<--- Back to contents
Paralegal skills and establishing an Advice
This section looks at how you can develop your administrative skills as a paralegal. Administrative skills can involve the following:
- Looking up a number in the telephone directory
- Arranging and holding meetings
- Managing your time
(See Checklist: Best practices for paralegal case-workers)
Filing means keeping information (papers, letters, addresses) in a safe place. You file information by arranging it in a certain order, so that you or anyone else can find it quickly.
Filing helps you to decide:
- where to put information
- into which file to put a paper
- in which file to look to find a paper
- where to find an address
Filing is important because it:
- helps you not to lose documents
- keeps documents clean and tidy
- helps you to find documents quickly and easily
- helps you to be efficient
What should you file?
The important things to file include:
- all documents that your organisation receives, for example letters, notices, reports, and useful information
- all copies of documents you send out
- documents about the money side of the organisation
- all case sheets and information relating to cases
Filing should be done according to a carefully planned method.
What equipment do you need?
You need the following pieces of equipment for filing:
- files (hanging folders or ringbinders)
- a filing cabinet, shelves or something to keep your files in
- a date stamp to put the date on letters you receive
- an A4 size hard-covered book that you call a 'day-book'
When you start a filing system you need to decide how you want to file. Do you want to file in alphabetical order (for example, using surnames) or in date order (according to the months in the year), or according to issues (such as grants / HIV/Aids / housing development / etc). Each organization is different. You should keep your filing system simple and easy for all to operate.
Removing files from the office
Files should never be removed from the office. If documents or statements have to be removed for any purpose, it is better to photocopy them first so that the original remains in the office.
Just as you keep records of meetings and letters, you also need to keep the records of the organisation's money. Bookkeeping means keeping records of all the money that you collect and all the money that you spend.
Always keep every piece of paper connected with money, such as invoices, receipts and cancelled cheques.
The books you keep must show:
all the money that comes into the organisation (fundraising, donations, and so on)
all the money that is spent (for example on postage, petrol or stationery)
the money that is left over at the end of each month
You keep books so that members can always find out what happens to the money. You need to know how much money you have and how much you still need to collect.
Opening a bank account
When you put money into a bank, the bank opens an account for you. When you open a new account you must know:
- What kind of account will be appropriate for your organization (savings, cheque)?
- What is the name of your account?
- Who will have authority to sign on the account (the signatories)?
The easiest kind of account for an organisation to use is a cheque or current account. The committee of your organisation decides who is allowed to sign for money. The bank will only give money to those people whom they know are allowed to sign for money. There should be at least two (2) signatories to the account. This means two signatories must sign before money can be withdrawn from the account. The two signatories should be members of the management or executive committee who are usually available to sign cheques. It is better not to have any of the paid workers as signatories.
The cheque book is used to draw money out of the account. Only those signatories who have authority to sign your organisation's cheque can sign a cheque. Cheques can also be used to pay someone directly, such as for rent or electricity and are usually used for payments over R50. Money can also be transferred electronically into people’s accounts but if you want to implement an electronic system you will need to put strict guidelines and clear restrictions as to who will have the authority to do these transfers.
Cash can be taken out of the bank to make small payments, such as for stamps, tea, paper and so on. This money is called petty cash.
Putting money into the account - Putting money into the account is called making a deposit. When you deposit money you fill in a form at the bank called a deposit slip. A copy of the deposit slip will be given to you. You must file this for your records.
- Taking money out of the account - Taking money out of the account is called a withdrawal. With a cheque account, you use a cheque to withdraw money. A cheque is a form that can be used instead of money. On the left hand side of the cheque is the STUB. The stub stays in the cheque book as your record of the cheques you sign. It is important to fill in the stub carefully.
- The bank statement - Once a month you will receive a bank statement. This is a record of cheques issued in that month and of all the deposits and withdrawals made that month.
The most important books that you must keep for your daily records are:
- receipt book
- petty cash vouchers and record book
Receipts - When anyone hands any money into the organisation you must give them a receipt. This receipt proves that money was handed in. You give the original receipt to the person who gave in the money, and the duplicate is left in your receipt book.
When you receive money you should deposit it in the bank as soon as possible. It must never be used as petty cash.
