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HelloSir80

File Organization Tips

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Hi friends,

Hope everyone is staying safe and enjoying the weather (however you can). 
 

I’m looking for tips and tricks for keeping track of my files and staying on top of things. I work on the barrister side (in a firm, not a solo) and we all have dozens of active files at any time. As each file is in a different stage of the litigation process (and/or in the process of being settled), I'm finding it impossible to keep track of every file, which leads to client complaints and overall stress and anxiety about missing a deadline and/or forgetting to follow-up with opposing counsel on a matter. We have clerks who send reminders every now and then, but blindly relying on my clerk isn't ideal. I do have a chart in my iPhone notes app which outlines the clients and their status, but it is very cumbersome every time I send off an email or letter or claim to them remember to update the chart with the latest status update. So it’s easy for things to get lost or forgetting about. 

 

If anyone has any advice for keeping track of their numerous files, your kind advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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I practise family law and run a paperless practice.

On each file, I maintain 2 active Microsoft Word documents. I diligently update both documents whenever there is movement on a file.

They help refresh my memory during calls/meetings with clients and could potentially defend a LAWPRO years down the road. When it comes to a trial, they can even help me organize my direct/cross examinations and opening/closing statements. It is worth spending half an hour each day just updating these documents for each file (non-billable of course).

A Chronology Document - This document helps you keep track what happened on each file organized by date. How much detail you put into each entry depends on what happened and your "gut feelings" about vulnerabilities and concerns etc.

For example:  (Imagine this is a chart because I have -100 iq when it comes to post formatting).

  • July 5, 2020 - Client intake. Client shared suspicion of infidelity of spouse and wisdom of retaining a private investigator. Client may return to sign retainer re: begin divorce process. Concerns: Client is a stay-at-home mom who is financially vulnerable. Possible domestic violence incident. No police involvement. Provided client with domestic violence safety kit and advised client to stay with other family members. See debrief letter date JULY-05-2020 re: advice given.
  • July 29, 2020 - Client moved out of matrimonial home with three children. Currently residing with parents in CITY by STREET/STREET. Pickup/dropoff ongoing, transition at school. Client called at 11:34 p.m. re: service of Application. Duration: 8 minutes. Advised client to remain flexible with pickup/drop off.
  • August 8, 2020 - Application served and issued on O.P. with retaining letter advising O.P. to seek legal representation. Request to Admit to follow upon Answer.

A Summary Document - although I believe that most law firm intake forms set out the basic information of each client. I like to keep everything in a single document, especially considering that clients don't always provide everything upfront (or may not realize something is important). A lot of important information I learn from my clients often come from small talks while waiting for court and pleasantries regarding the well-being of their children. You can also include a "to do" section which reminds you of important dates.

This document is organized in different tables under the heading "client info," "children info," "spouse info," etc. A lot of the information here is not found on the intake forms (e.g. name of camp counselor of a child).

Whenever I have a call/meeting with a client, I have both documents open to remind myself of the names of important parties, what happened recently, next steps, important date etc.

When it comes to trial, I cross-reference important events in my charts with the file.

File Naming Nomenclature - It helps to put some effort into how you label electronic files. Good electronic file organization helps when you are looking for something in a hurry.  Name folders properly and date each file. Add a little blurb in the title. 

One of my biggest file reached 1 GB from all the financial document scans.

E.g. JULY-05-2020 FORM 8 APPLICATION_Draft 1_re Childcare Issues & Property.

Hope I provided you with some ideas to try.

Edited by Aureliuse
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47 minutes ago, Aureliuse said:

File Naming Nomenclature - It helps to put some effort into how you label electronic files. Good electronic file organization helps when you are looking for something in a hurry.  Name folders properly and date each file. Add a little blurb in the title. 

One of my biggest file reached 1 GB from all the financial document scans.

E.g. JULY-05-2020 FORM 8 APPLICATION_Draft 1_re Childcare Issues & Property.

A further suggestion on nomenclature....if instead you used the format "2020-07-05 Form  8 Application..." your folder will be in order by date of document rather than alphabetical.  A former workplace of mine used this and I've stuck with it.

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51 minutes ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Does your firm use any practice management software?

