Benchmark Institute is a training and performance development organization dedicated to increasing the quality and quantity of legal services to low-income communities.
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Filing Systems

  Ten Questions to Ask Before You Consider Investing In Case Management Software
Office Filing Systems
   System Requirements
   Case Files
   Administrative or General Files
   Financial Files
   Brief and Pleadings Files
   Legal Form Files
   Administrative Form Files
Alternative Methods
Record Retention Policy
Designing a System
Equipment Sources
Costs to Budget
Purchase & Install

System Requirements
System requirements are determined primarily by record type, space, and retrieval ease. Most legal services programs need to maintain these file types:
 case files (active/open case file or
  inactive/closed case file)
 administrative or general files
 financial files
 brief and pleadings files
 legal form files
 administrative form files

A. Case Files
Case files occupy the greatest amount of filing space and require the most frequent retrieval. Estimating case file space requirements depends on staff and caseload levels.


a. What is your maximum anticipated staffing level -- particularly advocates -- over the next three years?
b. Given your anticipated staffing level, what is the projected number of cases that will be opened over the next three-year period?
c. What is the maximum number of open cases that can be handled by staff at any time?
d. What percentage of these cases are "routine"? Non-routine cases can require many times the normal amount of paperwork.

An average file drawer can contain approximately 4,000 legal documents. See A Yardstick for Legal Records and Information Retrieval, Economics of Law Practice Series, Pamphlet # 11, American Bar Association, 1969, p. 2. Estimate the number of documents a routine case generates. Multiply this number by maximum projected open caseload level to reach open case filing space requirements. Multiply the same number by the projected three year caseload to estimate of total open and closed case filing space requirements for three years. Space requirements will be greater if you anticipate a significant percentage of non-routine cases. Be sure to include a margin of error in your projections.

Ease of retrieving open case files should influence your filing system choice. Retrieval is a less important consideration for closed files, which can be moved to some relatively inaccessible location. However, depending on your record retention policy, the space required for closed files can continue to grow over the years. The time allotted to keeping closed files is an important factor in your system design.

B. Administrative or General Files
Records in this file include:
 corporate records
 grantor records
 internal management records
 personnel records
 miscellaneous records, e.g., address list,
   staff meeting minutes, etc.).

Store personnel records separate from other administrative records in a locked cabinet. Each personnel file should include, among other items, a completed application form; resume; any tests given to the employee; all performance reviews; notices of change of status, salary increases, disciplinary actions,; copies of medical or dental insurance claims; sheets used for notation of qualifications during interview(s); reference checks and recommendations; a copy of the letter offering the position; and the acceptance letter.

C. Financial Files
All records of accounts payable, accounts receivable, budgets and budget preparation materials; back-up data for funds spent, such as bids, letters of authorization, payroll records; tax forms and returns; client trust fund records; and the myriad of other paper work generated by a program's accounting procedures.

File these records in the accounting or bookkeeping office in a fireproof safe with all original entry ledgers and other irreplaceable financial records.

D. Brief and Pleadings Files
These selected pieces of legal work are resources for handling legal problems. Some programs have begun to computerize these files and putting them on line.

E. Legal Form Files
Compilation of all legal forms used to handle client problems. They are organized in a loose-leaf notebooks or file folders. Many programs buy off the shelf software -- particularly in practice areas requiring court forms such as family and landlord tenant law -- allowing staff to complete forms on the computer. Some programs have digitalized commonly used files so that they can be completed on the computer. Document assembly programs such as Hot Docs allow programs to assemble common documents in minutes.

F. Administrative Form Files
Compilation of all forms used in the general operation of the program, e.g., travel reimbursement, compensatory time, etc.