Best practices for file naming: keeping track of legal documents

You’ve just created an important document and need to save it where it can be easily found and reviewed. You want it to be grouped with other documents in the case, yet easily identifiable as its own file. How should you name your documents to keep things organized and accessible before, after, and during the case?

Best practices for file naming

When developing a file naming convention for your law firm, here are some best practices to follow for optimal organization and accessibility.

Establish a clear organizational structure

How will you group documents? Some firms may find it easiest to break up cases according to the attorney of record for each. Others prefer to organize files according to the client name, or specific case name. Lawyerist has a good article on this subject.

Depending on the number of documents for each client and case, you may want to add additional folders to segment client correspondence, court filings, witness interviews, and other types of documents together.

Keep the native file (created originally in Word, Excel, etc.) in a separate draft or notes section, and the final PDF in the actual documents folder. Remember that Word or other word processing files are not documents, but drafts.

Order chronologically

Keep track of when the document was created for a clear order of priority and to see the documents all nicely ordered according to the creation date. This can help you track the progression of the case as well as easily find documents.

It’s best to use four digits for the year and two digits each for the month and the day. Then the files will be automatically ordered according to the date of creation, and the confusion over which number refers to which unit of time is minimal: 2017-10-16.

Use a separator character

A dash is perhaps the best separator character to give space between key numbers and other document descriptors. While you can choose to use spaces instead, separator characters make it easier for computer resource locators to organize and track your documents.

Looking for more information? Check out The quick guide to better legal writing>>

Include document type

Was that document the pleading? Or was that one the letter? Include an abbreviation of the document type to keep track of the various related documents when filing, serving, or sharing. Stay consistent in your choice of abbreviations, choosing either LTR or LETTER and using the same version every time, both in your own work and across the firm.

Describe the document

Perhaps you have multiple letters associated with this case, or are serving more than one party. After the SUM or LTR, briefly describe the contents of the document to avoid having to open each one every time you need to use it.

Stay within file name length

Both Microsoft and Apple computers impose limitations on file name length. This limit includes not just the file name itself, but the entire document path (C:\Documents\SmithvJones\Filing Docs\2016-05-21-COMP-case-initiation-doc-SENT-RH.PDF)

The maximum count is:

For Windows 7-10: 260 characters

For Apple: 255 characters

While these are the systems’ limits, individual applications may have different character requirements. Even without the character limitations, remember that it’s likely the entire file name won’t show up every time, so put the most important information first.

What’s the status?

Has this document been sent or was it received? Has it been filed or not? If you document moves around a lot and you want to keep track of where it’s been and what more needs to be done with it, it can be useful to change the name according to its status. SENT or RECEIVED can let other users know what’s happening.

Initial it

When you have multiple people working with the same documents, it can be useful to see who has ownership of which files. Add initials to the very ends of your documents if you want it to be clear who is handling each.

eFiling and file naming

When physical filing was the standard, the court never would have seen the name of a digital document. Now that eFiling is entering more and more courts, file naming matters for the court, too. A document that is simply called Simmons Pleading might work well enough for a time in your internal systems, but when it appears at the court level, it will benefit you to include as much information as possible.

Develop a file naming system that works for your office, and include whatever information is most important for you. Then, be sure to stick to that system across the office for maximum collaboration.

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How does your office name documents for optimum transparency and traceability? Share your strategies in the comments.

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About the Author

Lindsey Dean is the Content Marketing Manager for One Legal where she is fueled by coffee, tea, and food for the imagination.

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