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How one can manage paperless regulation agency information

Organizing paperless client files is easy: Organize digital client files exactly as you organized your files before they went paperless. Decide on the folder analogy that your computer uses to organize files, and use them the same way you use your red ropes and manila folders.

Consider your "paper-rich" workflow. You will likely receive a document by mail, review it, then punch it with two holes, and add it to a Manila folder, which will be placed in a red rope bucket file and saved in your filing cabinet (or in a stack next) to your desk). A paperless workflow is similar, but most of it happens on your computer. After you receive a document by email, scan it and put it in a folder on your computer. This folder is similar to the Manila folder and should be in a folder for the client (the red rope), which in turn is stored in a client file folder (your filing cabinet).

Folder structure of the client files

Here is an overview of how I organize my client files:

Client file structure overview

This is a screenshot from my actual client file archive. So I blurred my clients' names, but you got the idea.

Instead of a filing cabinet, I have a folder called Client Files. In this folder there are subfolders (red ropes) for all my client files. Every matter has the customer's file number and last name. You can use your folder / client files as a tickler for scheduling meetings if you are reasonably careful when closing files.

In my folder / Documents there are also folders with the names billing, temporary, closed client files and rejected. (The "Billing" and "Temporary" folders are not shown in the image above because they come from my archive.) This is how I use each folder.

  • Client files. These are open files. I use a file checklist to close files immediately when they're done.
  • Billing. Files that have been closed but for which the customer still owes me money.
  • Temporary. Any notes, admission forms, or other documents related to customers who have not yet signed a reservation.
  • Closed client files. Self-explanatory, except for one important point. I send all the paper back to the customer along with a CD with a full copy of the digital file. I keep my digital copy for 10 years and then delete it (the customer receives a message that this will be done in the final letter).
  • Declined. Files are moved here from the temporary folder if the client decides not to sign a retainer or if I choose not to represent the client.

I also have a Client Files Archive folder in my Documents folder with one folder for each year. At the end of each year, I move all inactive (closed and rejected) files to an archive folder for that year. It helps keep the Client Files folder clear and makes it easy to delete archived client files on a ten-year schedule.

Empty new folder template

I have an empty new folder template ready for new files. It looks like this:

File structure

It makes sense to save your templates in your empty folder too. Place your letterhead and envelope templates in your design folder and a table of negotiation negotiations in your notes folder.

File numbers

If you don't have a file numbering scheme yet, try mine. I decided it was worthless to assign any number and started using numbers that reflected the date the customer signed a retainer. If the client signed a retainer on August 3, 2016, the file number is 160803. If multiple clients sign a retainer on the same day, simply add a letter as follows: 160803a for the first, 160803b for the second and soon. This way you can see at a glance how long a file has been open. This is not information that I need all the time, but it is more useful than sequential numbering that says nothing about the file at all.

Filenames

The naming of files is also important. Generally, you sort documents by the date of the document (not the date you scanned the document, which can be days or years later). To do this, start file names with the date, the first year: YYYY-MM-DD file name.pdf. (You must start with the year, otherwise all of your January will end next to each other. I prefer to use hyphens to separate the elements of the date to make it easier to read the date when looking at a list of files.

One last thing. Do not save Word, WordPerfect, Pages, OpenOffice.org, etc. files in folders other than drafts or notes. These files are not copies of documents. These are malleable designs that are likely to look a little different on different computers and can be easily edited. PDFs are documents (and PDF is the file format you should use).

The exception is when a customer provides you with a digital document. In this case, save it in the format you received it in the "Documents from client" folder, as this digital file is the actual document you received.

Originally published in 2010. Updated in 2017. Released in 2019-10-16.

Sam Glover

last update March 20, 2020.

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