Law Firm File Naming Structure: Efficiency Do’s and Don’ts

by Marketing July 26, 2021

What happens when a vital file goes missing? You strain to remember keywords from emails it might be attached to, rifle through piles of paperwork and flip through files. 

It’s an incredibly frustrating process, and it happens far too often. Maintaining efficient file management can transform your law firm. When you can effortlessly access required documents, your workflow just works. As a result, you can boost your productivity, avoid costly mistakes and tick off the to-do list with confidence.

There are several ways to manage your legal files, from paperless offices to more traditional paper selections. Regardless of the system, an efficient file naming structure is the backbone of good file management. Today’s firms are turning to legal software with a document management system like mattero. With easy-to-use file tags to categorise, group and search for documents, you can stay organised and efficient, even on the go.

What Does a Good Law Firm File Management Look Like?

In 2013, a whitepaper from the International Data Corporation (IDC) found that workers in knowledge-based roles wasted over 11 hours per week due to inadequate document management systems. This equated to almost $20,000 in lost productivity per employee per year. 

While this report is ageing, the issues caused by poor document management remain today. A systemised and effective law firm file structure is the foundation of good document management.

What should a good law firm file structure look like? It should have these attributes:

  • Clear rules with outstanding version control
  • A consistent naming convention for files
  • Documents that are easy to tag, categorise and search
  • Files for often-used templates
Law Firm File Naming Conventions: 5 Don’ts 

As the cornerstone of good document management, your naming convention deserves attention. Here are five things to avoid when it comes to naming your legal files.

1. Don’t include your law firm name in file names. 

Yes, you want to make life easy for your clients. That’s why some law firms include their names in every document sent to clients. But this practice adds confusion without adding much value for your clients.

Clutter is an age-old enemy of efficiency, so do yourself a favour and leave your law firm name out of file naming conventions.

2. Don’t ramble.

With today’s search technology, it’s not necessary to include details in your file names. Instead, it’s best to streamline as much as possible.

Aim for concise file names and descriptions. Not only will you appreciate the clarity when your mind is full of complicated details, but a simple naming convention will be easier for other team members to understand, especially when you’ve hired new staff.

3. Avoid unnecessary multiples

Using a poorly-organised external folder structure to manage your legal documents can result in multiple versions of the same document, each saved within different layers of folders. This is one of the many struggles that mattero’s document management system solves, by allowing users to easily tag, categorise and search their documents from a central location.

4. Don’t use spaces in file names.

Some software applications don’t always recognise spaces. Also, in some cases, spaces require special considerations. For example, file names with spaces may need to be wrapped in quotes.

To avoid problems, use underscores or dashes to minimise or avoid spaces altogether.

5. Avoid special characters.

Like spaces, special characters can cause confusion and errors in certain applications. Some of your clients and other parties may not be able to open files with names that contain characters like these: ! % @ ~ # ? [].

Keep these file structure “don’ts” in mind as you construct your system. But, just as importantly, we’ve included some best practices below.

Law Firm File Naming Structure: 5 Do’s 

1. Include dates in your file names.

By including dates in your file names, you can efficiently perform a chronological search to locate the required information.

Decide on a predetermined format for your date system. For example, you might choose to use 170923 for a file dated 17 September 2023. Once you decide on a date format, stick with it; any changes will cause confusion.

2. Include relevant dates.

In addition to the dates included in your file names, it’s also helpful to incorporate other important dates: the date executed, created, identified, received, signed, and so on. 

While you obviously shouldn’t put all of these dates in the file names, they should be included in a systemised way so you can find documents quickly.

3. Use abbreviations.

By using standard abbreviations, you can entail more information in lease space. For example, you might use “DEPO” for Deposition or “DISCO” for Discovery.

4. Plan for multiple versions.

Inevitably, you’ll have multiple versions of some documents, and you need to plan for how you’ll differentiate them.

When the version number appears in the file name (V_01, for example), you can quickly find the one you need. 

5. Stamp documents with identifiers

Another way to find and track files is to identify them as FILED, ISSUED, RECEIVED, etc, which are tags available in mattero. Especially when you have multiple versions of a document, it’s crucial to quickly identify which iteration you’re looking at without having to spend time investigating.

How a Document Management System Can Help

A Document Management System (DMS) provides the backbone for a highly efficient law firm. Our mattero DMS integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Office 365, so you can easily manage all of your documents and emails. 

Document tags help you with sorting and filtering files and automatically saved searches keep important files at your fingertips. Additionally, automated documents ensure quality and consistency. In short, mattero’s DMS will help your law firm make the most of its time while presenting a professional front.

See what it can do for you during your 14-day free trial of mattero. You can create, store and manage documents, emails, precedents, forms and searches in one place. Try it out, and see how it transforms your practice.


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