I wish, otherwise I wouldn’t have made this post lol. Do you have any software you use/you can recommend? Are there any free options?

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1 hour ago, Aureliuse said:

I practise family law and run a paperless practice.

On each file, I maintain 2 active Microsoft Word documents. I diligently update both documents whenever there is movement on a file.

They help refresh my memory during calls/meetings with clients and could potentially defend a LAWPRO years down the road. When it comes to a trial, they can even help me organize my direct/cross examinations and opening/closing statements. It is worth spending half an hour each day just updating these documents for each file (non-billable of course).

A Chronology Document - This document helps you keep track what happened on each file organized by date. How much detail you put into each entry depends on what happened and your "gut feelings" about vulnerabilities and concerns etc.

For example:  (Imagine this is a chart because I have -100 iq when it comes to post formatting).

  • July 5, 2020 - Client intake. Client shared suspicion of infidelity of spouse and wisdom of retaining a private investigator. Client may return to sign retainer re: begin divorce process. Concerns: Client is a stay-at-home mom who is financially vulnerable. Possible domestic violence incident. No police involvement. Provided client with domestic violence safety kit and advised client to stay with other family members. See debrief letter date JULY-05-2020 re: advice given.
  • July 29, 2020 - Client moved out of matrimonial home with three children. Currently residing with parents in CITY by STREET/STREET. Pickup/dropoff ongoing, transition at school. Client called at 11:34 p.m. re: service of Application. Duration: 8 minutes. Advised client to remain flexible with pickup/drop off.
  • August 8, 2020 - Application served and issued on O.P. with retaining letter advising O.P. to seek legal representation. Request to Admit to follow upon Answer.

A Summary Document - although I believe that most law firm intake forms set out the basic information of each client. I like to keep everything in a single document, especially considering that clients don't always provide everything upfront (or may not realize something is important). A lot of important information I learn from my clients often come from small talks while waiting for court and pleasantries regarding the well-being of their children. You can also include a "to do" section which reminds you of important dates.

This document is organized in different tables under the heading "client info," "children info," "spouse info," etc. A lot of the information here is not found on the intake forms (e.g. name of camp counselor of a child).

Whenever I have a call/meeting with a client, I have both documents open to remind myself of the names of important parties, what happened recently, next steps, important date etc.

When it comes to trial, I cross-reference important events in my charts with the file.

File Naming Nomenclature - It helps to put some effort into how you label electronic files. Good electronic file organization helps when you are looking for something in a hurry.  Name folders properly and date each file. Add a little blurb in the title. 

One of my biggest file reached 1 GB from all the financial document scans.

E.g. JULY-05-2020 FORM 8 APPLICATION_Draft 1_re Childcare Issues & Property.

Hope I provided you with some ideas to try.

This advice sounds good on paper but not quite what I’m looking for. I have tools to manually keep track of files but it’s quite cumbersome to manually update a word or excel or a notes file each time there’s some movement, but I suppose that’s just what it might come down to. 

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Do you have an assistant? When I get a new file, my assistant puts all admin deadlines in my calendar right at the start (LP, admin dismissal date, date initial opinion/budget is due, status update due every 30-45 days depending on client, etc). When the reminder pops up for a status update, I also take a look at the most recent correspondence to see if there anything I need to follow up on with counsel. You can do this all yourself if you don’t have support staff. Of course it’s going to be somewhat cumbersome; you need to get over that mentality. As for keeping on top of tasks or responding to opposing counsel, etc, use the follow-up/flag system in Outlook or create your own to-do list in word (include deadlines by which to complete the task) that you get into the habit of checking every day. If I’ve emailed someone and asked for a response by a certain day, I forward that email to myself with a note that says ‘follow-up’ and use the delay send option to send it on the deadline I requested. So then I get an email to remind me. 

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I use modern tech and use many of the techniques discussed above. What I've personally found works best for me in terms of keeping track of everything I have to do is a weekly planner notebook.

 

My planner has space at the top where I can write lists for separate matters. Every Friday at the end of the day I write down the task list for all my cases for the next week. I make one list for all my pending cases or "leads" as I call them. Then I proritize tasks and try to make lists of the tasks each day so I can try and cross everything off. What I don't get done is added to the case task list and later the daily task list for the next week.

