With more and more companies and law offices going paperless (or at least trying to — remember, it is paper-less, i.e., less paper), it is increasingly important to have a standardized file naming convention. Each type of law firm is different in the types of cases it handles, so you will need to create your file naming system accordingly. My office handles a lot of litigation matters, so I have created a file naming convention that allows me to quickly name and identify important documents that have been scanned in (or received digitally) and filed electronically. A standardized file naming convention is important, because if your documents are haphazardly named, then it makes it more difficult for you and your staff to locate a document quickly. Spending needless time searching for a document frustrates one of the main goals of a paperless filing system: efficiency.
If you are looking to implement a file naming standard in your practice, I have included some of the basic structure I use that may serve as a helpful starting off point for you.
Sample Folder Trees For Litigation Firm
The first step is to setup the file directories for your office, and I use a system of subfolders to organize my cases. Thus, the parent folder for all my files is simply named “Client Files”. Inside that folder, I have four subfolders named as follows: “_Open Files”, “Closed Files”, “Archive” and “Temporary”. I use an underscore for Open Files because I sort my files by name, and the leading underscore ensures that my “Open Files” folder is always at the top.
Inside the Open Files folder, I create a new folder for each matter. The naming convention I use is “YYMMDD – Client Name”. All of my files start with the “YYMMDD – ” prefix, so I can easily see the associated date with each folder or file. This can also serve as the file number, and is usually pretty good, unless you have multiple clients with the same names signing on the same day. Apart from that, this file naming convention makes a unique identifier for each client matter/file number. More on the file/folder name prefix later.
Inside each client/matter folder, I include the following subfolders: “Billing & Expenses”, “Correspondence”, “Discovery”, “Docs From Client”, “Drafts”, “Legal Research”, “Notes and Memos”, “Orders”, “Pleadings”, “Retainer”, “Witnesses & Exhibits”. To make this part easy, I have a blank client folder that I copy and paste for each new client matter. Thus, my folder structure stays consistent, and is easy to reproduce. This saves a lot of administrative time that would otherwise be wasted if you had to create new folders and name them for each new client matter.
- Billing & Expenses — this folder is used less now that I implemented an online practice management solution that saves all my invoices for me in the cloud. I do, however, save copies of receipts for hard costs in this folder.
- Correspondence —
- Discovery — this folder contains several subfolders: “Interrogatories”, “Requests For Admission”, “Requests For Production”, “Depositions” and “Subpoenas”. Obviously, this is the folder where you store all discovery-related documents. I don’t break each subfolder into subparts for discovery propounded to or from, because the particular file names I use make it easy to locate what I’m looking for. Having too many subfolders, i.e., being hyper organized, can actually inhibit productivity because it forces the user to click through and endless file tree.
- Docs From Client — this folder is where I store all documents received from the client.
- Drafts — this folder is important. Only word documents go here. I do not save any final documents as word documents; those are properly saved as PDFs. This folder can get a bit overwhelming, but using the YYMMDD – naming convention makes it easy to locate a draft of a document, assuming you can remember the approximate date it was created.
- Legal Research — this is where I store any legal research that I’ve conducted in a particular matter. If I find a particularly useful case, law review journal, or practice guide I’ll download it and save a copy here to make it easier to pull up if I need it again later.
- Notes and Memos — I scan all my handwritten notes and store them here. I still like taking notes by hand, but don’t like having to keep stacks of paper laying around, and this is where all my notes go.
- Pleadings — this folder contains several sub-folders: “Complaint” and “Answer” are the two standard folders, and if there is a Cross-Complaint or Answer to Cross-Complaint, I add those folders manually as needed. Only conformed copies, or pleadings received from opposing counsel go into this folder. Draft pleadings are appropriately filed in the “Drafts” folder.
- Motions — this is where all the motions go. Since every case is a little different, I just add folders on the fly as needed to organize particular motions. So I might have a subfolder in here named “Demurrer to Complaint” and I’ll store the moving and opposing papers here. I’ll also store any orders on the motions here, to make it easy to follow the entire progression of a particular motion, e.g., “160101 – Demurrer to Complaint”, “160120 — Opposition to Demurrer”, “160127 — Reply to Opposition” and “160205 – Order On Demurrer”.
- Retainer — this folder serves the single, but important, function of storing the signed retainer agreement.
- Witnesses & Exhibits — this is where you can start to organize your witnesses and exhibits in preparation for trial. Each case is a little different, so I do not have standard subfolders I use here; I add them as needed.
Sample File Naming Conventions For Litigation Firm
Your paperless file system is only as good as the filenames you use. If you recall earlier, I mentioned that I start all my filenames with the same naming convention: “YYMMDD – “. To make this part of the file naming process more efficient, I use a TextExpander shortcut to insert the current date. The hotkey I use is “]d” and typing those two keys automatically inserts the current abbreviated date with a “-” and space after. Thus, when I’m naming or renaming a file or folder, I can quickly insert the current date and am ready to type in the rest of the file description.
After the standard prefix, I use additional prefixes to identify the type of document. The prefixes I use are as follows:
- Complaint = CL.
- Summons = SUM.
- Answer = ANS.
- Civil Case Cover Sheet = CIVCS.
- Cross-Complaint = XCL.
- Answer to Cross-Complaint = ANSXCL.
- Case Management Statement = CMS.
- Form Interrogatories = FROG
- Special Interrogatories = SROG
- Requests For Production = RFP
- Requests for Admission = RFA
- Deposition Notice = DEP
- Subpoena = SUB
For Interrogatories, Requests for Production and Requests for Admission, I append the abbreviation with two digits to show the set number, e.g., FROG01 = Form Interrogatories, Set One.
- Letters = ltr.
- Demurrer = DMR.
- Motion to Strike = MTS.
- Motion for Summary Judgment = MSJ.
- Motion for Summary Adjudication = MSA.
- Notice = NT.
- Stipulation = STIP.
- Proof of Service = POS.
- Declaration = DECL.
- Retainer Agreement = RTNR.
The above list is not exhaustive, and some people prefer different abbreviations. To each their own. But it should be a useful starting point for anyone looking to standardize their own file naming system.
Specific File Description
Now that you have the basic information about the file included in your filename, the final step is to insert the description for each file. I try to keep file names as brief as possible, and everyone will be a little different here. But for example, a letter would be named: “160101 – ltr.Meet and Confer to OC re FROG01” for a meet and confer letter to opposing counsel regarding Form Interrogatories, Set One. For a complaint, the file name would be: “160101 – CL.Roe v Wade”. The date I use varies depending on the type of document. I try to use the date documents were filed with the court, the date of service, or the date a document was created (where appropriate). This makes it easy to quickly find documents, and have some context without having to scroll down to the proof of service page.
The most important thing is to be consistent. Even if you have less than perfect file naming conventions, if your files are named consistently (and at least somewhat obviously on a short learning curve), then it will be easy for you and your staff to quickly locate documents. I don’t dive into hyper detail with the file names, because the folder directories put the specific file into context.