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.

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