America is a uniquely litigious society, with a staggering 40 million lawsuits filed in the country each year. Given the amount of paperwork involved in all of these lawsuits, keeping all the legal files organized can be a huge challenge.
Legal documents are the backbone of a law firm. These documents contain sensitive information and need proper management and handling. If you can get your filing system right, it becomes easier for your firm to run efficiently, effectively, and productively?
But where do you start? Here are law firm organization tips that can help improve your legal workflows.
Sort Out Files to Identify Clutter
The first step in law firm organization is to take a good look at all the files you have in your current filing system. Chances are there’s a lot that you don’t need. Getting organized in an office that’s full of clutter is virtually impossible.
Get to work doing a thorough inventory of every file in your possession. Are there any duplicate copies that you need to eliminate, so you remain with only the original ones?
Move from one section to the next, decluttering as needed. Work through every area. You can make things easier for you by having categories based on motions, correspondence, pleadings, and so on.
Dispose of Unnecessary Documents
Now that you’ve identified legal files that are unnecessary, it’s time to move to the next step. This involves disposing of these files to free up space.
If you still have trouble identifying what files are unnecessary, check your law firm’s rules on file retention. In some states, attorneys are required to retain closed client files indefinitely. However, there are exceptions that allow attorneys to get rid of specific attorney-client files after a given number of years.
If your law firm has a centralized file retention policy, check what it says about what documents need to be kept. Find out how long these documents need to be kept. For documents that need to be disposed of, read up on the recommended disposal measures, so you do things correctly.
Organize Your Current Filing System
After you’ve purged your records, it’s time to organize the legal files that remain.
Step one is to come up with standard operating procedures for your office. That means creating a standard set of rules on document management for everyone in the firm. The goal here is to create clarity and consistency throughout the firm.
So, what tasks should you standardize? You can have policies around the opening of new client legal files, billing and payment procedures, the ordering of office supplies, and scheduling consultations. You can also standardize the closing, archiving, and destruction of client files, as well as the preparation of trial documents.
Having a standard system for everything makes organization for lawyers so much easier.
Decide on a File Identification System
It’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of a proper file identification system, with over 50% of office professionals stating they spend more time looking for files than they do on work. A strong file naming system can make finding files a breeze.
Start by deciding how you’re going to categorize and subcategorize your legal documents. You can do so based on client name, case number, name of the attorney, the date the file was opened, and so on. Doing so makes it easier to identify files.
Don’t forget that other people in the office will also need to access the legal files. Therefore, it’s important to have a naming system that’s consistent, logical, and simple. Avoid shorthand that makes sense to only you, and opt instead for a more generalized approach.
You’ll also need an easy-to-understand file labeling system. Invest in top-quality tabs that make labeling an easy job.
The best tabs come with tab dividers, making it even easier to find specific documents just when you need them. You can find these custom tabs at tabshop.com.
Another practical way to get organized in the workplace is to adopt a digital filing system. The fact is paper documents take up space, and some law firms find that a paper filing system proves more costly in the long run.
As your law firm continues to grow, a time may come when you find that paper files are less efficient and practical. Besides, a fire or some other disaster can destroy your paper files. And, in the event of a pandemic like the recent COVID-19 menace, accessing physical files becomes difficult for remote workers.
The good news is that there are technological solutions to combat the shortcomings that come with paper. You can opt to keep your records on your computer.
Keep in mind that, even if you decide to adopt a digital filing system, you’ll still need to keep your files well organized for easy access. That means creating folders in a logical hierarchy and using established file naming conventions to make it easy to find your files. Try to be as specific as possible when labeling files to make it easier to search for them.
Consider investing in reliable legal file management software to help streamline everything for you. This software will efficiently maintain your schedules, improve communication, and grant you instant access to your files.
Organizing Your Legal Documents Should Never Be a Pain
Taking the time to institute a solid filing system can massively impact your law firm’s efficiency and success. The tips recommended in this guide can help get you started and ensure that you never lose control of your legal documents.
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