How to Successfully Organize Your Legal Files: Edition 2021

It's estimated that more than 40 million lawsuits are filed in the United States every year. The legal workflows involve a lot of paperwork, and paralegals and attorneys often find it daunting to keep all files organized. From correspondence to discovery, legal documents are the foundation of any law firm. These documents are often sensitive and require proper handling and management.

According to a study conducted by Law Technology Today, 42% of the time, law firms take an average of 3+ days to respond to a message from a potential new client. According to another study, 86% of the time, law firms fail to collect an email address, and 45% of the time, law firms fail to collect a phone number on an initial call.

Law firms can make a huge difference in their success simply by keeping these documents organized and accessible. A good law office filing system makes the law firms more productive, efficient, and effective. But how do you create a strong law firm filing system?

In this post, we'll cover some legal filing system ideas that will help you organize your legal files successfully. We'll answer some important questions—like why you need a structured system, what makes a law office filing system effective, and how a paperless legal filing system can help your firm level up. Tag along to find out the details of file management necessary for law offices to remain organized and continue on their path to success.

How to Organize Legal Files: A 5 Step Approach

As difficult of a task legal file management can be, it isn't an impossible one. There are multiple options that a law office can choose from. Some work undoubtedly better than others. But, the ideal way to go about it is to take some time, analyze your specific needs, and put in a plan accordingly. Here is a 5-step plan to help you:

Step 1: Declutter and Sort Out

The very basic start would be to declutter your existing files. It is virtually impossible to get organized when you're surrounded by clutter. Therefore, get rid of the clutter first. Do a rough inventory and sort through all your files. This makes it easier to develop your legal filing system from the ground up.

You can eliminate the duplicate copies and keep only the original ones. Declutter one section at a time. Work through each area to get rid of everything that you do not need. You can do this by dividing them into various categories according to correspondence, motions, pleadings, or even client names.

Step 2. Purge and Dispose of Unnecessary Documents

Not all files in a law firm need to be kept until the end of the time. One of the main issues that often prevent law offices from remaining organized with their files is that they fail to dispose of the unnecessary ones. It takes up valuable storage space. By disposing of the unnecessary files, your firm can free up space to organize.

Check your firm’s rules to retain files and find out if you can get rid of certain old documents and files. For example, in New York, lawyers must retain closed client files indefinitely unless the client requests their return. But there are exceptions where lawyers are allowed to dispose of certain attorney-client books and records after seven years.

You can also frame centralized file retention policies for your firm. Outline the rules and policies for what needs to be kept and for how long. Also, mention how to dispose of these files. Generally, most law firms have a file retention policy that dictates all procedure(s), from how files are stored to how they're disposed of correctly.

Having such a policy in place can help you practice effective file management and prevent excess clutter. Ensure that files that are approved to be disposed of have been cleared of all the loose ends. Make sure all balances are paid and contents are distributed to the concerning parties if necessary. Lastly, make sure that it has been entered into the system as "closed."

Step 3: Organize Your Existing Filing System

Once you're done purging your legal files and documents, you must organize the remaining items. Firstly, create standard operating procedures for the entire office. Have a standard set of rules that everyone must follow while managing the documents. This creates consistency and clarity throughout the entire law firm.

This standard operating procedure will tailor to your law firm and help you in managing your documents further. You must standardize policies of at least the following tasks:

  • Opening new client files
  • Billing and payment acceptance
  • Ordering office supplies
  • Closing, archiving, and destroying client files
  • Scheduling client consultations
  • Preparing trial documents
  • Daily filing system

Step 4: Determine Your law Office Filing System

Documentation and filing systems are the backbone of your business and organizational plan. In order to operate efficiently, you must organize your paper files as well as computer files. Develop a system that applies to all files to ensure continuity throughout the firm. This helps everyone know where to look for a specific document within a file.

You must also set up a security plan for protecting confidentiality. For distinguishing files based on types of cases as well as case status, you can use the color-coding method. While determining your office filing system from the ground up, make sure you think about the following aspects:

Your Firm's Storage Space

Think about your physical office space. Is it enough to house all the documents and files? Or will you need more office space? Think about rearranging your storage capacity so that you can get the maximum use of it. Also, think about your growth goals and plan carefully and accordingly.

