Volume 10, no. 4
Digital Document Retention: The Virtual File Cabinet
By Mindi L. Conerly and David L. Masters
The filing system of a digital law office can be organized much like the filing system of a law office with paper files. The paper file system can be replicated, refined, and expanded in the digital world.
In the typical law office, large files reside in rust-colored accordion folders full of subdivided manila folders. Each manila folder bears a label identifying its contents: “Correspondence,” “Pleadings,” “Notes,” “Drafts.” A letter comes in from opposing counsel. You make copies, two-hole punch the letter, pull back the metal prongs, find the correct chronological place in the file, push back the prongs, and file the letter in the manila folder. This tedious manual task occurs in a flash using a digital filing system. In the digital filing system a document comes into the office, is scanned to Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) and saved to the appropriate folder. The filing is done in a fraction of the time.
Electronic filing systems begin with a commitment to capture digital images of all incoming/outgoing paper stored as digital files in a structured system. The digital “file room” consists of electronic filing cabinets. Think of a shared hard disk drive as a physical file room. Within the digital file cabinets are files folders for each client.
The digital filing cabinet exists in virtual space (on a computer hard disk drive shared over a local area network). The main filing cabinet has a name, “Clients.” Each computer on the network links to the filing cabinets by mapping one or more network drives, for example, X:\Clients. Each desktop has access to the filing cabinet. Within the filing cabinet are folders, one for each client: X:\Clients\Smith. Within each client folder are subfolders for various types of documents, such as correspondence, pleadings, expense receipts, research, privilege, etc.
The digital filing system automatically organizes alphabetically and chronologically. Documents should be named starting with the year, then month, then day, followed by a few descriptive terms, for example, X:\Clients\Smith\PleadPDF\020327 Complaint.
To make digital files look like paper files, all items of outgoing work product are printed (converted) to PDF. “Printing to PDF” differs from printing to a physical printer in that no toner or paper is used; otherwise, the final product (file copy) looks just like what would come out of a physical printer. In many cases pleadings are filed electronically with the court, copies are served on the other parties by the filing service (either electronically or by mail), and a copy is sent to the client as an attachment to an e-mail message.
Although it takes an initial investment in time, equipment, and resources, a paperless office will more than pay for itself in a short amount of time. You reduce the postage costs of your office by transmitting your PDFs digitally. You eliminate the cost of storage on- and off-site for paper files. You reduce the costs for office supplies (paper, toner, etc.). You increase the efficiency and productivity of your staff by allowing access to client files, and you reduce the risk of loss of client documents. Overall, your office will run more efficiently, you will have a more productive staff, your billables will increase, and your office will be able to accept more clients. This all translates into cost savings and increased profit.
Make document retention a non-issue by moving to a digital filing system. By simply altering the nature of the file room, file cabinets, and the type of media being stored (digital vs. paper), an office will become more efficient and better organized. You can transition digital filing system one step at a time. Begin with a digital file cabinet.
Mindi L. Conerly is an associate and David L. Masters is the principal attorney with the Masters Law Firm, LLC, in Montrose, CO. See the firm’s Web site at www.masterslawfirm.com.