Friday, July 9, 2010

An Efficient Filing System Makes an Efficient Lawyer

This week I am going to address a setup for litigation files, and a quick and easy tips on retrieving documents before they are filed.

An effective and efficient filing system is often underestimated in its importance and establishing a reliable filing system is crucial. Accessing files easily and finding documents on short notice is important to a lawyer and/or law firm.

Everyone has his or her own filing system and/or methods but once you select the system or method you want to use, it is extremely important that you stay consistent with it.

Here are just a few quick tips on establishing an efficient filing system.

LITIGATION FILES: These are just some examples of litigation files you may want to create, or customize to your preference. Having files broken down into categories saves a lot of valuable time.

ο Accounting
ο Correspondence (General)
ο Correspondence (Client)
ο Correspondence (with Attorneys)
ο Pleadings
ο Deposition Summaries
ο Motions
ο Discovery
ο Medical Records
ο Evidence
ο Client Documents
ο Investigation
ο Legal Research
ο Notes and Miscellaneous

ROUTINE: Keeping the filing current in a law firm is a necessity.

FILE CLERKS: Depending on the size of the firm, having a file clerk (or file department) in charge of the upkeep of files would be beneficial. Even if you are a small firm, hiring a part-time file clerk would be very valuable to the firm.

TEMPORARY FILING: In between filing, alphabetically place the documents in an expandable file folder (folder suggestions are referenced below). Remove duplicate copies. This way a document will be in either one or two places—the expandable file folder or the file itself. The secretary usually has one, you might want to utilize an expandable file in your office by placing the document in it until you are ready to work on the case. At least you or your secretary will be able to locate the document.

Bottom line, you want to avoid wasting your valuable billable time by shuffling through a stack of papers in order to find one document. Having a temporary location and/or individual file categories will make a world of difference!


1. Staples Heavy Duty Expanding Files (Legal) A-Z Index
2. Smead® Desktop File Sorter A-Z
3. Oxford® All Purpose Pressboard Sorter

I personally recommend the Heavy Duty Expanding sorter (with the open top).

Friday, June 18, 2010

"New" Client and "Prospective" Client Files

If your practice is either starting out or simply growing, here are some quick tips on opening a new client file and how to keep track of prospective client.


• Create A - Z file folders

• Six Month follow-up

• One Year follow-up

1. Create A - Z file folders: When a potential client calls, you have met with him/her but they have not made up their mind yet, this would be considered a "potential" client (especially, if a Retainer Agreement is not in place). At this point, place the client information and notes that you have, place these documents in the folder under the appropriate alphabet of the potential client’s last name.
2. After six months, prepare a form follow-up letter to see if they still need legal representation.
3. After a year, you can destroy the file if the individual has not retained you.


• Fill out a new client form

• Conflict of Interest Check

• Client Notebook

• Excel / Spreadsheet cross-reference

• New Files for Separate matters

New Client Form
Create a “new file” form/template that will be placed in the file in addition to a “New Client File” book. This way, you will have all the pertinent information (along with the intake form) pertaining to this client and/or case.

Conflict of Interest Check
Be sure to perform a “conflicts of interest” check (if applicable). Have a hard copy (form file) in a notebook verifying that a conflicts of interest check was done.

Cross-Reference Index
Create an index or form (cross-reference) in the computer in Excel or whatever form is comfortable for you.

Client With Multiple Matters
If your client has several matters, don’t co-mingle files, create separate files for each separate matter.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


The first thing I always point out to my clients when creating a file system… keep it as simple as possible! There are several types of systems for organizing files. Some are good for litigators, some are good for estate planning, and some are good for criminal defense. I have seen some systems set up wonderfully, and I have seen some set up and my first thought was “what planet did they get this idea from—what where they thinking?”

Be sure to always create a “Master Client List.” For example, if you decide to use a numbering system, be sure to make an alphabetical cross-index system, entering the client’s name cross-referenced to the file number. This way, you can easily look it up on your computer, but always have a printed copy in a binder or folder for ease of reference.

The following are examples of various filing systems:

• Alphabetic Systems
• Numerical Systems
• Bar Coding
• Automated And Electronic File/Records Management
• Centralized V. Decentralized
• Color Coding
• Alphabetic Systems
• Numerical Systems

In an alphabetic filing system cases are stored with the last name of the client or organization.

In a numerical filing system, case identifiers can be, but do not necessarily have to be all numbers. Variations can be used, such as ALPHANUMERIC where letters and numbers are used. For instance: PI-BROWN, George-10; CR-BROWN, George-10; PB-BROWN, George, etc. (PI stands for Personal Injury, 10 is the year that the case was initiated.)

