3 Tips to Keep Your Legal Documents Organized in 2023
Legal teams rely on documentation to confirm intentions, prove fault or innocence, and close deals. But if critical documents are hard to find or, even worse, lost, there’s more at stake than losing clients’ trust.
Poor stewardship of essential documents can lead to life-changing or even career-ending consequences. Create a plan that’ll save time, make research tasks easy, and maintain your competitive edge all by staying organized.
1. Establish an Intake Process
Just like organizing one’s space at home, how you handle new documentation sets the tone for what follows. Today’s legal files come in many forms, so make a plan for both paper and digital documents.
Set standards for how long paper documentation can sit before being scanned in and organized. Some document types can wait and be scanned in batches, while others will need to be accessible immediately. Do your research to uncover your teams’ needs to develop a process that’s both manageable and keeps work moving.
Determine what documents can be transmitted digitally and which must be kept as hard copies. Many legal documents must obtain a wet signature to be legally binding. Keep a reference guide handy for whoever is accepting document submissions and on your digital client portal’s instructions.
While paper copies are still needed in some instances, the legal world is going increasingly digital, especially when it comes to contracts. A cloud-based contract management platform can help teams more efficiently create, edit, redline, and store contracts securely. With all of your contracts in one searchable place, relevant parties can easily access them from anywhere, at any time.
2. Create Naming Conventions That Stick
A file name that makes sense to you won’t always make sense to your colleagues. And bad habits in personal file management don’t skip over those with law degrees. Don’t struggle through deciphering colleagues’ varying file naming styles; instead, devise a naming convention that may as well be law.
One effective approach to naming conventions is to mirror the best practices you already have in place. An in-house team may use cost center numbers to identify department budgets. Firms doing client work may use client numbers or billing codes to identify types of legal support.
These already adopted numerical structures can become the base of your file naming convention.
For example, contract teams, litigation, and mergers and acquisition would have files independent of one another. Within them would be folders relevant to their needs. The files located within would be assigned names reflective of their file path, making organization and file lookup intuitive. A due diligence file, for instance, could be named: MA_client name/number_due diligence_file description_date.
Determine how you’ll manage file versions by tacking on revision dates for status demarcations such as “draft” or “final.” Include subfolders within parent folders for archiving old files, keeping them accessible but reducing potential confusion. Gain even greater efficiency by using file paths as the naming convention for internal email correspondence relevant to their contents. Recipients will immediately know which client, deliverable, and file you’re referencing at a glance — and where to bill their time.
3. Identify Security Thresholds and Requirements
Attorneys are privy to some of the world’s closest-held secrets. And while you may not be dealing with matters of national security, it’s your obligation to keep your files secure. Families are counting on you to safeguard their personally identifiable information. Corporations rely on your firm’s discretion while they navigate an acquisition.
As a trusted legal partner, it’s your responsibility to understand security needs and any regulations relevant to your work. Establish file permissions that limit access to sensitive data, especially within large firms whose work may have competing priorities. But be careful when restricting access to essential client files — this can create access issues later, especially if there’s a departure. Create rules that assign solo files to an administrator and delete access for former employees upon termination.
Partner with your IT team or system administrator to determine your file security needs. Assess your system’s ability to withstand cyberthreats and your team’s level of understanding of how to avoid them. File transfers into and out of your organization can create pathways for cyberattacks, making secure uploads a vital necessity.
No matter your team’s preference, include your technology experts in the conversation as you vet potential solutions. Elevate concerns and needs with potential file storage vendors to determine whether they have the necessary safeguards and backups. Ensure compliance with regulatory standards and industry best practices and establish layers of security to prevent cyberattacks.
Organized Legal Teams Have the Advantage Every Time
A haphazard file management system does more than waste time and energy. Careless document management creates unnecessary chaos for legal teams and their clients. A healthy billable rate tracked in six-minute increments doesn’t matter if weeks of work have been wasted sorting through files.
Whether you’re supporting internal legal needs or advocating for clients, your team’s expertise can’t be called into question because of disorganization. Commit to organizing your system from top to bottom while providing support and training that reinforces your updated processes. Pair this thoughtful, strategic, and manageable protocol with enhanced security practices, and you’ll have the advantage in 2023 and beyond.