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Just like you wouldn't let paper files pile up on your desk (you wouldn't, would you?), you shouldn't let your digital files lay around unorganized and untended either. If you're running a paperless office (and most lawyers should have a largely paperless practice by this point), you'll need to put some thought into organizing your digital files.
Here's the trick. The key to managing your digital files is to have a clear organizational system -- and to stick to it. These tips should help make that process easier.
1. Don't Rely on Default Folders and Your Built-in Search
If you save all your documents to your computers default folders or you rely on your Window's search function to find things you need, you're going to be wasting a lot of time and effort. This is true even if you save everything with detailed title names.
Think about it: You open up your Documents folder, scroll down to the .doc's that start with "P," then spend a few minutes sifting through past pleadings until you find the piece you want. It's a waste.
If you're "googling" your computer, relying on its built-in search functions, you could be doing yourself even more of a disservice. The search ability on older versions of Windows isn't very good, regularly missing files. Even Windows 10's much-improved search feature isn't smart enough to replace a decent organizational system.
You need a real solution.
2. Start With Folders and Focus on Nesting
The easiest way to organize your digital files is to use folders, lots of folders, to keep everything in its place. You might want to start with a simple division, such as one folder for "Open Files" and one for "Closed Files." In the "Open Files" folder you can create another folder for each client or matter. In that, there can be folders for billing, draft documents, communications, research, etc.
And keep going until you're satisfied. In your billings folder, you might want to create more subfolders for outstanding and paid bills, for example. (Just try not to drill down so far that you have given every document its own folder. Clicking through endlessly nested folders is also a waste of time.)
Once you've got your system set up, make one default template, with all the necessary nested folders. That way, you can just copy and paste the template every time you need to set a new file or matter.
Once a matter is closed out, you can toss that folder over to the "Closed Files" slot, where it can live in peace with its retired brethren.
3. Make Sure Everything Is Properly Synced Across Devices
Also, if you're using cloud computing to access your files across different devices and locations, you'll need to stay on top of syncing. You wouldn't want to leave the office, planning to deal with a matter at home, then find that you're the files you need when you open up your home laptop.
4. Revisit Repeatedly
If you're making your own organization system, it's not a one-and-done deal. You'll want to revisit and revise your digital storage strategy repeatedly, making changes as you learn what works best for you.
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