I get asked a lot how I organize my digital client files. It is simple: I organize my paperless client files exactly how I organized my paper files before I went paperless. There is nothing magical about paperless files and folders; use them just as you use your red ropes and manila folders.
So, instead of a filing cabinet, I have a folder in /My Dropbox called /Client Files. Inside that folder are folders for all my client files, plus /Temporary Client Files, /Closed Files, /Declined Files, and /Client Files Archive. Each matter has the file number and client’s last name. You can use your /Client Files folder as a “tickler” for work planning meetings, if you are reasonably diligent about closing files.
I keep a blank new folder template handy for new files. Here is what goes into each new litigation client file folder:
I am still working out my blank folder template for business clients, but the idea is the same: come up with the “default” folders I need for every matter. It makes sense to stick your templates in your blank folder, as well. Put a blank letterhead in your /Drafts folder for your first cover letter, and a settlement negotiations spreadsheet in your /Notes & Research folder.
File naming is also important. I want documents to sort by the date of the document (not the date I scanned the document, which may be days—or years, in some cases—later). To do this, I start filenames with the date, year first: yyyy.mm.dd Filename.pdf. (You have to start with the year, or all your Januarys will end up next to one another. I use periods to separate the date because it is the easiest key to hit on the number pad.
One last thing. No Word, WordPerfect, Pages, OpenOffice.org, etc., file in any folders other than /Drafts or /Notes & Research. Those files are not documents. They are drafts. PDFs or TIFFs are documents. Occasionally, if a client provides me a discoverable document in one of those formats, I will save it in that format in the /Docs from Client folder, since that digital file is the actual document they gave me.
So there you are. Go forth and be paperless!