If you like written planners I cannot recommend more highly a company called Planner Pad. If you Google them you'll probably get a better idea of what I'm talking about. 

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9 minutes ago, Blurg said:

If I’ve emailed someone and asked for a response by a certain day, I forward that email to myself with a note that says ‘follow-up’ and use the delay send option to send it on the deadline I requested. So then I get an email to remind me. 

Outlook can do this automatically for you, if you want. Message > Follow Up > Add Reminder. Then it will remind you on the date you select. 

Of course, you may prefer receiving an email and thus having it in your inbox rather than a simple reminder notification. 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois

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Just now, BlockedQuebecois said:

Outlook can do this automatically for you, if you want. Message > Follow Up > Add Reminder. Then it will remind you on the date you select. 

Good to know. Is it just the little reminder message that pops up though? Because I’m pretty great at just ignoring those for awhile (which is also why my assistant puts in 1 month/2 week/1 weeks reminders for super important things). Emails I’ll pay attention to. I don’t file an email away until it’s been responded to, so I know whatever’s in my inbox still needs to be addressed.

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2 minutes ago, Blurg said:

Good to know. Is it just the little reminder message that pops up though? Because I’m pretty great at just ignoring those for awhile (which is also why my assistant puts in 1 month/2 week/1 weeks reminders for super important things). Emails I’ll pay attention to. I don’t file an email away until it’s been responded to, so I know whatever’s in my inbox still needs to be addressed.

Yeah it is, you beat me to editing that in 😛 I prefer emails to reminders as well. 

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48 minutes ago, HelloSir80 said:

I wish, otherwise I wouldn’t have made this post lol. Do you have any software you use/you can recommend? Are there any free options?

Not that I know of. Everything is pricey and would likely have to be adopted at the firm level. Also everything sucks. Clio is the most popular for small to mid sized offices as far as I can tell. 

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3 hours ago, Blurg said:

Do you have an assistant? When I get a new file, my assistant puts all admin deadlines in my calendar right at the start (LP, admin dismissal date, date initial opinion/budget is due, status update due every 30-45 days depending on client, etc). When the reminder pops up for a status update, I also take a look at the most recent correspondence to see if there anything I need to follow up on with counsel. You can do this all yourself if you don’t have support staff. Of course it’s going to be somewhat cumbersome; you need to get over that mentality. As for keeping on top of tasks or responding to opposing counsel, etc, use the follow-up/flag system in Outlook or create your own to-do list in word (include deadlines by which to complete the task) that you get into the habit of checking every day. If I’ve emailed someone and asked for a response by a certain day, I forward that email to myself with a note that says ‘follow-up’ and use the delay send option to send it on the deadline I requested. So then I get an email to remind me. 

We share assistants who technically do that but what I’m looking for is to somehow have a master list of all my active files at any given time and know what’s going on. The reminders on outlook is not had, I use that but I find it doesn’t always save the changes. I think perhaps starting a google docs of some sort might be the bottom line but if there’s a software or some sort of other trick that would be great. 
 

In an ideal world my assistant would manually update the data for me but it’s not gonna happen lol. 

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6 minutes ago, HelloSir80 said:

We share assistants who technically do that but what I’m looking for is to somehow have a master list of all my active files at any given time and know what’s going on. The reminders on outlook is not had, I use that but I find it doesn’t always save the changes. I think perhaps starting a google docs of some sort might be the bottom line but if there’s a software or some sort of other trick that would be great. 
 

In an ideal world my assistant would manually update the data for me but it’s not gonna happen lol. 

It’s been mentioned above, but I think you need to accept that file management is part of your job.

Things can obviously be automated to a degree, but it’s ultimately on you to input the necessary data (or ensure your assistant does). No software is going to be capable of automatically updating every time there’s movement on a file.

In my opinion, you’re missing out on valuable advice by shooting it down because it’s not the perfect solution.

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2 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

It’s been mentioned above, but I think you need to accept that file management is part of your job.