- Petty cash
You should keep some money in the office for small payments. If you need R100 for stamps, tea or milk, you will use petty cash to make these payments.
How does petty cash work?
- The treasurer draws an amount of money out of the bank, using a cheque. This amount could be R100 or more depending on what your monthly expenses are and how busy your office is.
- This money is put in a locked metal box called a petty cash box.
- If someone needs money to pay for something for the organisation, the treasurer will give it to them from the petty cash box.
All the petty cash that is spent must be recorded on a petty cash voucher.
The receipts or invoices or cash slips that you get when you pay for something must be kept. These slips should be pinned onto the petty cash vouchers.
The petty cash book
At the end of each month the treasurer must record the information from all the vouchers into the petty cash book. You can use an ordinary school exercise book for the petty cash book. At the end of the month, the petty cash book must be balanced.
To do this you must:
- Add up the expenditure column to get a total. This is called total expenditure.
- The treasurer must then put money back into the petty cash box the same amount of money he or she took out during the month. So, in other words, he or she must put back the total expenditure.
- He or she then records this under income and adds up the income column.
Monthly income and expenses records
- The cash book
At the end of each month all the records you keep during the month are recorded in one book called the CASH BOOK. This includes all bank deposit slips, cheques, receipts and petty cash. You can buy cash books at stationery shops.
The deposit slips are the records of the income.
The cheques and the petty cash book are the records of the expenditure.
The income and expenditure are recorded in the cash book.
The whole of the left hand page is the INCOME side of the cash book. The whole of the right hand side page is the EXPENDITURE side.
In this example there are 5 main columns on the income left-hand page:
- Receipt number
- Date of receipt
Write the name of the person or organisation who gave the money.
- Analysis columns
The analysis columns tell us the kind of income it was, for example donations, subscriptions, books, sundries, and so on. You must decide how many columns you need and what headings you need for these columns. Sundries is for any kind of income - it is like a 'general' column (see the example below).
The deposits you put into the bank account are filled in this column.
The amount from each receipt must be written in the correct analysis column. The amount is also written under bank when you deposit the money (see example below).
All the cash and cheque payments and bank charges are recorded on the expenditure page. This is the right hand page of the cash book.
In this example there are 5 main columns on the expenditure page:
- Cheque number (the actual number of the cheque not the amount)
- Date of each cheque
Write the name of the person or organisation to whom the cheque was made out. For a cash cheque, write 'cash' and what the cash was used for (for example petty cash).
The analysis column tells you what your expenses were, for example petty cash, rent, printing, transport, sundries, and so on. You must decide how many columns you need and what headings you need for the columns.
You write down any withdrawals from the bank.
All expenditure must be written in the correct analysis column and under bank. Bank charges are always recorded under 'sundries'.
- Balancing the cash book
After you have recorded the income and expenditure, you need to work out how much money is left over at the end of the month. This is the balance. To get the balance, subtract the expenditure from the income.
For example, if your total income for May 2011 was R12 571 and the total expenditure was R10 305. To find out how much money was left over subtract R10305 from R12 571.
The balance is R2 266. The balance in your cash book should be the same as the balance in your bank account.
- Adding up the analysis columns
The analysis columns tell us what kind of expenditure and what kind of income there was. The analysis columns help us to answer questions like 'how much money did we get from subs from members in May 2009. To answer this kind of question you need to find the totals for each analysis column.
The treasurer must give a monthly report to the management or executive committee on the income and expenses of the organisation for that month. All the books should be up-to-date for the reportback, for example, the petty cash book and the monthly cash book. The treasurer should have all the cash slips, bank statements, cheque book stubs, invoices, petty cash vouchers, receipts and so on, at the meeting in case there are questions from the committee.
Finding a telephone number or address in a telephone directory
All telephone books work in ALPHABETICAL ORDER.
All government departments for national and provincial sphere, are listed at the back of the telephone directory. The government departments are listed alphabetically. If there is no number for the department you want in your regional telephone directory, phone 1023 and get the number of the nearest office.
Metropolitan councils and their departments are also listed at the back of the telephone directory, for example, the Western Cape directory will have contact details of the Cape Town Metropolitan Council and its departments.
