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To learn more about TrialDirector, please don’t hesitate to contact Ipro Tech. An experienced trial technology professional is standing by ready to deliver the answers you need.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
Working with documents on the computer is usually much easier than working with physical paper, folders, notebooks and file cabinets. When you’re on the computer, you don’t have to get up out of your chair, maneuver around the stacks of paper cluttering your office, pull out the right file folder, and sift through everything until you finally find what you are looking for. All the while, precious minutes are floating by.
But as you’ve worked with digital documents, you’ve probably come across a lot of file types you are not familiar with or that you do not fully understand. Although we will not discuss every single file format option available to you, we will talk about some of the best options we’ve seen that make working through your case much more efficient and easy, especially when working with case management and trial presentation technology.
First, a word about a couple different file types you’ll come across:
Native files are in formats that are understood by the original program a given file was created in. For example, an original document created in Word would have a “.doc” or “.docx” file extension. For WordPerfect, the native file extension is “.wpd”. These types of files can only be opened in the program they were created in unless another third-party program specifically creates functionality around opening those types of files.
Because of the information above, trying to always use native files like Word can result in a frustrating experience since the file cannot always be opened everywhere. Or, if it can, it can be slow, awkward, and can result in a frustrating experience.
That’s why it’s usually easier to work with image documents. Image documents are exactly what they sound like. They’re pictures. And pictures can usually be used most everywhere. While you do lose some ability to edit the text of a document, images are very responsive and can be easily managed and annotated.
Plus, you probably shouldn’t be changing the text of documents anyway…
For our purposes here, we will mostly talk about common image file formats.
PDF stands for “portable document format”. PDFs are pictures that look like printed paper but appear on your computer.
While other image file formats only allow one page or picture per file, one of the main benefits of PDFs comes from their ability to house multiple pages into one file. For this reason, they are much easier to store and organize when dealing with multi-page documents, and they can be annotated just as easily as any other image file types.
In some cases, you may want to use native files if you want to find the metadata of your documents, like the author and the date a document was created, to help you build the story of your case. Even in these cases, after you’re done pulling the information you need, it is still beneficial to convert native files to PDF when preparing your case for trial with presentation software.
However, PDF isn’t the only image file format you can use. There may be cases where the PDF option isn’t available, or it’s simply easier to use another format. In that case, we suggest you use PNGs.
The PNG file format provides a single image of a single picture or page of a document. While some programs may allow you to organize several pictures into a multipage document, PNG files do not provide such organization on their own like a PDF does.
PNG stands for “portable network graphics”. This file format was designed to make transferring high-quality images across the internet easier. As such, PNGs have become very popular.
If you’re not going to use a PDF, the PNG file format is great for storing high-quality photographs of evidence, especially if you plan on annotating those photographs and saving multiple versions of the photo.
With other file types like JPEG, TIFF, and GIF, you do not get as much quality out of your image, and at a relatively low file size, as you would with the PNG. Also, the quality of the image can degrade with each newly saved version using these other formats over PNG.
All in all, using a PNG is often a better option.
We suggest only using one of these other image file formats if you have a specific reason for doing so. For example, you may want to use the GIF format for an animation, since GIFs inherently support animated images, whereas with PNG you would have to muddle with image settings to do so.
We have an entire white paper on the MPEG-4 video format. If you want more detailed information, we suggest you download the whitepaper. But, in general, MPEG-4 is the best file format option when working with video.
Using MPEG-4 for your video and audio files provides a better overall experience for you and everyone else you work with.
It retains a high-quality display and sound which is important for reviewing evidence and especially presenting the video to an audience.
It works with most every video-supported software today, making it much easier to transfer the files to clients or other parties in a case. It is also compatible with tablets and other mobile devices. With MPEG-4 you don’t have to worry about running it through a program to change it to another supported file type. It’ll just work.
It also produces a smaller file size, which saves on the cost of transfer as well as the cost of storage. When working with the number of hours that can add up in a single case, that saving is significant.
We’ve gone through some of the most convenient file formats, but you may be asking yourself how you can switch from one file format to the other. Let’s talk about it.
Changing a file format will be different for any type of file you are working with.
If you’re working with a native file, you can simply open the program the document was created in, and save it as one of the different file types mentioned above. For example, you can open your document in Word, click the File tab, click Save as, choose where you want the new file to go, then select the dropdown that shows all the different file types.
If you’re working with an image, you can use an image editor program to save the image as a different file type using most of the same steps as above. For example, if you want to change a JPEG image to a PNG, you can open the JPEG in Microsoft Paint (it comes free with Windows). Click the File tab, click Save As, and choose the file format you want.
When it comes to video and audio files, changing the file types isn’t quite so simple. It is usually easier to create the audio or video file in MPEG-4, to begin with. But if you didn’t do that, you’ll need to convert the file to MPEG-4. There is a litany of software options, many of which are free, that you can use to convert to MPEG-4. We suggest you search the internet for such options, talk to a trusted tech-friend, and choose the best option for yourself. Once you choose the option you want, converting your file to MPEG-4 should be quite easy.
Overall, when working through the documents of a case, there are only a few file formats you should worry about that will provide all the essential options you need:
If you go outside these file formats, you should have specific reasons for doing so, like collecting metadata from native file formats or wanting to easily show an animation with a GIF.
What file formats do you use when reviewing documents for a case and why?
