5 File Naming Tips to Improve Organization in Document Management Software

In our experience, one of the main things many trial teams have trouble with is naming case files on the computer. The names they use for their files are too descriptive and long.

For example, many attorneys use either a short or long description, sometimes even full sentences, as a file name as seen below.

One descriptive file name

One descriptive file name. Not so bad, right?

A descriptive name may make sense at first since it tells exactly what the file is, but when you’re working with hundreds or thousands of documents as is common today, those descriptive names get cluttered and make things difficult to find. See for yourself.

Full list of descriptive file names

A full list of descriptive file names. Ew.

It’s like all the words are mashing together. There’s no standard here. Some files could get named incorrectly. You may forget what you named a certain file, and now it’s lost with everything else. And trying to find what you need here, especially when you’re trying to find it fast, would be needlessly time-consuming.

Case organization and trial preparation programs are great tools for streamlining document review and presentation workflows. However, if the files you’re putting into them are not identifiable in simple and manageable ways, using this technology only makes the process more frustrating.

Consider the following tips when receiving, scanning, or creating case files on your computer. They will help you make life easier for you as the case progresses.

1. Know what your documents are before you put them into your working case folder

This may seem like an obvious one, but many attorneys don’t really know what they are copying into a case folder until they go back to look at them later. For example, a lawyer or paralegal may receive several gigabytes worth of documents from the opposition and just dump all those directly into their computer’s hard drive without glancing at them first.

When you do this and start working on a case strategy, there’s not a frame of reference for where to begin.

It’s better to take some time to understand and review exactly what you’re working with at a general level. What file types are you working with? How are things currently organized and how can it be better?

One option is to create a bulk folder where you can dump all the case files. Then, go through and review each one, pulling the relevant documents you want into a different “working” case folder. Doing this separates the important items from the fluff, and now you know anything in the working case folder is at the very least semi-important to your strategy.

While you review and move the items as explained above, you can rename each file, which leads us to our next few suggestions.

2. Keep it simple

When it comes right down to it, you need to name your documents in a way that makes the most sense for you. However, think about how you can make it a little easier on your future self as you reference and search for the items you need.

You want to name your case items in a way that you can know what they are at a glance, and you also want to make it easy on yourself when you and the opposition are referencing each item during negotiations or trial.

A common file naming practice is using a descriptive phrase to help identify the item. We said before how long descriptions can be troublesome when working with several hundred files, but even short, two or three-word files names are troublesome, because all those words still get cluttered together.

Also, keep in mind that most any organization software will sort your files alphanumerically. So, when you try to organize your files according to descriptive phrases using technology, your files may end up out of order, or at least not sorted in the way you want.

When using software, there are usually other properties or fields where you can enter more descriptive identifiers. Save the file name for more orderly and systematic identification as described in the next tip.

3. Rename everything with a standard naming convention

Yes, you read that right. Rename everything, and use a standard, alphanumeric system.

Maybe this seems a little drastic at first, but if done correctly, it pays dividends down the road when you’re referencing these items with your own team and the other parties involved in the case.

We would suggest you simply number your case items using leading zeroes as shown below.

Leading zeroes.

An example of leading zeroes.

The reason you should use leading zeroes is that without them, your case items may get disorganized. Case organization tools for the most part use databases to reference your case items. Databases usually do not read whole numbers, which means that the database orders numbers by whatever digit comes first.

For example, if I have 10 exhibits in my case, and I named each exhibit by its corresponding number, it would appear in the database as follows.

Whole numbers

An example of what a database would look like with whole numbers.

Notice the “10” exhibit is out of order right below “1”.

The basic rule for using leading numbers is that you use the same number of digits as the total number of your documents. So, if your case only has 34 documents, use two digits in your numbering system (e.g “01”, “02”, “03”, etc.). You can then go up to a total of 99 documents before things get out of order.

If your case has 335 documents, use three digits in your numbering system (e.g. “001”, “002”, “003”, etc.). You can then go up to a total of 999 documents before things get out of order.

What if you have several images that are pages of the same document? While we do recommend you use PDFs so that you don’t have to worry so much about this, you can use another set of leading zeroes for each page of the document like this:

  • 001-001 <– Page 1 of document 001
  • 001-002 <– Page 2 of document 001
  • 001-003 <– Page 3 of document 001

And so on.

There are some situations where you may want to modify this system. For example, you may be really attached to that descriptive phrase for each file. In that case, enter the exhibit number before the phrase like this “001-False Claims”.

Though your files may still get cluttered, at least you can reference them easily with other because of the numbers preceding the phrase.

What if the opposition is using the same naming convention as you? That means you’ll probably run into two different files being named the same thing. In that case, enter the initials of the party responsible for the documents before the numbers like this, “DX001”. That way, it’s easier to distinguish between two documents with the same file number.

There are countless ways to use the suggestions above to fit your own needs. Whatever naming convention you decide to use, apply it to everything. That way, when you need to find something months or years down the road, there’s no surprises and you can quickly find what you’re looking for.

If you decide not to go with your own numbering system, you might want to follow the next tip.

4. Use exhibit numbers or bates numbers

This tip is much more self-explanatory. Name all your items after an exhibit number or bates number.

The benefit of naming your documents this way is that it makes the transition between discovery, review, preparation, and trial so much easier. By using either of these numbers, you don’t have to rename any files as you transition to each phase.

You can do this even if you don’t think you will go to trial and it will still benefit you.

Now, let’s just stop for a moment. We understand you might have some other concerns about our tips so far. Let’s look at the next tip first.

5. Use the other properties of a document for more familiar, long-form identifiers

You might be saying to yourself, “Now all I have are numbers. None of these numbers really help me know what’s inside of a document without opening it.”

Yes, that’s true. The tips we’ve covered so far are for easier organization and reference. For identifying what is inside a file, or getting a summary of the file’s contents, we suggest you use other identification properties that case organization tools provide.

For example, in TrialDirector, you can use the Common Name field to enter a descriptive phrase to any file you want. So, if you and your team usually refer to an important letter in the case as “The Manifesto” you can enter that as the Common Name and quickly find it that way.

The beauty of doing it this way is that though your team may refer to a document that way, that’s not the way the court refers to it. But since you followed the tips above, finding and providing the right document with the right trial exhibit number is no problem.

Compound that with all the other documents you’re working with on your case, and you’ve saved quite a bit of time.

Conclusion

Implementing these suggestions makes it that much easier to organize, reference, and even import your documents into an evidence and case management system.

Properly naming your case files is essential as you work through the entire case process. Some attorneys often don’t put the right time and attention into naming their files, thinking that they’ll remember where the important files are, or that it’ll be easy to find them later.

That’s all fine, up until they realize that the case documents keep stacking up and suddenly they can’t remember what they named that really important image and now it’s mixed in with all the other documents, images, and videos you added to the case over time.

Often, by neglecting to put time into naming files properly, you’re making it so much harder to save time and reduce headaches down the road.

Learn more about TrialDirector and how it can help you by visiting our website.

How do you name your case files? What strategy works best for you?

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