Things can obviously be automated to a degree, but it’s ultimately on you to input the necessary data (or ensure your assistant does). No software is going to be capable of automatically updating every time there’s movement on a file.

In my opinion, you’re missing out on valuable advice by shooting it down because it’s not the perfect solution.

I think you’re correct in arguing that ultimately there is no one size fits all to automate my file management. But I’ve already implemented a lot of the aforementioned suggestions and it’s not quite doing it for me.

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2 hours ago, HelloSir80 said:

We share assistants who technically do that but what I’m looking for is to somehow have a master list of all my active files at any given time and know what’s going on. The reminders on outlook is not had, I use that but I find it doesn’t always save the changes. I think perhaps starting a google docs of some sort might be the bottom line but if there’s a software or some sort of other trick that would be great. 
 

In an ideal world my assistant would manually update the data for me but it’s not gonna happen lol. 

Then just create a master list that has all your files and what stage of the proceedings each is at. Go through it once a month (or more often) and update it or ask your assistant to update it based on the info you tell them. I have an excel spreadsheet that has this, so it’s not fancy. File management is part of your job, whether you manually do it or you provide the direction and oversight to someone else. You need to figure out why what you’re doing isn’t working, and why the numerous suggestions made to you in this thread ‘don’t quite do it for you’. If updating something every time there an update doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. I don’t. But I’m confident that I have my files organized in such a way that I can find out within 5-10 minutes where things left off and what the next step is. 

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I have a significant volume of files that I have to stay on top of and push forward. 
 

I have found Getting Things Done to be a lifesaver in managing these projects. 
 

I use OmniFocus as my app to implement GTD. 

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3 hours ago, Blurg said:

Then just create a master list that has all your files and what stage of the proceedings each is at. Go through it once a month (or more often) and update it or ask your assistant to update it based on the info you tell them. I have an excel spreadsheet that has this, so it’s not fancy. File management is part of your job, whether you manually do it or you provide the direction and oversight to someone else. You need to figure out why what you’re doing isn’t working, and why the numerous suggestions made to you in this thread ‘don’t quite do it for you’. If updating something every time there an update doesn’t work for you, don’t do it. I don’t. But I’m confident that I have my files organized in such a way that I can find out within 5-10 minutes where things left off and what the next step is. 

Right so I already have a master list and I can identify my files at any time, but the purpose of my post (if it wasn’t clear) was to review what tools or options other lawyers use to help modernize and better organize their files. There has to be better way than manually updating a giant list. 

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I'm actually really confused about what you expect to find. When it comes to tools and apps, if you can imagine something you can pretty well guarantee that someone has probably made something like it. But so far I'm not even hearing a description of what you expect to find, only that you believe there must be something better.

I've managed files in a couple of different contexts and now I manage them in my own practice. My own methods are not sophisticated but they work for me. The hard part, I find, isn't staying organized with one person, it's keeping track of what's happening when multiple hands are touching the same file. That's where, to be honest, more complex tools become important. And they also help with integrating your activities with billing, tracking time, etc. But that isn't what you're asking about. What you seem to want is to somehow automate keeping notes on your file work. And seriously, I'm at a loss to imagine how that could happen.

When you do something, you need to make a note somewhere about what you've done or there isn't a record of it. If you want a reminder in the future of the thing you need to do later, you need to make a note to create that reminder. Nothing is going to spare you from making those notes. I can't begin to imagine that AI that would be required to...I don't know...track every call you make on your phone, associate it with the file it relates to, voice recognize everything you said and did, and write it down for you? I mean seriously, how's that supposed to work? Even if an app like that existed I wouldn't want it. That's just scary.

I think you need to accept that you're just bad at this, and resolve to fix the problem you can fix, which is you. I'm not saying that to be insulting. I'm bad at things too. There are so many different sides to doing this job that it's just about inevitable any given lawyer is going to be bad at certain aspects of the job. You seem to be bad at file management. The good news is, that can be fixed with simply gritting your teeth and doing the things you don't want to do. The bad news is, there's realistically no other fix for it. A good tool can make a reminder pop when you need to do the next thing on a file. It can't write the reminder for you. That comes from you in the past helping you in the future.

Anyway, good luck.

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