Case management and presentation technology like TrialDirector offer a way to review and manage case documents more efficiently on a computer. But, to take advantage of this efficiency, your documents must be in the computer. You need to go digital.
There are several other benefits to going digital besides faster document review.
You can drastically reduce clutter. All the piles of documents around your desk could be gone, and you could walk in and out of your office without having to worry about toppling the paper city you’ve constructed over time.
With less clutter comes better organization. Using a computer makes it much easier to find documents and less likely you’ll lose them. Not much is worse than finding out a document was misfiled somewhere in the canyons of filing cabinets. When your documents are on a computer, they’re much easier to find if someone puts them in the wrong location.
Also, when you use technology to manage your case documents, there are countless tools available to make managing those documents much easier. You can quickly review, annotate, and eventually present much more professional-looking items in much less time.
But how do you go digital, exactly? What does it take, and what do you need to do?
In very general terms, you pretty much have two options for getting your documents into the computer:
Let’s dig into both options.
This option is by far the easiest and most cost-effective since you wouldn’t even have to waste time dealing with physical documents at all.
Usually, when a case starts, you are in control of how you receive documents from clients and the opposition. Instead of paper, simply request the documents be delivered on a disc or portable hard drive.
Even if the organizations delivering the documents only have physical copies, requesting digital copies puts the burden on them to scan them into a computer.
You might want to specify the file formats you prefer. You can request “native” file formats, if available, or “image” formats.
Native file formats are files that can be opened and edited directly in whatever program they were created with, like Word (.doc) or WordPerfect (.wpd). While it might not always be feasible for people to deliver native file formats to you, these formats are beneficial because they contain “metadata” by default.
Metadata basically provides information about the file in question. For example, it can give you the author of the document and the day it was created, making it easier for you to set up a chronology of where the document fits in each case’s story.
Image file formats are just pictures of documents. These may be much easier to come by than native files. The most common image types are JPG, PNG, and PDF. Note, while one JPG or PNG file is just one picture of one page of a document, PDFs can contain many pages of a document in one PDF file, making it much easier to store and keep track of multi-page letters or other court documents common in any case.
TrialDirector does provide options to organize image files like JPGs and PNGs into multipage documents, but having it done for you in a PDF is much more effective.
But, what’s that you say? Your case already started? You’re doing the research yourself, and all you have to work with are books and paper? There must be a transition somewhere. Here’s what you can do:
To get all the information contained on all that paper into a computer, you need a scanner. There are all kinds, and the one you want depends completely on how much you’re willing to pay and how fast you want to go. You can get a cheap scanner that lets you do one document at a time, or you can get a scanner that lets you feed multiple pages into it at once and it will cycle through each page for you. Considering how many documents you’re probably working with; the latter may be the best option.
You might want to check the printer you’re currently using in your office. Chances are, it has the scanning features you need.
“But, scanning each of these documents, it sounds like a lot of work, and I don’t have the time.”
We hear you. We understand. Going paperless is a big undertaking, but in our opinion, it’s absolutely worth it. The initial time investment is minuscule compared to the amount of time you save down the road, especially if you commit to working with all your cases digitally.
But if you really can’t spare the time, you might consider hiring some temporary help to get you started.
Again, the initial investment will be worth it long term.
Also, as you scan your pages, you’ll want to think about the quality settings of each scanned image, especially resolution settings.
Every computer screen has a certain resolution and resolution is determined by pixels. Pixels are all the little boxes that make up the picture on the screen. So, the higher a resolution, or the more pixels, the clearer the picture will be.
However, some people mistakenly think setting the resolution of a scanned image to its absolute maximum is the way to go since they assume they’ll get the best, clearest image, especially if they want to expand that image to a larger screen, like in trial presentation on a projector. It’s not necessarily true, and there are other things you need to consider as well.
For one thing, images don’t need the highest resolution to be clear, especially on large screens. They only need what is sufficient, and a picture’s resolution can be pretty low to be sufficient even by today’s standards.
The reason you want to think about reducing resolution is the space each scanned image takes up on a computer. Each file you scan takes up space. The higher the resolution, the more amount of space.
Consider too, if the file is so big, it might not show up very fast when you’re trying to present it at trial, making long pauses and sometimes uncertainty or awkward situations. You don’t want that in front of a jury.
Another space consideration is if you also want to set a document up for Optical Character Recognition (OCR). When you OCR a document, you make the text searchable and selectable, making it easier to find what you’re looking for as you review documents. But OCR also makes the file size for the document bigger. Ask yourself if you really need this document to be searchable or if it is just a filler in the pile. If you don’t need the search and selection features, you may want to save the space.
So, there’s a quick overview of what it would take to go digital. But we understand there may be a nagging feeling still in the back of your mind…
In short, yes. But let us flip a question back to you. Is the initial time investment worth the future peace of mind of having a clean office? Is it worth the monumental amount of time you save by not having to dig through physical paper to find what you need? Is it worth feeling confident as you want into trial with a simplified setup and more effective strategy?
We say it is, and we want those things for you. Don’t print another piece of paper again. Go paperless!
Once you go paperless, consider using TrialDirector, the leading software in trial technology, for your case management and trial presentation needs. Check out our website to learn more and connect with us on social media!
What file formats do you prefer when working with case items on the computer and why?
What scanners have you used that are especially useful?