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.
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.
© 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.