How Will You Identify Your files?

Decide a naming system for all your files. Determine how you'll categorize and subcategorize your files and how effectively you'll be able to identify them. It could be based on the client's name, case or matter number, the date the file was opened, the name of the lawyer, or even a numeric indexing system.

An expert from legal services and law practitioner Willie Peacock suggests that something as simple as "date, keyword description of the file, and initials of the responsible party" works well to categorize the legal files. Keep in mind that you're not the only one who needs to access files. Hence, you must have a consistent, logical, and easy-to-understand file naming system. Skip any shorthand that only makes sense to you and keep it more generalized.

Legal File Labelling

Once you have decided on the method to identify your files, make sure you get a generalized labeling system as well. Using clear identifiers like color-coded file labels and expanded files can help you go a long way towards organizing paper files more easily.

Step 5: Consider Going Digital

Could you go digital? Think about using a digital law office filing system. Paper files will only take up more space, and it can become costly for your firm in the long run. As law firms grow, working with paper files today is becoming less practical and efficient. Besides, during a pandemic or natural disaster, physical record-keeping and access can become troublesome when everyone is working remotely.

Nowadays, almost all law firms use a technological solution. Hence, underutilizing this technology will get you nowhere. In most cases, technological solutions are more efficient than the manual paper record-keeping system. Take law office billing, for example. We can all agree that using law office billing software to track billable hours is more efficient than paper billing. It gives you a more searchable record of all accounting transactions.

Legal file management software can help you maintain schedules, provide instant access to information, and improve communication. It helps attorneys and supervisors to manage delegated tasks and track the progress of tasks within a certain case.

Paperless depositions also save hours for your paralegals as compared to preparing paper exhibits. There are numerous other benefits of going paperless. Let us have a look:

Why Should You Switch to a Paperless File Management in 2021?

Specifically for law firms, there are oh-so-many advantages to going paperless. Starting from when you first retain a client to the end of the case, it benefits legal firms in multiple ways.

1. Easy client onboarding and retention

You would not need to scan documents for record-keeping if you use a retainer with an electronic signature. You can automatically send copies to all parties involved once they're signed.

2. Automated workflows

If you set up a paperless system correctly, you can automate a personalized welcome email to the client. You can provide FAQs and information on their case and about the firm. You can automatically send them the intake forms and requests asking for various documents. This saves a huge amount of time, and your paralegals won't have to do all this work manually.

3. Quick information search

The benefits are even bigger once you have retained the client. You can scan all the documents into your file management software. With features like text-searchable PDFs, it will only take you seconds to search through a client's file and quickly find the information that you're looking for. This won't sound like a big deal to you now, but when you're in the room with opposing counsel, you can pull out a fact or document within seconds because you're paperless.

4. Serve your clients better

With a paperless legal file management system in place, you can serve your clients better. You can get your work done in half the time. For example, if a client calls you in the middle of a busy Monday to ask for updates about their case file, you can quickly type in a query for your system rather than shuffle through the filing cabinets.

5. 24*7 Information Availability

Lastly, it is important to mention the massive advantage of being able to work from anywhere, at any time. You can be sitting in one corner of the world and successfully solve the queries of clients on the other side of the world. Especially since we are now living during an active pandemic.

The long and the short of it is, running a paperless practice is simpler than you think. It is clearer than ever that the flexibility that going paperless affords you is indispensable. So, are you ready to take your file management online or still have doubts? In case you have any doubts, consult our experts who will help you at every step possible.

What is an Ideal File Management Software?

So now that you know the benefits of legal file management software, the next thing would be to figure out how to select a perfect file management software. What are the must-have features of legal matter management software? Here's a list for you:

1. Content Recording

One of the most primary features a legal document management system should have is the ability to index your documents. Most legal firms have hundreds, thousands, or more, so they must have an efficient way to keep track of them easily.