Areas that fall outside the metropolitan areas not listed at the back of the telephone directory with the other government departments. They are listed under 'M' alphabetically with all the other telephone numbers in the directory. For example, the municipal council for Mtubatuba is listed under 'M' for municipality in the telephone directory for that area.
All hospitals are listed under 'H' with all the other numbers in the directory. The hospitals are then listed alphabetically under 'H'. Doctors are listed under 'Medical' alphabetically by name.
All emergency service numbers are listed on one of the first few pages at the front of the directory. If you are using a directory which has many different towns listed in it, then the emergency numbers for each town will appear at the beginning of each of the towns.
There are some things you can do to make meetings go well:
- Make sure everyone necessary will be able to attend the meeting.
- The chairperson Plan the agenda in advance so that you know what you are going to discuss and how long it will take.
- Appoint a chairperson if there is no chairperson.
- Make sure proper minutes are kept.
Chairing a meeting means facilitating the aims of the meeting.
- At the start of the meeting
The chairperson starts by reading the agenda and asking whether there are any additions to the agenda. Ideally, the agenda should have been circulated by the secretary to all people attending the meeting at least a week before the meeting takes place. This seldom happens so it is polite to ask the committee at the start of the meeting whether they have anything to add to the agenda.
Important things and things that can be discussed quickly should be discussed first.
An agenda looks like this
- Minutes of the last meeting
- Matters arising from the previous meeting
- Important matters for discussion
- Upcoming meeting with the donors
- Employing a new worker
- Any other matters, or general
- During the meeting
Everyone must get a chance to talk. The chairperson must not do all the talking, and must not allow people to interrupt each other or to talk at the same time. The chairperson must make sure that everyone sticks to the topic.
The chairperson must work out how much time to spend on each discussion, and stop people from wasting time.
- At the end of the meeting
The chairperson must summarise what happened at the meeting. This means going over the important points that were discussed and decisions that were made. Everyone must know what they promised to do and by when it must be done.
- Preparing for the next meeting
The chairperson asks members when, where and what time the next meeting will be held.
It is the secretary's job to take minutes at the meeting. If the secretary is not present, then the chairperson should ask someone else at the meeting to take minutes. Minutes are an important way of keeping a record of what decisions were taken at a meeting.
After the meeting the minutes must be typed or written up neatly. A copy should be given or sent to all the committee members.
At the beginning of the next meeting, the secretary reads out the minutes of the previous meeting. The main purpose of this is to note 'matters arising': those matters that the previous meeting decided must be finalised or discussed in this next meeting, and tasks that people had to do.
There is always too much to do and too little time to do it in. Time management is a skill that can help you to organise how to use your time. It can help you to make extra time so that you can do more things - without feeling that you have too much to do.
A diary is the most important tool you have when you start to manage your time.
To manage the way you use time, you must know what your commitments are, for example to your family, your friends, your job, your organisational work outside of your job.
Problems happen when the demands from different commitments clash. So you need to plan your time.
To do this you must start by identifying your regular commitments and drawing up a list of the demands each commitment makes on you. All your other commitments must be fitted around these routine commitments. Write them in your diary.
Think ahead about all these non-routine things that will happen, so that you start planning for them now (for example, a friend's wedding, an evaluation of your organisation, and so on).
What are the things that impact on your time?
- Being disorganized - wasting time looking for lost documents
- Unrealistic deadlines which mean you always feel you are ‘behind’ with your work
- Spending hours in the car getting to meetings
- Constant interruptions
- Feeling too busy and under stress all the time
Most people waste time in similar ways. Some examples of common time-wasters are:
- procrastination (leaving things to the last minute)
- the inability to say no
- lack of interest
- burn out
- telephone calls
- personal crises
You can identify your own time-wasters and write them down. Then think of ways to avoid these time-wasters.
Managing your time
When you have many different demands on your time, you must decide which ones to do and how to do them. There are three questions you can ask.
- Is the task necessary?
- Am I the right person to do this?
- What is the most efficient way of doing it?
If you are too busy to do something, or it is inappropriate for you to do it, then you should hand the task to someone else. This is called delegating.
You must also plan your use of time and set your objectives. Objectives are the things that you plan to achieve. If you are clear about your objectives you can do things in a useful order more easily. Plan your objectives as:
- Long-term objectives
- Medium-term objectives
- Short-term objectives