whatsoever, I knew right where to go – straight into that dark navy, plastic binder, intently flipping away at the pages, as I successfully made my way down the center of the paralegal promise land; where answers bloomed in abundance.
For a newbie paralegal, a reference material like this becomes an immediate and immeasurable item of survival. One you grab any time the violins begin to play, while you frantically attempt to tackle a particular task to its knees, a once known bit of information playfully evades you, a procedure you performed flawlessly 3 years ago is no longer anywhere to be found within the ultra crazy confines of your now overwhelmed paralegal brain, or the key wording to that perfectly crafted pleading you once did before your imminent arrival into the land of legal insanity is attempting to: Take. You. Down.
Any helpful information I needed was printed, categorized, and housed. I had a world class paralegal binder. It had articles, and more. It boasted every type of pleading; discovery form; important trial rule; grammar tip; and inspirational piece of writing I’d had the pleasure of reading or typing — all properly redacted, of course. If an attorney described a 1031 exchange to me; it went in. If I learned a new trial rule that could potentially save a trial team strapped to a paddleboat approaching an epic waterfall; it went in. If I came across an inspiring story, rally speech or a really great quote; it went in. That binder and I were an elite team of two.
I dominated the paper around me, and into the 3 rings of that papyrus paradise for future perusal it would go. Much like that “clean desk,” somewhere along the way – I lost my binder. Now, I don’t mean I literally lost the thing. Rather, it became a permanent occupant of the same drawer at a different firm, rarely perused, and never added to. For all intensive purposes, the thing died along the way. Stagnant remains of an information carcass it became.
Did I think I had become so knowledgeable or skilled along the way that I no longer needed to stockpile important information when I found it? Perhaps.
But I was dead wrong.
Over the past year or so, we’ve shared some amazing articles, posts, and discussions in our “Social Club” on LinkedIn. (Those of you who are members of that fun forum – you know I’m right). How many of those articles have I printed off and saved over the past 365 days? A scant handful at best; most of which were on the topics of writing and blogging.
I find myself asking “why?” Better yet – wondering if you’ve been joining me as a member in the Inactive Paralegal Binder Club? Are you walking past the graveyard of “Paralegal Binders of Days Passed” right along with me? I’m guessing most of you have, and are. Let’s all stop to ask ourselves “why?”
At what point did we decide we were okay just reading the information, taking it in momentarily, and allowing it to remain non-existent by way of an amazingly helpful, personal resource? Nothing makes me crazier than knowing I had a particular piece of information or an article that was totally on point with what I need here and now, and having absolutely no way to retrieve it. We must begin to save those articles, discussions, and tips we come across when they stop us dead in our busy tracks, and make us think, “Wow, what a great article/discussion/tip!”
How “wow” could it be if you read the thing, only to pass it by, failing to gather it as a resource?
So today, my fellow paralegals, aspiring paralegal, loyal readers, (and even attorneys), I encourage you to remember to care. To remember how important it is to have a personal resource that is yours for the taking, any time the page flipping urge arises. To commit yourself to creating the best binder you could possibly own. To read, acknowledge, save/print, tab, 3-hole punch, and permanently house each helpful article, insightful tip or relevant piece of information you come across, until your arm hurts, and maybe even your eyes.
Heck, while you’re at it – list out your 1 year goals, 5 year goals, and 10 year goals and put them at the front of it. Commit. Decide who you’re going to become, and what you plan to do to get there. Print out humorous and inspirational items and keep them for a future day when you could use a laugh…or better yet, a prod. Decide it’s not only “okay” to make the stuff meaningful; it’s critical.
Engage in your future. Engage in your career. Reignite your passion for becoming the very best you can be. Next time the violins are tuning up in a law firm near you or you need that key piece of information you read 6 months ago, you’ll find yourself flipping, tabbing, and finding it faster than a paralegal could depart through the doors of a law firm into an extended weekend, all expenses paid by the esquire, to Hawaii. Oh yes, that fast.
You’re just $5-10 away from reinventing the way you do business. Just one decision and many print jobs away from becoming the next best you, with the next best binder. A moment when you will forever change the way you locate a vital piece of information in a sheer nanosecond, while entrenched in the midst of a soul sucking assignment, difficult project, or professional disaster. It’s time to become better. To care. To become the most well-prepared paralegal (on a binder flipping mission) the world has ever seen.
Spend the money.
Buy the binder.
Print the article, tip, trial rule, and helpful tidbit.
Begin anew…and become a legal-information-collection ninja.
Engage in your future. Engage in your career. Reignite your passion for becoming the very best you can be, and care enough to begin (or resurrect) the best paralegal resource you’ve ever owned.
I may have left my paralegal binder along the wayside, but I just found it – on my way back up the side of that ultra dry riverbank, one carefully placed high heel at a time.
I want to hear about your paralegal binders! You got one? Do you love it? Had one and planning to resurrect it? When did it save you most? Hit that comment button, and tell us all about it!
