File Management For Attorneys: Initial Physical File Organization
A legal matter’s initial file organization sets the standard for effective file maintenance. Right or wrong, competence is associated with organization; and client perception is crucial to malpractice claim avoidance and client retention.
No file number should be assigned for billing purposes until the retainer agreement is signed and the conflicts check has been completed. Analysis of a firm’s practice areas should identify subfile categories. Along with basic client personal information, the following is a list of categories for client files:
- attorney notes and file memoranda
- substantive pleadings
- discovery pleadings
- legal research
- client documents
- corporate documents
- demonstrative/documentary evidence
These files should be color-coded and tabbed accordingly so that files may be located quickly and easily. Every client that the firm represents, and every matter handled by a law practice, must have some designation, whether alphabetical, numerical, or alpha-numerical, so that billable time may be attributed to the appropriate client/matter.
Traditionally, many law firms have designated their clients and matters in a simple numerical sequence. Today, some law firms have utilized systems based on the client’s last name, the length of time the client has utilized the firm’s services, or the year a matter was opened. These methods reveal just a little bit more about the client or matter than a mere number.
Numerous malpractice claims have resulted from lost files or misplaced documents, which were, of course, largely preventable had an organized internal filing system existed. Malpractice prevention aside, organized files are cost-effective and efficient, both for the firm and client.
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