Another numerical filing method is to assign a range of numbers to a particular type of case, such as 00-999 for trusts, 1,000-1,999 for tax matters, and 2,000-2,999 for workers comp matters.

A FILING RULE that sometimes bears out is that the longer the case number, the more misfiling and other types of errors occur. Also, the shorter numbers can be remembered more easily. Numerical filing also solves the shifting problems with alphabetical systems. When a new case is taken, the next sequential number is given to the file and stored accordingly.

Bar Coding is where each file is tracked according to the barcode. Each time a user takes a file, the file’s bar code and user’s bar code are scanned into a computer. This method then tracks who has the file. Using this system, it is possible to find the location of files quickly.

An automated file/record management system tracks the files in a database on a computer. There is software for this or can simply be created in an Excel spreadsheet.

A centralized file system is where a file department or file clerk stores and manages all active files in a file room. A de-centralized file system is where files are kept in various locations throughout the law office. The de-centralized can become a big problem of files getting misplaced, borrowed and not returned from another attorney, etc.

Color coding files is a simple but effective way to reduce the number of misfiled documents. Files can be color coded in various ways, red-labeled files for litigation, green for estate planning, blue for criminal, etc.

Another method of color coding by category, i.e., blue: correspondence, yellow: medical red: accounting; purple: agreements… you get the idea.

By far, I feel that the Acco® Pressboard Binders with Fasteners are the best for pleadings, discovery, and/or motions. These binder folders are extremely durable, especially if you compare it against regular manila folders (plus you can use them over again).

It really boils down to what system you feel most comfortable with, however, as I mentioned above, make it as simple as possible.

Upcoming... Distinguishing Between "Prospective," "Current/Active," "Closed" and "Dead" files.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Effective File Management System

File information is generally worthless unless it is organized and available to the attorneys, legal secretaries and legal assistants who use it on demand. File management is a large task no matter the size of the law practice. A file that is a disorganized mess can be useless in a law office.

In today’s world there is a challenge in keeping track of papers, files and just getting and staying organized. Being disorganized causes less productivity.

One of the main reasons I am called to perform an assessment is normally they are frustrated because they can't find things, wasting valuable billable hours looking for it. Somehow, documents or papers get lost in a black hole somewhere, it turns up later in the most bizarre place or wrong file and they need a "system" set up.
All types of law offices need a file system that allows them to store, track and retrieve information about cases in a logical, efficient and expeditious manner. The outcome of many legal matters depends on the case information gathered, including evidence, depositions, pleadings, discovery requests, and witness interviews, etc.

A client could see piles in your office and think that their paperwork might get lost, or if you are really competent in handling their case.

In the upcoming weeks, I will be blogging on a series of organizational tips focusing on law offices on various topics.

An Effective File Management System

The files (hard copy and/or electronic) are complete and contain all of the information relevant to the case or matter.
Filing procedures ensure that all items are retained for the appropriate length of time.
Files are maintained so that they are accurate, sound, and reliable.
Ease of Use:
The file structure and file access provide for quick and easy location of files. Electronic file systems are readily available to all staff.
Files (hard copy and electronic) are maintained in a safe environment which prevents unauthorized access to the system as a whole or to individual files.
Ease of Learning:
The file system is candid, straightforward, and easy for others to learn.
The file system is flexible and easy to modify if structural or functional changes in the firm are necessary.

Create a "UNIVERSAL SYSTEM" where it is user-friendly with everyone that needs to access files. It needs to be kept uniform!

Upcoming post... "Various Filing Systems"

Monday, May 31, 2010

What Kind of File Folders Are Best for Organizing In a Law Office?


"What Kind of File Folders Are Best for Organizing In a Law Office?"
Whether to use manila or pressboard folders depends on your preference or budget. Using the right products and filing systems can speed up retrieval time, reduce misfiling and eliminate the embarrassment of the inability to find files. Manila folders cost considerably less than pressboard, but generally can only be used once. It can also depend on how voluminous your files will get. If it’s a big case and you anticipate a lot of documents, you may find it easier to use manila folders in order to break down the file categories making retrieval manageable and organized. For pleadings/discovery files, I recommend using Acco® Presstex® Top Bound folders, which accommodate a large number of pleadings. Pressboard is great because the folders can be used again. In addition, when files are handled frequently, these folders are sturdier and more durable than manila folders. If you decide to use pressboard folders and plan to reuse them, I would advise purchasing Avery® Removable File Folder Labels to be able to remove and replace labels with ease. I also recommend using Smead® Expanding File Pocket Folders or Redweld® (aka bucket files or redwells) which gives you the ability to manage multiple files, keeping them all together and organized.