You’ve started a law practice and the clients are beginning to arrive. How will you organize your client files? Your first thought may be to use an alphabetical system by client name. Big mistake. Instead, stick to numbers.
Although many attorneys initially use an alphabetical filing system for their client’s files, the system invariably fails when the office accumulates a large number of cases. Files can easily be misfiled and become difficult to locate. Serious problems also develop when an alphabetical system becomes decentralized and more than one attorney begins sharing the same 26 letters of the alphabet.
A numerical filing system is clearly preferable to an alphabetical one. When the numbers are reused, a numerical filing system provides a quick check for missing files. And because billing and client information systems are usually based on client numbers, a numerical system facilitates a highly computerized office. In fact, a computer billing system may require that a particular type of numerical system be used.
Here’s an example of a simple numerical system: Each client matter is assigned a four-digit number that follows the year in which the file was opened, e.g., the first case opened in 2013 would be assigned 13–0001 as a file number, the second 13–0002, and so on.
This system can be modified when there’s more than one attorney in the office. Each attorney sharing the system may be assigned an interval of numbers. For example, Attorney A might have numbers 1000 through 1999, Attorney B 2000 through 2999, and Attorney C 3000 through 3999.
If you have additional files for a single client matter, you can identify them by adding a letter following the number. So, if the first case opened in 2013 eventually requires three files, they might be numbered 13–0001, 13–0001A, and 13–0001B.
Alternatively, when you’re handling several matters for a single client, the client may be assigned a number, to ensure that all matters relating to the same client are filed in the same location. Subsequent matters handled for the same client are then added in sequence to the client number. For example, client 1500 may have matters numbered 1500–1, 1500–2, and so on. This approach is also helpful for the person responsible for billing, in producing a single client statement for all matters being handled.
Of course remembering numbers won’t be as easy as names. But you can find the number for any particular file by referring to the client directory file, which should contain a list of each open case file you’re handling with, at a minimum, each client’s name, the matter being handled, and the open case file number.
Have a new law practice and need guidance on implementing office procedures? CEB has you covered in California Civil Procedure Before Trial, chap 1. For sample letters and forms to use in evaluating and representing clients, turn to CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- When the Party’s Over: What to Do with Client Files?
- 5 Ground Rules to Explain to Your New Client
- Opening a Law Practice? Pay Attention to Tax Issues
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