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"