Learn to use your file system

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Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

One of the most annoying things to me about various document management programs–whether they manage images, PDFs, or whatever–is that they ignore the benefits of your operating system’s file system. Most, for example, store every document in one folder, regardless of what case or contact the document is associated with, or what the type of document.

Time Matters does give you the ability to use subfolders a certain amount, but stops at dumping all documents on a case into one folder. That works decently in TM, since you can sort by document type, but Time Matters is SLOOOOOW, and it takes forever to import documents. Scanning straight to a file and using your file system to organize and to find your documents is more efficient for scanning and for retrieving files.

After the jump is a look at how I use my (Windows XP) file system to organize my documents.

At right is the way I organize my “Client Files” folder. If you click on it, you will get a full-size version. There are a few administrative folders, my open case client folders, my closed and declined client case folders, and my archive, organized by year opened. This much Time Matters can do. But what Time Matters can’t do is what the image on the left shows.

Each client case folder has several folders within. The “drafts” folder is the only folder that contains Word files. Every other folder is scans, PDFs, mp3s, etc. Since I have a paperless law office, those are my entire file. The subfolders allow me to quickly and easily find the document I need. I name my documents in the format “YYYY.MM-DD File name.ext” which sorts them by the document date.

Once you are familiar with browsing using the file system, it’s an awful lot faster and easier to find things. As slow as Time Matters is, double-clicking on a few folders is much faster. Opening Word or Acrobat, going to File > Open, and then navigating to the file you want to edit is also pretty clumsy in comparison. Not to mention, it is nice to be completely independent of your practice management program. No matter what program I use, my files are still organized. It would be much more difficult to import years worth of documents from one program to another, since the importing features of any program are rarely well-polished.

So learn to use and love your file system!

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  • Greta Kirkland

    My client computer files mirror the hard copy files — Correspondence, Pleadings, Discovery to Party, Depo Transcripts and so on. Eventually I’ll add a _Trial folder so it sorts at the top when we’re at that point in the case.

    I’m confused about putting the date as the first thing in the file name because I usually want to sort by the name of the document. I put the date in the name, it’s just not the first thing. There’s a date column to sort by if I need to find something by date.

  • Everyone’s got to find the system that works for them. I lean toward Greta’s — my files all have a file number, then a 3-letter abbreviation for the type of document (LTR, EML, PLD, ORD, DOC, etc), and then the date, starting with the year. I like it because it sorts documents by type and chronology, and I can distinguish documents that I have named from ones sent by others, when that’s necessary. I can also search my computer by file number and document type and usually come up with the document I want as the first or second hit.

  • Do what works for you. The date I scan is not always the date of the document, though, and I find it useful to have things in chronological order first, alphabetical order from there. But that works for me.