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Designing a System

  Ten Questions to Ask Before You Consider Investing In Case Management Software
Office Filing Systems
Alternative Methods
Record Retention Policy
Designing a System
Equipment Sources
Costs to Budget
Purchase & Install

Filing system needs will vary from program to program; however, general discussion of a model system design might be helpful as a foundation for your filing system planning.

A good model for organizing client files, especially larger ones, uses file backs for separating and organizing documents. A file back is a half or one side of a regular legal size folder. It can have a pre-attached rem clip on it a file folder can be cut in half and an ACCO fastener added. These fasteners are used to attach items in the client file to each file back.

This file system also uses file folders and, where large files are used, "file pockets," which can range in expandable width from two to five inches. Since these can be reused, it is wise to invest in the best quality available. Those with cloth-reinforced edges are the most durable.

Here are some basic file back designations for small, medium, and large client files:

a. Small Client Files
addresses, intake records, and case records
legal pleadings

b. Medium Client Files
addresses, intake records, and case records
legal pleadings
client's papers

c. Large Client Files
addresses, intake records, and case records
legal pleadings
client's papers
affidavits, depositions and transcripts
work papers and drafts
extra copies

Many of the smallest files, particularly "advice only" matters, you may need only one file back, or two at the most.

Here is a brief description of the types of documents each file back would hold:

a. Addresses, Intake Records, and Case Records. This file back goes in the front of the file folder and contain the intake form, the client authorization form, parties' addresses and/or telephone numbers, copies of client trust account receipts, other cost receipts, and finally the case record sheet which is always on top. In advice only cases or cases in which there are five or less documents, this is the only file back in the folder.

Every action taken in a case should be noted on a case record sheet. There should be enough information so that anyone can reconstruct easily the case history.

The case record sheet should be an historical index to the client file. It is the first and last line of defense in protecting your clients. A sample case record sheet is shown in Figure 32-1.

b. Correspondence. The correspondence file back contains the case narrative story. Any time the case is discussed, it is noted on the correspondence file back. All letters, telephone notes, interview notes, and other documents are cross-referenced to attachments in other file sections. All documents are filed in chronological order with the most recent documents on top. In small client files, all other documents, such as research notes and news clippings, also are filed here. In large files, you might have several correspondence file backs, which should be designated on the file label as shown below:

Sample "A"

Legal Services Client v. The World
Correspondence # 1
June, 20XX - April, 20XX+2

Sample "B"
Legal Services Client v. The World
Correspondence #2
May 2004-Present


CASE RECORD SHEET (To be kept in Client's file)

Name of Client: Claudine -Jackson Wellman                         File No: 1000XX
Intake Date: 6/20/XX                                                          Date Issue Resolved: 8/30/XX

Date                      Description of Activity                                        Staff

6/20/XX            Interviewed Claudine Wellman/accepted case                P. Paralegal

6/24/XX            Filed Notice of Appeal re TANF                                    PP

7/08/XX            Called Welfare Dept. (Ms. Cutter) re:
                        access to file; granted for 7/15/XX                                 PP

7/15/XX            Reviewed file/made copies/called Ms. W.
                        Wellman to report findings                                             PP

7/20/XX            Spoke with Steve Wellman, set up interview
                        appointment for 7/27/XX                                                PP


7/27/XX            Interviewed Steve Wellman, he confirmed
                         inability to support children, called Welfare
                         re: appt. (Ms. Cutter) granted for 8/10/XX                      PP

8/10/XX            Research TANF regs favorable to
                        Ms. Wellman. Interviewed Ms. Cutter at
                        Welfare/her position weak. Set up client
                        conference for Ms. Wellman 8/25/XX                             PP


 8/25/XX           Client conference, Ms. Wellman gave                          PP & S   Supervisor
                        permission to proceed

8/30/XX            Negotiation session/Welfare Dept./TANF                    PP
                        rights reinstated

9/15/XX            Called Ms. Wellman; she had received back
                        payments as well as current check. I told her to call
                        if there were any further problems. File may be closed     PP

Figure 32-2

Case Number______________________________

Court _________________       Cause No. ____________

Tab No.             Document Description                     Document Date                  Date Filed

c. Legal Pleadings The legal pleading file back includes all documents introduced into court or before an administrative agency. If there are more than five legal pleadings, they should be preceded
by a dated index of all documents, and documents should be tabbed on divider sheets. Use a cheap grade of colored offset paper for these divider sheets. The file back label should designate the court name and case number.

In cases where there are many legal pleadings that may involve more than one court, use a hard-cover, cloth-bound file protector made of pressboard. Using this type of file folder with an index and index tabs allows rapid retrieval of facts in trials and hearings.

d. Research. The research file back may be a single file back or, in large cases, several. File back designations can include historical documents, related cases, interoffice memoranda, statistical data, depending on the case's particular needs. The case handler should select these categories.

e. Client's Papers. The client's papers file back is for the client's documents, such as original birth and marriage certificates, photographs, and cancelled checks. All such papers are returned to the client when the file is closed. They should not be punched. Attach a manila envelope to this file back and place the client's papers in this envelope.

f. Publicity. The publicity file back should include all press releases from your office, as well as newspaper clippings and magazine articles relating to the case or matter.

g. Affidavits/Declarations, Depositions and Transcripts. As the case proceeds, other major file backs may be added for affidavits, declarations, depositions, and transcripts. In very large cases, each of these designations may require a separate file pocket for bound transcripts and depositions.

h. Reports. A file back for reports and exhibits can include such items as statistical surveys, impact statements, maps, and other items which have not been introduced into court but which are critical to the client's legal position.

i. Work Papers and Drafts. This includes drafts of all complaints and memoranda that the case handler wants to save for later use.

j. Hold. This should be a complete file folder used for photographs, large maps, originals, or other documents which should not be punched and which do not belong to the client.

k. Extra Copies. This file folder may be used when there are a number of copies of certain documents, pleadings, and reports.

As an alternative to the above system, staple all permanent client data -- intake sheet, case record, addresses -- on the left side of a folder. Clip or fasten other documents that may have to be removed -- correspondence, memos, pleadings -- on the right side of the folder in chronological order.

Whatever system you design, minimize unfastened documents in files. Loose documents cause the greatest problem in most filing systems.