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Simple Law Firm Procedures to Increase Workflow: Naming Conventions

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Lawyers and staff are often frustrated by workflow bottlenecks inside their law firms, and they often reach for an expensive solution such as an entirely new calendaring system, document management system, or equipment upgrade.  Nine times out of ten, implementing a simple office-wide procedure can eliminate bottlenecks and help workflow recuperate.  Today, we’ll discuss the value of implementing naming conventions. 

Implement Naming Conventions

The inability of an attorney or staff member to quickly locate what they are looking for inside of a document or case management system can severely hinder work progress.  The attorney will both spend time looking for the document and time communicating his or her confusion as to where the document is located to support staff.  Then, the paralegal or legal secretary must spend time trying to find it as well.  The firm has by this time wasted too much time looking for one, single document.

The implementation of naming conventions firm-wide will prevent this kind of bottleneck.  Universal and uniform document naming conventions work, whether you have the most expensive document management system available or a simple file sharing system on a shared drive.  Consistency increases workflow and decreases bottlenecks.

When establishing a naming convention, consider the following:

  1. Are your documents date sensitive? If your document management system does not automatically track dates, make sure the date is at the front of the name.  For instance, “2013-01-31 Trial Subpoena to John Doe”.
  2. In your filing system, do you automatically separate legal items by type, separating pleadings from correspondence and medical records from discovery?  If so, you do not need a leading category describing what kind of document you are naming.  If not, consider a leading label: “Depo – 2013-01-31 Subpoena Duces Tecum to John Doe”.
  3. Do your cases involve multiple parties on either side of the “v”?  Then shorten titles like “Defendant” and “Plaintiff” to “D” and “P.”  Your discovery label would look like this: “2013-01-31 D XYZ’s RFPs to P ABC”.

Establish a uniform abbreviation code.  Here is a short example on how to abbreviate common terms seen in a law firm:

AP – Amended Petition

C – Correspondence

DN – Deposition Notice

MB – Medical Bills

MR – Medical Records

MSJ – Motion for Summary Judgment

OC – Original Complaint

PMSJ – Partial Motion for Summary Judgment

RFA – Request for Admission

RFD – Requests for Disclosure

RFP – Request for Production

ROG – Interrogatories

This list could go on and on, and do not feel compelled to keep it short. Include everything you could consistently abbreviate, and always feel free to add to the list.  However, don’t over-abbreviate, as the goal is to make viewing documents easy.

Remember, creating a naming convention is only truly effective if implemented consistently.  If you decide to push for firm-wide naming conventions, make sure that every lawyer and staff member is required to use them.  Explain to the decision-makers why this new procedure is necessary and how it will decrease frustration and increase workflow.  Having everyone on board at your law firm is a prerequisite to making this small change immensely effective.

Sidebar stacey e burke About Stacey Burke

Stacey E. Burke is both an experienced trial lawyer and law firm business consultant. She works with lawyers and law firms around the world to improve their business development, marketing, and infrastructures.


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