Does this sound familiar? You are on the phone with your client, and you tell them “Can you hold while I pull your file?” You ask your secretary to retrieve the file, and hear him reply “Sure, give me a minute to find it.” Several minutes pass with no answer. What sort of impression do you think the client has of your firm after waiting several minutes on the phone? Maybe that the lawyer he is paying handsomely is inefficient and disorganized? Is that the impression you want to leave with your clients?
In order to avoid this scenario in the future, you need to invest in your firm’s administration to develop a plan, the right tools and trained staff.
- The Plan: It would be wonderful if all the files a lawyer ever created fit neatly in his/her office. But in reality, the firm has to decide what to do with the matter files once the office has hit capacity. File them in a central file room? Send them off-site to a storage vender? And, don’t forget your electronic documents and emails. Should you move electronic documents from the file share to an Archive drive? A plan should be documented, communicated to staff and followed.
- The Right Tools: For paper files, you need to determine if those filing cabinets of varying sizes are the best way to store your matter files, or if an open shelf plan with color coding would be more efficient. Should you use barcodes to keep track of your files? Should you move to a paper light matter file system? Your plan should include a discussion of the tools to be used for file management.
- Trained Staff: Whether you are a solo practitioner or a big law firm, staff (or you solo practitioner) need to be trained to follow the plan, understand why the plan is important to the firm and why it is important for client service. If a paralegal or secretary is tasked with file management responsibilities, their lawyers should impress upon them the importance of good file management. Including these responsibilities as a part of their annual evaluation can increase participation. However, it may make more sense for some firms to hire records management staff to exclusively do these tasks as it may be less expensive than to have your paralegal or secretarial staff do them.
Nitza Medina-Garcia, Certified Records Manager, Records and Information Management Consultant
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