E-Case Management: Intake Processing for Documents
If you've already downloaded our free Basic Tech Tips for Legal Pros you've seen this topic before. (If you haven't downloaded it yet, you can do so on our Home Page; it will be delivered directly to your inbox and we highly recommend it). But there is more to consider. (If this is something you really want to delve into, check out our video and blog series, "The Document Tracking Sheet.").
In the meantime, though, this is an intermediate resource for better organizing documents you receive from clients, the other side, and third-parties. Much like an e-discovery process, organizing documents goes through set project management steps (you can also think of it as slightly modified Electronic Discovery Resource Management or EDRM policy).
In the context of a case, whether you are thinking of family law, a protection order hearing, constitutional rights litigation, or complex commercial litigation, really at any level, organizing documents received into the case is of utmost importance. Yet, it is often left up to paralegals and assistants who have little or no training in EDRM, or lawyers who are too busy to focus on it. Unfortunately, this eventually spells disaster for the case and engenders tremendous frustration on all fronts. So here is a way to stop both of those things from happening.
Controlling Document Delivery
It is very common for clients to send documents in haphazard, disorganized, and at times truly infuriating ways. (For example, I had a client send us a 50-page document as 50 individual .jpegs (images or screenshots), each attached to an individual email). Recently, someone posted that a client sent them a 200-page document as individual images or screenshots. While the normal reaction is to try and accommodate this, I strongly advise against it. When I had my firm, I instituted a policy that documents delivered in a manner other than what I had requested, were deleted and the client had to start over. My preferred method was to provide them a secure link to an online platform where they could upload their documents. (For more details about how to identity and set up a secure online document delivery platforms see another blog post, but in the meantime you can think of Dropbox, Google Drive, or links within case management platforms like Clio). Importantly, though, documents need to be delivered in a somewhat usable form. This greatly decreases the amount of time it takes to organize them.
If documents are delivered in hard copy (which is fairly common where clients are individuals turning over their personal documents) scan the documents into the "Document Dump" below and return them to the client or preserve them in a hard copy client file, which is subject to destruction pursuant to your state-mandated schedule. (Rules of ethics in states have varying required lengths of time for preservation of files).
The Document Dump
When documents come into the firm, they should be placed in a "Document Dump." This is a folder that exists on the outskirts of your client file, where the newly arrived future inhabitant of said file must wait their turn until they are given new identities, new names, and entered into the database. It is the border of your client file and you are the gatekeeper. This initial folder should be divided into at least three subfolders: Client Documents, Third-Party Productions, and Opposing Party Production (or Defendants or Plaintiff, depending who you represent in the case). Obviously, you can subdivide more, depending on the needs of your case. However, the idea is that documents not yet processed have a place to "live" until they go through the modified EDRM steps, while also being categorized like an inbox would be categorized, so you can tell what's what. Within each of these subfolders, documents should further be divided into unprocessed and processed.
The Document Tracking Sheet
This topic is the subject of a video series and an in-depth manual. So this section will keep it short. What you should know, though, is that every document production that makes it into your firm has to be logged in real time. Therefore, if your office just received a third-party production or a document production from an opposing party, it must immediately be logged with the following information: 1) source; 2) bates ranges; 3) date of receipt. This is the minimum information needed to achieve proper tracking.
Documents sent by a client should be logged right away in a different way. They should immediately be bates labeled and then added to the Document Tracking Sheet. The entry, again, should reflect: 1) source (client or particular custodian); 2) bates ranges; 3) date of receipt. This only takes a few minutes but begins the tracking process and ensures nothing gets lost.
Once documents are preliminarily logged, someone should go through them and identify them. (This is not the same as analyzing them). The information listed above should then be supplemented with a descriptive title. For example, I once had a paralegal who listed bank statements in a Document Tracking Sheet by institution and date range but failed to identify whether the bank statements belonged to our client or the opposing party. The entry, then, became nearly useless for production and discovery responses. The identification has to be sufficient for someone to know whether or not they want to open the document rather than just enough for someone to know that they have to open the document to figure out what it is.
Re-Location of Documents
Once identification is complete, the documents should be:
copied into the heart of the client file, in appropriately named folders, and re-named to reflect: Bates Range, Date, and Document Title. (For more on this, again, you can download our Basic Tech Tips for Legal Pros). In Geek Like a Girl world, the documents have now been "processed" and are ready for analysis.
moved from unprocessed to processed within the File Dump, so that the unprocessed folder is now empty, awaiting a new arrival.
As always, we hope this helps and we will have a demo on our YouTube Channel soon enough. In the meantime, be sure to get a copy of Basic Tech Tips for Legal Pros, check out the rest of content on this website.