Document Naming in a Paperless Law Practice

I am often asked for best practice recommendations in running a paperless practice. How should I organize my electronic files? How should I name documents that I create or scan?

There is no better source for answering these questions than Donna Neff and Natalie Sanna’s article in Law Practice TODAY, The Document Naming System in Our Paperless Office.

Donna and Natalie suggest the following protocols when naming a document:

Include the date – year, month, day
Add an abbreviation that describes what the document is (ltr for letter; rpt for report)
Add a brief description of the document contents
Specify whether the document was sent (generated by you) or received (and scanned into your system)
Optionally, add the initials of the staff person who created or scanned the document (if a question arises later you can go directly to the author or scanner)

A document named by Sam Lawyer using Donna and Natalie’s protocols would look like this:

2013 03 11 ltr re settlement offer SENT sl.pdf

Notice the file name does not include the client or matter. These could be added, but beware that your file names might become quite long.

Whatever you decide (include client/matter name or not) the only discretionary part of the file name is the description. Everything else, especially the abbreviation scheme describing the document type (ltr for letter, rpt for report, pld for pleading, etc.) should be written in stone. No file naming convention will work if it isn’t used consistently.

This same principle applies to naming client folders and sub folders: creating a set structure and sticking to it saves the day. Donna and Natalie refer to this as creating a folder template. See their article for specific directions and screen shots.

Law Practice TODAY is a free Webzine from the ABA syndicated by the PLF. Check out the latest issues of LPT on the PLF Web site > Practice Mgmt Advisors – Tips.

9 thoughts on “Document Naming in a Paperless Law Practice

  1. 2013-03-26 Letter from Murphy re $35000 offer
    2013-03-26 Letter to Murphy re settled
    2013-03-26 Email from Murphy re $35000 offer
    2013-03-26 Fax to Murphy re $35000 offer

    Are clearer.

    • Hi Henry,
      It certainly never hurts to include specifics. In the context of a settlement offer, I like the idea of including the amount. As to whether one spells out “letter” or “pleading” vs. using an abbreviation scheme: “ltr” or “pld” – I say to each their own. I believe Donna’s goal was to keep document names as short as possible while still being descriptive.

  2. I agree with your naming convention with the following suggestion. I would insert wherever the was a space an underscore _ . So that the name would appear as follows:

    This helps if you must search for a file. If you use a space and by mistake hit the space bar twice your file name would read 2012 03 26 ltr claim.pd. Months later if you went to search for the file using the search tool you would not find the file because of the extra spec.

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