Making work flow: managing your IP portfolio workload the smart way
Samantha Crellin of WebTMS spoke at the recent CITMA paralegal conference, sharing her advice for uniting people and technology to work more efficiently and reduce pressure. As a CITMA trade mark paralegal herself, Samantha is experienced in the challenges and bottlenecks common to a lot of IP processes and can empathise with the pressures paralegals face daily. Her practical tips covered a range of topics and resonated with the audience, who left with a selection of strategies to apply in their day-to-day work.
We’ve collated Samantha’s advice into five key areas covered:
Hone your delegation skills
Paralegals are conscientious people who like to take personal control of their allotted tasks, meaning delegation doesn’t always come naturally. However, when workloads get out of hand, knowing how to delegate is a game-changer.
While you might feel that it is quicker for you to tackle a task yourself, rather than explain it to someone else, Samantha advises that you should never be afraid of the time it takes to review someone else’s work. It is far preferable to delegate a task and then review the result than to take on too much and make a mistake that then needs fixing, with the attendant guilt and extra work this involves.
By delegating work to junior colleagues, for example, you give them an opportunity to gain an understanding of a task or process. If those junior colleagues progress to become senior managers, their hands-on experience will mean they have a better sense of the time their team needs to complete the task.
You should also consider delegating back up the ladder; good communication is a key part of this. For example, if you are working for a number of attorneys, they won’t always have visibility of your workload, so it is important to let them know if you have a lot of work and to request guidance on what to prioritise. They could also help you decide what to delegate, or delegate for you.
Delegation doesn’t have to be to people, either. By using shared technology to manage diaries, deadlines, and reminders, you can ensure there is less risk of an important task slipping through the gaps. Whether that’s an advanced IP management tool such as WebTMS, or simple calendar sharing and shared spreadsheets, it is sound practice to ensure there’s a collaborative solution in place that provides visibility over activities.
Linked to delegation is automation. These are the tasks that technology can take on independently to lift the administrative burden and generally make work more interesting. From saving commonly used searches, to leaning on formulae and pivot tables in Excel and recording macros to undertake common task, there are automation options in many of the basic tools we use every day. Beyond this, IP management systems have a range of smart tools, such as automated updating of trade mark record data from international databases, and automated reporting tools that give you the information you need in the right format with just a few clicks.
Once you start exploring automation, you can find yourself leveraging application programming interfaces – the publicly available interfaces for different software applications, to pull information into customisable dashboards. As a paralegal, it is well worth staying up to speed on new legaltech and industry developments because you never know what is in the pipeline that will make your role more efficient. For example, the intellectual property offices are starting to work with blockchain and are exposing their own APIs, and this has a wealth of potential for changing how paralegals work.
Not everything can be automated and the use of shared databases and collaborative tools can be a challenge when multiple people are entering information. Different people use different terminology for the same thing, or enter data in different formats or fields. This can cause untold headaches when you are searching for information but you don’t know what term the originator has entered it under. Technology can help with this to some extent, by setting rules and limits on data entry types, but there is often wriggle room that can create confusion.
What can be helpful for those sorts of routine tasks, like data entry and client reporting, is creating a manual or “Standard Operating Procedures”. This will take time to put in place, to draft it, test it, and so on, but the time will be gained back tenfold. Map out all the routine procedures, the entire case lifecycle, from searching to filing, later to renewal or expiry.
This means that any new member of staff joins the team has a manual to consult. This reduces the training they need, so they can be independent so much quicker. You can even delegate creating them. Who better to create the manual than the person you’re training? That person also comes in with fresh eyes, without preconceived ideas as to how things “ought” to be done.
In a role where deadlines dominate, staying ahead of them is key and reminders are the route to achieving this. When you file an application, or instruct one, ensure you have something that aids you in keeping track of it. Don’t just wait for the agent to let you know there is one month left of a six-month deadline, make sure you have a reminder set.
The most important forward planning is around maintenance deadlines. These require you or your client to gather evidence of use and therefore they take time to prepare for. Consider also the vagaries of the different jurisdictions in which you need to make renewals, some require notarisation and legalisation, or only accept hard copies, so it is important this information is included in your reminder system.
An IP management system can shoulder some of this burden. You may be able to automate records and deadline reminders and tailor them to suit your preferences.
Understanding the way you work best is the key to unlocking productivity and enjoying your role – even when it does become pressured. There internet is awash with books on productivity hacks, and these can provide a bit of inspiration, but it does take a bit of deliberate self-observation before you can work out what works for you and in what situations.
Do you work best from home, or do you need in-person interaction to get going? If you are a remote worker with a need for interaction, can you set up collaborative tools or video-call sessions with colleagues to compensate? What is your ideal technology set-up? Do you need some training or support to reach peak performance?
All these questions are worth asking so you can feel comfortable and prepared to work under pressure if necessary.
Concluding her talk, Samantha noted that the overall aim of rules and workflows is for efficiency. While it may not feel efficient to be spending time on something that isn’t directly billable or doesn’t save money right away, in time it will pay off. Whether that is an increase in the billing reports, or just that you can finish at 5.30 p.m on a Friday and not worry about work again until Monday at 9.00 am. Don’t be afraid to delegate, to humans or to technology where you can, and invest time in learning how you work best so you can implement your personal rules and make work flow.