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A lawyer's desk can definitely leave a lasting impression on clients and colleagues. But only the junior associates are really going to be impressed with how high you can stack pleadings on your desk.
You, and those that know you, might be able to excuse your messy desk as a personality trait, or as evidence of your non-traditional, outside the box thinking. But what about new clients, or opposing counsel?
To help you find your system for keeping a clutter-free desk, below you'll find a few handy tips. After all, you have to find something that works for you, your working style, and your level of required clutter.
1. Scan, Shred, Recycle, Repeat
One of the simplest ways to not have any clutter on your desk is to avoid paper at all costs. Every time a piece of paper crosses your desk, if you make it a habit to scan it into your system, then shred or recycle it right away, your desk can remain paper free. Going paperless helps immensely with getting rid of desk clutter.
2. The "Active File" Drawer or Cabinet
If you can't give up paper files, it can help to have a file-cabinet, or file drawer, in or near your desk that only gets used for files you are currently, actively, working on that day or week. Essentially, move your clutter from on top of your desk to inside your desk. You can also just use a banker's box under the desk as your "active file" box.
ProTip: any large receptacle that can fit under a desk will work as an "active file," just make sure it is not, nor does it resemble, a trash can.
3. Start Fresh, End Clean, Every Time
If you make it a habit to clean your desk off at the end of every day, you'll always start your day with a clutter-free desk. This means that if you leave a document on your desk for someone, or someone leaves a document on your desk for you to find in the morning, it will be easy to find and notice.
Resist the Clutter
Sure, some cluttered people are incredibly smart, but clutter does not beget brains, no matter what it says about your personality. If you think your cluttered desk will impress a client or opposing counsel by making them think you're busy and a creative-type, you're taking a big risk. It's much more likely to count against you, particularly compared to having a clean desk, which reflects an organized, diligent, and potentially obsessive, demeanor.