Paralegals – How to Organize a File


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Being organized is one of the things paralegals are called upon to do well.  We have to be able to find all things at a moment’s notice.  So to have a place for everything and everything in it’s place is a must for all of us.  In the  February Newsletter  I am starting a “Being and Staying Organized” series so make sure you sign up for more tips and tricks.

Most offices where you will be working or are currently working, have file cabinets labeled from A – Z along a wall in the hallway or sometimes inside a file room.  I even worked in an office where each paralegal kept a file cabinet in his/her own office with the files they handled.  The file cabinets are filled to the brim with large files which are also known as red wells,  in alphabetical order, by client name.  This is usually consistent across the industry and good thing too, because it makes it easy for everyone to know how to find the files and most of the time, unless the filing gets backed up, how to find the documents needed within a particular file.

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A red well is a large cardboard folder/pocket where you keep all the STUFF that goes along with a particular subject matter.  Think of a folder that you carry with you in school where you store all the syllabus and documents you receive from the professor.  When you open up a red well, you should be able to quickly find all the paper which relates to the subject matter you’re working on…. In the case of a paralegal in a law firm the red well should contain all the documents relating to a particular client.  Making sure these “pockets” the red wells stay organized and up to date is your job in most law firms.  A great way to ensure you are not going to get a call on your day off when your attorney or the paralegal taking over for you while you’re on vacation need to find something is to keep these files up to date and organized.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are things that never change from file to file.  Meaning that no matter where you’re working or what type of law you practice, there are things that you will always be able to find in a file.  However, there are nuances about filing systems that each law firm will have and to which you will have to adapt but those will be, or at least should be, part of your on-boarding and therefore nothing for you to have to worry about right now.

A typical file will have the following contents:

1. Correspondence folder
2. Notes folder
3. Memos folder

Then, depending on the type of law you practice, there will be other folders with which you will have to be familiar.    For example if you practice litigation you will need a pleadings folder, a motions folder.  Personally I like to have a folder for each motion – I will explain this in detail during my upcoming Paralegal Master Class  in a few short months.  For now feel free to subscribe to the Newsletter and I’ll make sure you get all the updates regarding the newsletter and my upcoming Paralegal Master Class.

Let’s put aside the type of law you practice and let’s instead look at the typical file, which is half the battle.

Correspondence Folder

I like to keep this file in chronological order starting at the bottom.  Eventually, you will probably have more than one correspondence folder so I like to number them “Correspondence 1 (date from – date to)” and then start a “Correspondence 2 (also with the dates).”  This helps me make sure that when I’m looking for something within a particular date range, I don’t have to pull all the files out of the red wells.  I can go to the one that I’m looking for and search in there.  Also, the reason I like to keep the oldest correspondence at the bottom is because more often than not the stuff you will be looking for is not going to be super old so it’s just easier to flip through less pages.

So what do I consider correspondence?  Anything that is a communication from one party to another.  Not sure letters from the client to you or from the experts or the court.  I consider anything that communicates one party’s actions to another party to be communication.  See my February Newsletter for reasons further tips.

The Notes Folder

This folder is pretty self explanatory.  Here you should keep anything that relates to any notes you take.  Who knows, you may be reviewing a report from an expert and find something that you think may lead you to something you want to add to an interrogatory question. Write it down and put it in the notes folder.  Make sure you add the date on the note and, again, file everything in chronological order.  Maybe even put a little tab sticking out so you can be reminded when drafting your interrogatories.

Did you just sit down with the lawyer to talk through some ideas and strategies about this particular file?  Make sure that once you get back to your desk you take out your notes and clean them up and insert them in the notes file, again with the date so you can be reminded.  I also use these notes to create my to-do lists on the various files.

Did you just get a call from an expert or from a witness and wrote down some notes?  Make sure you insert the date and put in the notes file…. You get the idea….. Any time you create a note, make sure you add the date and put it in the notes file.

See my February Newsletter for more information and tips on Notes Files

Memos Folder

Sometimes things that we do generate memos. For example, if you attend a deposition with the lawyer you will probably be asked to summarize your thoughts and what happened in the deposition so that the lawyer can get a view from a different perspective.  Most of the time that’s why paralegals attend depositions.  As someone who does not have to be asking the questions, the paralegal is able to see things that lawyers may not see because they are busy asking the questions and trying to follow up with another question.

Anything with write up for your lawyer’s review about the case you should date and include in the memo’s section.

When I drafted a summary of a medical record I would print out two copies and one copy would go into my memos folder and the other into a folder for that particular medical provider.

See my February Newsletter for more information and tips on the Memos file.

 

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