By Vicki Voisin, ACP
There is a saying that goes like this: If you want to know if the person you are hiring is truthful, ask if they like to file. If the answer is ‘Yes!’ do not hire them because they are not truthful. NO ONE likes to file! Unfortunately, like it or not, filing accurately and regularly is crucial in our business.
A filing system is really a finding system. This is your method for storing information today and finding it quickly and easily tomorrow.
Searching for a misplaced document or file is not only a waste of time and energy, it is also a waste of money. Assuming you work 48 weeks in a year and spend just five minutes of each hour of an eight-hour workday looking for lost documents or files, you will waste 160 hours per year. Using a billing rate of $95 per hour (insert yours here), the annual loss is $15,200. Usually this search involves several people and it delays getting your work done, so the cost increases proportionately. You also lose credibility and appear unprepared when you do not have information at your fingertips.
A good filing system can remedy all of this. Here are some tips to help you create a system that will minimize the time you spend (waste) looking for lost files and documents.
Begin by making some decisions. First decide who is responsible for the filing. This may be delegated to one or more employees or it may be that the person doing the work on the file is responsible for putting their work away and cleaning up any loose ends. Unless this is clear, papers will be thrown haphazardly into the file, if they make it there at all, creating a continuing nightmare. Second, decide when the filing will be done. Again, doing this as you do your work is really the most efficient. If that cannot happen, establish a policy that filing is to be done by the end of every day or at the beginning of the next. Do not allow papers to disappear into a filing tray, never to surface again.
Establish a filing system that is easy and flexible. Your mantra should be ‘store it where you can retrieve it…file it where you can easily access it.’ Visualize how you use files and set up a system that is both flexible and matches your situation. This system should include a policy on where the files will be stored (a central area or in the office of the person working on the file?) with an explicit rule that the floor is not a filing cabinet. Also, how do you want the files set up in the first place? How will the documents be put in the file? What kind of file folder will be used? How do you want them labeled? Even if all the filing is done perfectly, if the label is not visible, you will not be able to find the file.
Remember that bloated files are a waste of money and space. Statistics reflect that you will only refer to about 20% of what you file. The remaining 80% just takes up space. Generally waaaaaay too much paper is being filed in the first place. Aim to keep your files lean and mean. Do not save anything you will not need. Condense and purge whatever you can before filing. You do not need five copies of the same document. Before you put papers away, ask these questions:
- Is this relevant?
- Will I need this again?
- Can I get this again if I need it?
- What are the consequences of getting rid of this?
- What is the worst case scenario if I don’t have this?
Depending on the answers to your questions, you may be able to get rid of the paper altogether.
Are you done? Move it out! Do the math: if you keep adding files to the filing cabinet and never move any out, the cabinet will soon be overflowing. When you are done with a matter, move the file to closed storage immediately. This is the only way to make room for new files. If more comes in than goes out, you have a problem. Your file drawers should have a minimum of two inches of free space or it will be too difficult to put anything away. Where will the files go? on your desk, on the floor…and the piles mount.
What about those files on your desk? A vertical step file organizer is your solution to the piles of files on the corner of your desk (or on the floor!) that become part of the landscape and soon forgotten. When the files are upright, they are easier to see and easier to locate.
Your challenge: Visualize your office: consider the flow of work and the best location for your files. Then design a policy for setting up the files, doing the actual filing, and moving the closed files to storage. This policy will include who will actually do the work, when they will do it, and how it will be done. Be very clear and concise. Remember that this is a lot like home: if everyone understands their responsibilities, does their fair share and picks up after themselves, the problem will be solved.
© 2008 Vicki Voisin, Inc.
Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, e-zine or website? You can, so long as you include this entire blurb with it: Vicki Voisin, also known as The Paralegal Mentor, publishes the bi-weekly ezine ‘Strategies for Paralegals Seeking Excellence’ where she offers tips for paralegals and others who want to create lasting success in their personal and professional lives. Get tips and information at no cost at www.paralegalmentor.com.