Back in the day, organizing a file was easy: You'd have paper copies of everything, and the diligent attorney would keep sufficient handwritten notes of telephone conversations with clients and opposing parties.
That was then. This is now.
We're living in the digital age and that can make file maintenance extraordinarily complex. Consider the courts. Some still send paper orders and communication through the postal service, while others will only conduct communications electronically.
Client communications can be even more challenging. By the day, fewer clients communicate primarily by phone, opting instead for email or text messages. Unfortunately, organizing texts and emails in a client file is more difficult than filing handwritten notes of phone conversations.
Furthermore, storing a client file has become more complicated. Traditionally, paper storage alone was deemed adequate. Today, however, if your paper records are somehow destroyed – even through no fault of your own – it's unclear whether you would be free from liability or potential disciplinary action, since various means of electronic document preservation are readily available.
On the other hand, it may not be so simple to just go 100% paperless, since many laws and rules require attorneys to retain paper copies of filings and other documents.
Address these issues by bringing your file maintenance into the 21st century. Here's how:
Assume paper copies should be maintained only for those documents required by applicable rules. But also digitize the entire file. Do so by scanning any paper-only documents and notes that would appear in a traditional file and uploading them into legal practice management software.
Keep in mind that many attorneys will continue to take handwritten notes for an array of matters, such as court appearances, client meetings, and settlement discussions. These, too, must be scanned and uploaded to the client file. Increasingly, however, attorneys are using a tablet and stylus to take notes electronically, which can then be saved directly into a digital client matter file.
Use law firm practice management software to organize notes and documents into specific folders within each client matter. These organized, digital matter folders can then be shared with your colleagues.
By digitizing client files, you can have records of every email and text. But you don't have to endure the tedium of uploading them from your respective devices to the central firm database. Instead, you could use a client portal within a legal practice management solution that allows you and your clients to share documents, forms and messages between each other in a secure environment. The portal then automatically uploads this communication to the client file.
Client portals streamline communication while demonstrating to your clients a higher level of attention and service.
Of course, relying entirely on an electronic client file raises the specter of catastrophic data loss or breach.
While it's considered standard practice nowadays, ensure the platform that you choose employs robust
data security and backup practices to ensure your client files are always protected. Consider, for example,
Thomson Reuters Firm Central which:
It's a relief to know that while new technology is responsible for disrupting client file management, it's also providing a solution that can help your firm operate more efficiently and effectively than ever before.
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