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How to Organize Email Inboxes for Lawyers Without Assistants

By Edward Tan, JD | Last updated on

Assistants and paralegals can make life as a lawyer much easier. And sometimes they can also help make you rich. But for the little things, like organizing your email inbox, assistants can prove invaluable.

Unfortunately, not every firm or solo practitioner can afford one. Sometimes you have to do everything on your own. As a result, organization can occasionally fall to the wayside. And email inboxes are usually the first casualty.

If this sounds like you, try taking the following steps to free yourself from the nightmare of a cluttered inbox.

Step 1: Purge Your Email Inbox

One thing that inboxes in disarray usually all have in common is an obscene amount of unread emails. The first step is to go through and sort the keepers from the ones destined for your recycling bin. It's not a quick job, but it's a necessary one. Set aside a few hours or a weekend (if it's really bad) and go through everything.

Step 2: Ponder and Create Folder Categories

You can't leave all your emails just in your inbox. All email systems, whether free or paid, have folder options. Think about all the areas of law and work that you do and create files that reflect them. It can be a daunting task, but one suggestion is to make it an ongoing project.

You can create a new folder for each new case. You can then add subfolders within each case folder for party information, discovery, responses, case facts, and so forth. Think about what folders would best fit your practice and add them to your inbox.

Step 3: Implement a Priority System

Having tons of folders mean nothing if you can't tell what you should be doing next. Implementing a priority system can solve this problem. Many email clients, like Outlook, allow you to mark emails and set due date alarms.

But if the notion of constant warnings popping up on your screen is too much, try using folders instead. A good rule is to not make more than three of these "priority" folders. Have one for emails that need to be address by the end of the day, one for end of the week, and one for long-term deadlines. And when you're done with an email, delete it or file it.

Step 4: Follow Through

Now that you've cleaned out everything and set up your new filing system, the most important last step is keeping it all together. It's easy to fall back into old habits. Don't start jamming everything into one folder or neglect your filing duties. Yes, you're a lawyer, but you also need to keep your email inbox organized. So set aside at least 10 or 20 minutes at the beginning or end of your day to file.

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