Legal firms can simply accomplish this through labeling or tagging files in the system with specific identifiers such as client name, case name, docket number, date of signing, date of proceedings, and so on. For this, a centralized database is a must-have. A legal matter management software must include client details, accounting, document handling, time tracking, billing, and other advanced features.

2. Searchability

After indexing, the logical next step would be to have better-searching features. Once they're properly tagged and stored, your documents must be searchable effectively. At a minimum, you should be able to search according to your tags and categories securely.

Hence, your software must have seamless sync between your database and portal. You must be able to share, store and save huge chunks of confidential data through a synchronized legal services portal solution.

3. Access Control

As a legal firm manager, you want to be sure that the right people are accessing the sensitive documents that your firm handles. Not all staff members need access to every document stored in your system. Therefore, you must have a role-based access feature in your system to limit your attorney's access to only their case files.

Get a legal file management software that offers user-level access that is controllable across multiple perspectives—from specific tags to individual files. Further, the system should be able to dictate exactly what each user can and cannot do with each file they have access to.

For this, you need software that lets you define permission and access privileges to enhance security. Choose a portal that lets you create different user groups and roles and access different entities based on their assigned roles.

You can also define various file permission levels. Include real-only and write permissions for individual files so that the archived files are not accidentally edited.

4. Integrations and Customization

Your legal matter management software must seamlessly configure third-party integrations with your existing systems. With various customization features, you can design your portal and make it identical to your website and improve your brand identity.

5. Constant Document Updating

The biggest problem with managing documents is knowing what version is the latest. A system that has version control features helps avoid this problem. You can enforce this by implementing a check-in/check-out feature, where a document is essentially locked against changes until returned by the user.

6. 360-degree Entity Management

You must be able to exercise complete control over entities (client, matter, tasks, data, etc.) in your CRM and portal.

Client Management Features: It must let you add and manage clients and keep their information hands-on. It must be rich with advanced search features for specific client-related information.

Case Management Features: You must be able to consolidate your data and collaborate better. Case management features include matter management applications, relevant case matter filing systems, seamless workflows, database research, file attachment, third-party integrations, and so on.

7. Auditability

Lack of transparency is another big challenge while managing legal documents. It is important to be able to track who's done what and when.

A solid legal file management software will let you create an audit trail of user activity and provide insights into the document that users are accessing. In addition, if you have or plan to implement a document approval process, your software should be able to support that as part of audit reporting.

8. Data Security & Backups

Due to the sensitive nature of legal documents, keeping them secure and preserved is a must. Data security and backup is the digital concept of keeping files secure under lock and key. Keep the client information at your fingertips and access it securely at any time, from anywhere.

You can also provide a virtual platform for clients to view and access case documents, fillings, calendars, and so on. Encryption is an essential part of data security. It ensures that only authorized parties can access the documents. Similarly, backups are important to ensure your documents are not lost due to unforeseen events or technical defaults.

Need Help in Managing Your Legal Files? Work with Us!

We hope these legal filing system ideas will help you put an effective system in place for your firm. Most legal firms lack technological aspects of client management and digitization. It is important to mitigate the technological gap and help legal firms reach an optimum business.

So, do you need a legal document solution that's secure and makes file management a breeze? Try CRMJetty's legal file management software. CRMJetty is a collaboration platform where you can effectively practice file management reliably and securely. From auditing, reporting, and analytics to document version control, our legal file management software provides you with a robust set of tools to easily manage your myriad of legal files.

Our software helps law firms consolidate their offerings and level up their file management workflow. It helps address legal and compliance issues, streamline all work processes, centralize the documentation process, reduce costs, and empower legal teams to excel at every level. It provides ready access to the information, tools, and resources your firm needs to be proactive – enabling you to deliver on, and exceed, clients' expectations.

We are an ISO certified custom law tech development company that caters to all your needs. With 14+ years of industry experience in portal development, we aim to assist firms in capturing more growth opportunities through efficient legal matter management. We can help you increase your profitability by focusing on customer acquisition and services.

If you’ve still got questions about running a paperless law office, click the below button and consult our experts today.

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