File Management: Responsibility and Standards
How we assign responsibility for file management, case management and development.
Know and Follow Our Document and File Management Procedures!
Managing a file requires both careful maintenance of the electronically stored files and metadata and skilled and timely case planning. Our document storage methods and procedures, and as our case planning procedures are contained in Document Management in SharePoint and Case Planning, respectively. These are two of our most important Procedures, and all employees should refer to them frequently to ensure they are followed with care.
These references, taken together, provide the general standard to which lawyers are expected to adhere—with the help of the LSS staff members they supervise and for whom they are responsible—as a minimum baseline standard of performance expected by the Firm.
Responsibilities of Lawyers and LSS Staff.
The responsibility for managing a file is shared by lawyers LSS staff. For each matter, it is the responsibility of the PRA to ensure that the LSS is properly performing those tasks that are delegated to the LSS under this Policy and as set forth in the Procedure Document Management in SharePoint.
General Practice: Lawyer and LSS Functioning Correctly
- Typical LSS functions: When new materials are received, they are OCR-ed and filed appropriately by the LSS, who immediately sends a link to the newly filed material to the PRA.
- Typical lawyer functions: The lawyer then quickly reviews the material and notes any follow-up or responsive steps triggered by a thoughtful and intelligent review of the material, using good case planning procedures and employing timely and well-designed written and oral communications to the client to keep the client informed and document our detailed written recommendations, as well as our documented authorization to proceed with our recommended measures.
Common Reason Files Not In Proper Shape
This is not a division of responsibility! Rather, it is a sharing of overlapping responsibilities. Unfortunately, this has led to problems that arise from a lawyer’s misplaced belief (or hope) that his or her LSS will keep the file organized, while the LSS thinks (correctly) that the lawyer, who has the primary responsibility for management of a file, will keep an eye on the status and condition of the file and tell the LSS what to do whenever something needs to be done.
The result of this dual failure—a failure on the part of both the lawyer and the LSS—is that one or more files simply do not receive the ongoing care and maintenance that is required.
The person chiefly at fault in such a situation is the lawyer, even though most of the day-to-day filing activities are carried out by the LSS. This is because we hold the attorney responsible for supervision and oversight of his or her LSS.
Preventing Things From Falling Through The Cracks
Law firms often miss valuable opportunities to advance their clients’ cases by failing to review documents with care when they arrive in the firm, whether they come from clients, outside sources or other parties in a civil action. Applying metadata and various other processing of documents is a responsibility that is divided between the LSS and the PRA as specified in Document Management in SharePoint.
The overall responsibility for file maintenance, document review and analysis and timely performance of tasks made necessary by the contents of those documents rests with the PRA, who must constantly and continuously ensure that the LSS is performing those tasks as specified in the above Procedure. In terms of ultimate responsibility for case management and document management, the buck stops with the PRA. This does not suggest that the LSS is not directly responsible for performance of the functions delegated to her, but the ultimate responsibility lands on the shoulders of the PRA that supervises the LSS working on a matter.
Immediate review & action—illustrative examples:
For the sake of illustration of this concept, examples of this kind of quick recognition of tasks triggered by the receipt of new material are as follows:
- Upon receipt of disclosures and discovery requests, gaps in information, missing materials, illegibility of documents, shortcomings in responses, should be spotted quickly, leading to rapid issuance of correspondence and subsequent motions to compel if needed to correct the omissions;
- Upon receipt of material containing requests from clients, courts, opposing counsel or others that require prompt attention, rapid review of the same, followed by responses acknowledging the requests and commencement of the work (including logging of the tasks in Daylite that are needed with adequate reminders and internally-set due dates) must be initiated rapidly.
- Upon receipt of material identifying new witnesses, early steps to interview, depose or oppose such testimony should lead to rapid issuance of correspondence, status reports (explaining the new witness disclosure and seeking authority to interview or depose the witness, or retain and designate opposing testimony) should be issued timely. Clients hate to find out about surprise witnesses long after we have been placed on notice of such, and often find it obvious under such circumstances that we are not reading material when it is received.
- Upon receipt of poorly scanned or illegible documents, rapid issuance of requests for clearer scans or native format PDF or email files must be issued and vigilantly pursued.
- Upon receipt of photographs, quick recognition that higher resolution native format digital images can be identified, leading to timely requests for the same.
Following these procedures in a timely and thorough manner will leave time to follow up with subpoenaes or motions without the likely resistance of opposing counsel or the courts (or client resentment) that comes from not acting in a timely manner in response to missing, illegible or insufficient information, surprising new data or other issues that can and should be spotted quickly upon receipt of the documents.
We have often encountered situations in which senior lawyers discover that a file has not been well maintained, in that materials are not stored where they are expected to be, or that key steps that should have been performed long ago remain undone, and the PRA states that he or she was expecting the LSS to have taken care of the issues. The LSS generally states that he or she didn’t realize that the lawyer wanted these things done. The senior lawyer is naturally disappointed and frustrated to hear of this situation, and rightly blames both the PRA and the LSS, but the lawyer is the one who should take the brunt of the blame for failing to lead the LSS appropriately. The LSS may be subject to criticism, but mostly from the lawyer who is already in the “dog house” over the situation.
The key to prevention of this issue is your understanding of this Policy and the procedures cited above, whether you are a lawyer or an LSS, followed by diligent attention to the file by both the lawyer and the LSS, including the use of effective and ongoing communication between them regarding the maintenance of the file, logging (in Daylite) and completion of all necessary or desirable case planning procedures and execution of those tasks.