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15 file management tips for small-firm lawyers

David Paul's Field Notes
|Written By David A. Paul
15 file management tips for small-firm lawyers

While most of us now use computers to generate our documents, not everyone uses document management software or has a system in place for organizing the files on their computers. For those who do not, much time (lawyer and staff) is often wasted searching for data and files that are sitting on the very computer or network we are using. The primary purpose of a file management system is to ensure you can quickly find what you are looking for when you need it, whether it be a case on point, a letter, a pleading, or a document painstakingly prepared on another file but required now on a new matter.

In this article, I will share with you some of the tricks and strategies I have employed, without the use of document management software, for organizing and managing my firm’s files (in a PC, not Mac, environment).

Tip 1

If you operate off a network, organize your files in one central place — on the server — where they can be easily accessed by everyone using the files. This makes it a lot easier to find files and run backups. If you have remote access to your server, it also makes it easy to access files from off-site when you are away from your office.

Tip 2

Be consistent in how you map your firm’s computers to the network. If your files are being stored on the “C” drive of your server, identify that drive in the same way on each of your other computers. For instance, if the “S” drive on your computer is mapped to the “C” drive on the server, name the “C” drive in the same way as each of the other computers. This will make it much easier for you or someone else working off the network to explain to someone else working on the same network where a particular file or precedent can be found.

Tip 3

Store the files in their own dedicated directory. Do not store them in a directory with program files. Doing so increases the risk of accidentally deleting the files when you install, upgrade, or delete programs being operating on your computer.

Tip 4

Organize your files by type. For instance, create one file for “precedents” and another for “file documents.”

Tip 5

Create the file as you start working on it. Doing this helps prevent you from saving over a precedent you may be working from.

Tip 6

Ensure everyone accessing the server employs and sticks with a consistent file-naming convention. For instance, if you avoid spaces or use all lowercase letters when naming a document on a particular file, follow this same practice for other files. Maintaining consistency will make it much easier to find a file in future searches.

Tip 7

Try to use short names that are precise and to the point when naming files. Long file names are difficult to remember and more difficult to find.

Tip 8

Use dates when naming certain files. For instance, when naming letters to your client, incorporate the date into the name as follows: Client.Feb17.2010. Alternatively, if you want to sort the correspondence to your client by date, use the yyyymmdd format. For example, the model cited above would be named as 20100217.client

Tip 9

For precedent files or other files that you do not want changed, consider protecting the files against accidental change. In Word, this can be done by making the file read-only. To do this, follow these steps:

Save the file or Save As if you have previously saved the document.

1.    Click Tools.

2.    Click General Options.

3.    Click the Read-only recommended check box.

4.    Click OK.

5.    Save the document. You might need to save it as another file name if you have already named the document.

Another method for protecting a file against change in Word is to restrict editing and formatting. To do this, follow these steps:

1.    On the Review tab, in the Protect group, click Protect Document.

2.    Under Restrict Reviewing Options, click Restrict Formatting and Editing.

3.    In the Restrict Formatting and Editing task pane, under Formatting restrictions, Editing restrictions, and Start enforcement, make the selections that meet your formatting and editing needs.

If a file is going to be changed, or if you wish to create more than one version of the same document, consider using version numbers to distinguish between different versions of the same document. For example, if you have two different versions of closing letters, you could call one “closingletter.v1” and the other “closingletter.v2”.

Tip 10

Create folders within folders so every file has a file or subfile within it which it can be saved. For instance, if you are a family law lawyer, the directories and sub-directories within your precedent folders might be organized as follows:

•    Precedents-Family

o    Pleadings

•    Provincial Court

•    Supreme Court

o    Retainer Agreements

o    Form Letters

Your file folders, on the other hand, might be organized as follows:

•    File #

o    Case Law

•    Child Support

•    Spousal Support

•    Property Division

o    Correspondence

•    Client

•    Opposing Counsel

•    Others

o    Pleadings

•    writ.nov1.2010

•    statementofClaim.nov.1.2010

•    financialstatement.nov.1.2010

•    noticeofmotion.Jan6.2011

•    affidavit.client.Jan6.2011

•    affidavit.johndoe.Jan6.2011

o    Accounting

•    retaineragreement

•    account.dec15.2010

•    account.dec27.2011

Tip 11

When working with client files, consider creating a separate directory for “open” and “closed” files. Separating open and closed files will help keep your open files from becoming too unwieldy. It also makes it easier for others accessing the open file directory to find a particular file if necessary.

Tip 12

Order your files for convenience. If you use a particular precedent regularly, consider renaming it by putting an exclamation point or two a’s in front. For instance, if you have a precedent for a retainer agreement, consider renaming it from “retaineragreement” to “!!retaineragreement” or “aaretaineragreement.” Renaming the files in this way forces them to rise to the top of your alphabetized list of files so that you do not have to scroll down the list to find them.

Tip 13

Create a shortcut to your files on your desktop. This can really speed up how long it takes to find a particular file. For instance, if your precedents are being stored on the C drive of your server, which is identified as the S drive on your desktop, instead of going to My Computer and then scrolling down to the appropriate directory on your server, you can go directly there by clicking on the shortcut you created on your desktop. Creating the shortcut is easy. Simply go to the directory you wish to create the shortcut to and right-click on it. After doing that, choose “Send to” and then “Desktop (create shortcut).” The shortcut will now appear on your desktop.

Tip 14

Install a desktop search engine program. This will index your files allowing you to easily and quickly search through your files, precedents, e-mails, and other files on your system. One program to consider is Copernic. It can be found at www.copernic.com.

Tip 15

Regularly back up your files. Again, if they are all being stored in one directory, the backup will be relatively straightforward. Be sure to backup on a storage device other than the server itself.

Conclusion

In conclusion, establishing a system that is tailored to your firm can be a relatively simple process and the time and effort employed in creating the system will pay off. Having an effective file management system increases your efficiency as well as your firm’s productivity. Once the system has been created, the key to its success is ensuring that it is consistently followed by everyone using the system.


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