0 Comments Published on August 15th, 2014 by Tonya Pierce
Tips for Document Management
Have a system and use it religiouslyThere is not a perfect or a “right” way to organize your files; however, files should be labeled consistently throughout the office, both hard files and online files. This allows each person in the office from the receptionist through to the managing partner to pick up a file and know exactly where to look to find a document within the file. The labels you choose will be specific to the area of law that your firm practices. Examples of file labels include:
- Attorney notes
- Client information
- Billable time and invoices
- Medical records
- Tax returns
Electronic FilesYour labeling system should carry over into your electronic files. Having a simple protocol that all employees will use to save documents will help you keep track of computer files and avoid items being “lost” because everyone in the office has a different system for saving files. An easy to use protocol would mimic your hard files:
- Client name/file folder/name of document/date (AJones/Pleadings/Complaint/8-1-14.doc)
Daily FilingOnce you have a system for document management, you should make filing a daily priority. The best system is ineffective if you do not place documents in their proper place. Unfiled documents can cause problems in your case and could result in your client being harmed because of an avoidable mistake.
Retention and DestructionJust as it is imperative that you have a system for organizing your files, you must have a system for storing and destroying files. You are aiming to have a uniform, reasonable and consistent policy for archiving and destroying files. The retention system should be consistent and should, at a minimum, cover the following issues:
- Specify the retention period for specific categories of files (i.e. divorce, paternity, real estate closing, corporate filing, personal injury, etc.);
- Take into consideration deadlines and requirements imposed by the applicable law or regulation when you set retention periods;
- Specify where files will be stored (onsite or offsite);
- Include standard procedures for retaining information unique to electronic files;
- Accounting system for moving files from active to retention status;
- Identify staff members who are responsible for managing the retention system and discussing updates to the policy with attorneys as needed;
- Detailed plan for organizing, cataloging and storing files so that a file can be retrieved expediently when needed;
- Specify the procedure to dispose of the documents within the file when the retention period has ended; and,
- Explain how destruction of a file will be suspended should the file need to be recalled due to appeals, litigation or other events that would require the file to be moved to active status.
ConfidentialityLastly, the destruction method you choose should take into consideration client confidentiality. Whether you choose the shred hard files in-house or use a shredding service, you must make sure that documents are destroyed in a confidential manner. The key to a successful document management, retention and destruction system is to keep client confidentiality as a top priority. The second priority should be a uniform system that everyone in the office uses for every document that enters the office.
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).