Wishing you an absolutely Happy High Heel Friday and amazing weekend outside the law firm gates. Let’s see if you can set a new personal best running out of those law firm doors! We’ll see you on Monday.
I don’t use a binder – but I use Pinterest! http://pinterest.com/poeticallyfroze/legal-technology-articles/
I’m a child of the digital age (or at least I’ll pretend to be – since my age defies that logic), and find that having less PAPER is better for me. I choose to use my personal drive on our network, “tabbing” with folder structures, for storing information that can’t be pinned to my digital cork board.
Great article, Jamie!
The Paralegal Society said:
Great alternative, 120! I know one of the attorneys in my office LOVES Evernote for his iPad. I guess that “Paralegal Binder” can take a variety of forms.
If anyone has any additional suggestions, share ’em here!
Thanks for reading.
Janna W said:
Jamie, once again you are point on. I have that all important paralegal binder that has been used by not only me but my attorney’s many times. But alas, it has ended up on the top shelf of my bookshelf and the binding hasn’t been cracked in months. I have learned so much over the past year and yet I haven’t added this information to my binder – this must not continue. I accept the challenge to breathe life back into my very valuable paralegal binder as I continue my paralegal journey.
The Paralegal Society said:
Janna, Dust it off, my friend, dust it off! It took me a long time to get the desk under control and I have no doubt this whole binder situation will not be any easier to conquer, but it’s my binder…and I’m…taking…it…back!!! Great to know I am not alone.
George Brown said:
Jamie you are such a great inspirational writer. I cannot recall not liking an article posted by you, and like you, I have that binder it is called “Knowledge Base”. I recently told someone that if I were imprisoned and left with my knowledge base, I could easily serve ten years without being distracted or bored
Ashamedly, I must admit that I have every intention of starting my binder. I have printed and saved many articles and bits of information I have run into. But, I have failed to get the binder. All that helpful information is stacked on my bedroom floor waiting patiently for the attention it deserves, while fighting for space from the every increasing number of dust bunnies that have taken over since I started my journey in school. So now after reading that kick in the hiney article I am motivated to buy the binder. So I start my Friday list, Dr. P. – check, backpack with homework – check, motivation from Oz – check check, esquire in NYC, check, quite day in legal land – oops – filing basket taken a life of its own – check. Ok make a quick run for chocolate and pick up a binder – now that’s what I’m talkin about. Have a great day
The Paralegal Society said:
Too funny, Debbie. Welcome to the club! If we ever have a meeting, we’re totally putting you in charge of snacks! 🙂
I’m there send the list and I will track down the best 🙂
Polly Hall said:
You might have a hard time deciding on a topic but once you get started you certainly don’t have a problem writing. Great article.
I haven’t put together a binder . I was thinking shouldn’t we be trying to go paperless. However I was reading the comment from 120nineteen and was thinking if saving the info on a firm network might not be a good idea what happens when you leave the firm.
The Paralegal Society said:
Thanks, Polly. It makes my day to hear that!
I admit I love paper. Your concern is something that has always been on my mind with regard to the electronic bookmarking of pages/sites. The first time your work computer crashes — the panic will quickly set in. They can usually restore most things, but you may go crazy waiting on the IT people (helpful, not always speedy) to “restore” everything you need. I know many people zip their forms from their computers, but obviously with work computers, that presents all kinds of issues. In my mind, if it’s a paper binder I brought into the office, and it is properly redacted or stripped just to the pleading language with no parties or captions, etc., it is my property, and it’s totally going with me when I go! (The down side of the paper is that you obviously have to retype forms, etc., but at least you have the wording).
Flash Drive…the paperless personal binder.
Angela Masciulli said:
Great article. I love binders too!
Lisa A. Morris said:
This is the first post I have ever read here and I will definitely be back for more. My binder: It travelled with me from my first position to my next in 1994 and in the years since was both well used and neglected. It was hard copy, on the server, stored in OneNote, and then returned to hard copy. But in recent years I seem to have been so busy working and doing that I haven’t paid it much attention recently. In fact, I am currently between positions and just realized upon reading your article that not only did the electronic copy get left behind (on the server for the use of the other paralegals still there) but the hard copy version didn’t make it into the boxes of what came with me. I shall be starting from scratch tomorrow. I am looking forward to the visit to Staples.
As a student, I’ve been thinking I was crazy saving all of the little bits of information that each teacher, mentor or legal professional (or that I’ve read) has told me that I thought might help me one day (even if it was only in some small way). Thanks to this article I now know that it is and will be an invaluable tool I will most definitely continue to grow and use!
Your Paralegal Binder becomes your legal bible! The funny thing is that I just told my husband this afternoon that I needed to resurrect my binder. I used to have a binder that moved with me. Gradually, it became a file folder that moved with me. Now, I just have articles scattered everywhere. Even though I have over 20 years paralegal experience, I have just completed a paralegal program so I can take the NC Certication exam in October. That burst of education has reminded me how important my Binder is. Keep it handy–it will be one of your most valuable resources.
