Updated: Nov 20
I have been thinking this week that while most of us are using cloud-based filing systems, I think that we also give very little thought to the file names that we use and the folders that we could use. This might seem like an insignificant task but you probably search for files dozens of times a day, so what if you made it easier on yourself?
Additionally, your client often sees your file names (when you email them an attachment) so what are the names on your precedents communicating about the contents of the documents?
I make a couple of suggestions in the video but I thought I would also put them here, for those who prefer the written word.
When you put a date on a document (and you should) try putting it backwards. Why would you do this? So that they get grouped in chronological order and it is easy to find the last version that you sent. For instance -
Letter to client 2020.11.19
Letter to client 2020.11.20
Or if you are creating a graphic that you are likely to reuse then something like -
Lawyer update 2020.10.23
Lawyer update 2020.11.09
This can group things meaningfully and save you quite a bit of time, as well as putting things in a more visually pleasing order so that it is easier to find other documents (because all the similar documents are sitting next to each other).
Are they client-facing?
Are these documents going to go to your clients? If they are then shouldn't you re-think how you are naming them?
Many of the documents going to clients are generated by a precedent in your Practice Management System so you could change the automatic file name by changing the precedent name. The attachment and its name often have a primary place in the layout of the email that your client sees, so this is one of many ways that you can communicate with your client. It is certainly worth thinking about. For instance, if you have a brochure to cover the importance of pre-action procedures then what can you call that document to communicate more clearly with your client what the point of the brochure is?
If they aren't going to your clients then why can't you make the file name longer to include information that will help you to find the file later?
For those systems that will allow you to create folders then you should really actually sit down and plan what folders you create. You can't always create folders, one of my biggest frustrations around Canva is the inability to create folders, but for other systems (like your practice management system or your website photo library) you probably can create folders.
Where you can create folders don't create them as an afterthought, actually sit down and think about it. Now I don't mean sink an hour into it, this might take as little as five minutes. You just need to strategically think, what groupings are relevant? That will probably change depending on the platform and also the area of law, as well as being different between law firms. Give it some thought though as it can reduce frustration if there is a more natural flow, and a more natural flow will also encourage others to save documents in the correct place.
When you start out with Canva you don't think about later, when you have hundreds of images and scrolling isn't a good way to find your projects. The advantage of the way that Canva groups things is that you can have really long file names and it doesn't matter, so put more information into the file name. For instance the graphic up the top (created for the video) is saved in my Canva as business tips (which is the series), You Tube (which is the shape of the project) and file names (which is the most likely thing I will search for later). I just save it as one long string 'business tips you tube file names'.
The file next to it in Canva is saved as Client spotlight - Bonnie Esposito - Focus on Family so that whichever of those identifiers I remember (her name or her firm name) I can find the graphic. If you haven't read that article you should, read it here.
Practice Management Systems
Most practice management systems, in my experience, simply dump the documents in there. The way I see is there are two options. The first is to do what I have done with the Canva directions above, so save identifying information right there in the file name. The danger with this is, if you email it to someone they will see the file name, is the file name confusing or unprofessional?
The other option is to create folders but then the trick is that you actually have to move the files into those folders, otherwise you just have a whole bunch of Letter to client documents to fish through later. What I do is, every time I go into a file, however many documents have been saved since I last went in there I move them into the relevant folder. Yes it is a bit tedious, but much less tedious than trying to find something important and panicking that it isn't saved or never existed.
Also, again, attachments can become a real mess in your practice management system, if it is a family law matter you should probably have a separate folder just for financial disclosure attachments (as opposed to other attachments like mobile phone screen shots).
Again, the more relevant and natural the folders are the more likely it is that everyone will use them, and use them correctly. It isn't a project that will take a long time, but just something that you need to properly think through.
File names matter
The reality is that file names matter. Is this what your financial disclosure looks like, either with your client or with the other side? A hot mess of random attachments like 002654DE and 0FD65 which means that you are either investing time in creating a meaningful index and ensuring it is up to date, or you are spending time opening different attachments figuring out which one you are after.
Our system actually prompts your client to give the file a meaningful name, and then saves it next to the relevant asset. No more fishing through attachments, no more opening random documents to see what they are.
If you want to find out more about how our system saves you time by removing little frustrations and repetitive tasks like this then you should join us on Thursday 25 November at 1pm for our online event where we show you how our product can save your time, and also how you can use other products like Zapier alongside our product to further automate tasks. You can register for that event here.