Can I Have Files With That?: Tips for effective file management
If the recent British Airways system failure has taught us anything, it is that technology is both a blessing and a curse. And while we may rely on its progressive abilities, it is not without a vast spectrum of limitations. It is this wavering performance capacity that still has many law firms in-the-river and on-the-bank about switching from paper to electronic files. Some lawyers find it challenging to invest in a mechanism that can malfunction at any moment. Others prefer to move with the current of the information age and take the risk. For the meticulous bunch, we subscribe to both. It ultimately comes down to personal preference and more importantly, trust.
Regardless of preference, we can all agree that file management is an integral part of the operation and accountability of any and every firm. Both paper and electronic files require sufficient maintenance to minimize risk of misplacement, error, and that thing we dread the most...unnecessary work. Don't worry, we've got you, especially on that last one. Below, we've compiled a list of our most helpful filing tips to ensure that you do not fall victim to a legal system failure.
Obvious, right? Of course files need to be labeled, but the methodology for doing so can complicate how you access your files. We recommend using a combination of names and numbers. For example, rather than simply putting the file number on the folder (both paper and electronic), start with the year, then include the number of the file and finally the client's first and last name. It may also be helpful to label the file with the type of law in instances where you specialize in multiple matters. Some firms will have outrageous numbers i.e. File # 234433, but starting file numbers from "1" at the beginning of the year not only makes it easier to locate, but it also makes your storage system (closed files) seamless.
Ex: 2017-01, DOE, JANE (Criminal Law)
Additional labels worth including on the front cover of your file if you maintain a paper system:
Open and Close Dates
Opposing Counsel's contact information
Let's see; every document on your file serves a different purpose, so why clump them together on a single peg? Imagine having to remove hundreds and hundreds of paper from an obese file just to obtain a Court Order from two years prior. Now imagine simply pulling out a colour-coded folder, strictly for Court Orders. Which one is easier and requires less effort? I think the answer is easy. Folders within the file works both in print and electronically. It unifies your case and makes document retrieval less of burden. Colour-coded paper may have a similar effect, but it does not ease having to dig through 200 sheets of paper or scrolling through every document on the file to find the one you are looking for.
Need some folder ideas? Try these:
Now, after lawyering for some time you become familiar with certain information that you rely on almost on a day-to-day basis. This catalog of information should be included on the front, inside cover of your file. You should not have to disrupt your entire file to find your client's email address. For electronic files, we recommend creating a folder labeled, “File fundamentals” or something like that. What should you keep in this information catalog?
Your client's contact information including email address and phone number
Opposing Counsel's contact information and the name and extension for his or her assistant
The names of children and their Date of Birth, should their be matters pertaining to children
The name of the Judge or Case Management lead on the file
Finally—this is especially important for electronic files—back up your files. Let's face it; life will happen. Computers will crash. Ensure that you have backed up all your clients' files on a separate hard drive or external internet applications. It is worth investing in an application that backs up your work automatically on the internet. And it is equally important to splurge on a good security system to defend against hacks.
With paper files, make photocopies of even the simplest documents. Sending a letter to your client? Make a copy. Disclosure? Make a copy. You can never be too careful especially when paper has a way of growing legs and walking everywhere but inside the file. Photocopies are your security checks.
We hope you find these tips useful and if you have ideas that you believe may be beneficial, but are not listed above, comment below. Protect yourself from the mayhem and make file maintenance a priority, even if it is an expensive one. God forbid your system crashes anyway, we can only hope it won't cost you half a billion dollars in loss (Sorry, British Airways)!
By: Jamie-Lee, Founder and Editor-in-Chief