Thanks, Jamie, for yet another reminder.
Yes, Jamie I find that something like that is an absolute must. I keep a Word file called “Lessons Learned” because why reinvent the wheel, why learn a lesson over again. The file stays open all day and material is alphabetized by subject. This way I can use the computer to search it and then once that elusive lesson is retrieved copy and paste into wherever I want, a motion, a pleading, an e-mail etc. I keep a separate Word file for case law research. What are the factors looked at in deciding whether the remainder of a confession or any document should be admitted according to the rule of completeness? Umm, wait a minute I know ..search “rule of completeness” and VOILA!
To paraphrase and adapt George Santayana I say: those who forget the past are doomed to re-learn it the hard way.
Anieta McCracken, CP - Certified Paralegal said:
I don’t have a binder but I have always kept file folders with all of my “go to” information. Discovery, Statutes, Rules, notary, etc. I’m rethinking a binder though. Haven’t decided yet. The folders are easy to access but more cumbersome to move.
Diane Turner said:
I actually have two binders – one small one on my desk with phone numbers, calendars, passwords, court costs, etc. and a big one with go-bys, rules, notes, etc. I couldn’t survive without them!!!!
Caren Mansfield said:
I too have paralegal binder(s). Yes, I have more than one. My binders contain samples of documents for different areas of the law (real estate, family law, probate, estate planning, litigation and misc). Each selection also contains some relevant information relating to the subject. I admit I do not use them as much as back in the early 1990s and 2000s but, like others, I have material online now to support my tasks. However, I just used by binders for a topic last week. Just shows, good things never really go out of style.
FYI, I also have a spiral bound notebook that I use on a daily basis to record phone messages and log assignments. I date the entries so I can scan through and see at a glance if I am up to date on assignments and tasks. The notebook can come in handy when there is an issue with a client.
Great job as usual Chief!
Jen Reilly said:
I am a newbie and have been doing my job for about 10 months now so of course I live and die by my created binder. Plus, I have duplicated information same information in file folders on my computer as well. After reading Jamie’s article I am making a commitment to always maintain my binder no matter how many years of experience I get under my belt.
Barbara A. said:
Great article, Jamie. I have scanned my binders and folders to a thumb drive. I have every NALA or State Bar of Montana Conference/CLEs on my thumb drives. I have several of them CLEs, legal research, and forms. It was cheaper to bring thumb drives across country than boxes of binders and folders of paper when you are paying by the pound.
Anieta McCracken, CP - Certified Paralegal said:
I, like Barbara A., have a “virtual” binder! On a thumb drive I carry with me everywhere and a copy in the cloud (I use Google drive). The main folder is “Paralegal Reference”, and inside are subfolders on each type of law I work with. I scan with an actual scanner or by snapping a photo with my smart phone (I love Android personally). If a document would fit in more than one place, I put it in the most logical and then make a cross reference or copy in other folders where I might hunt it down (just as I would do with a paper version).
I would be lost with this tool!
As I was reading your article, I realized that I have a Paralegal Notebook. I have always called it my “handy dandy notebook.” It has travelled with me from many law firms. Some of the information is outdated, like the webpages I printed with contact information for the circuit court judges and their judicial assistants, but it stays in there. I haven’t added to it because it has been replaced with the electronic version of favorites and folders, but I use it at least 2-3 times a year. It’s crammed with papers and when I am looking for something, I know exactly where it is located in the notebook! It has been my one constant in my career travels. I actually had a second notebook that was found in my ‘recycle notebooks box’ that I saved just yesterday! It is chock full of valuable new information, so organized and tabbed. I just love information and to have a place to find it is like a treasure box! Great article, Jamie!
Elizabeth McCowan said:
I teach in a Paralegal Studies program. I start with the FIRST intro course and talk to them about starting a Binder. One tab for each paralegal course they take, one for professional practice, one for websites, one for forms. I also make them start a contacts list, either using Excel or a Rolodex.
OneNote. Amazingly powerful and flexible. Color coded if you want, alphabetized, cross-referenced. Anything you want it to be.
This article is exactly what I needed. I too have a binder and it has been shelved away and not updated in many, many months. Dare I say years? Great reminder and inspiration to get it out and update it. Thank you.
Carol Gill said:
I started a job many years ago and the previous “tenant” of my desk left NO information on anything…over 7+ years I created several binders …. contacts, bill paying, info on everything ..(I was office manager/chief cook and bottle washer/legal assistant)…. and to this day all my successors still use these “bibles”…I know because when I go back to visit I see them, right on the desk.
It is like being a substitute teacher, they always have a file for the day they can’t come in and it tells the sub what to do, who the kids are that need watching, when PE and lunch are, etc.
Your article was so all about me. I do have a paralegal binder, two in fact. I also just sent a rather aged one to the graveyard. I’m glad I too am among the paralegal binder club. Thanks for this reminder.
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