In reviewing numerous law firm case management software packages, we are constantly amazed at the number of expensive packages that “auto-create a case number” at the top of the feature list, as if it’s a hard thing to do, or even impressive. as a package feature. Also, most of these packages just create a 6 digit number and start at 000001 then go to 000002 and so on and don’t allow you to customize.

We suggest that case numbers be codes that tell you much more than just a number, but at the same time, they should be in a simple format so you can easily create them and read them on the go.

Let’s look at a simple but informative case number:

20100310-FL-CC-JS-009

Let’s break this down a bit:

  1. 20100310 is the date. Use the descending date format as it is easier to search for cases with a time period reference. Descending dates are organized by starting with the year, then the month, then the day, so in the example above, the case started on March 10, 2010.
  2. Below is a two-letter code of your choice that indicates what type of case it is. In our example above, “FL” stands for “Family Law.” Here are some suggestions: CL – Contract Law, PP – Product/Process, CD – Criminal Defense, etc. You can skip this if you only practice one type of law.
  3. Its subcode is a second two-letter code that clarifies the type of case. In our Family Law example above, “CC” stands for Child Custody. Create a list of applicable subcodes and store them in a “reference file” along with the case type codes from #2.
  4. The use of the client’s initials as part of their case number is optional depending on the sensitivity of the case and the client’s desire for anonymity. In our example, we made up the name “Jane Smith” and used JS. We certainly do not recommend using the client’s name in the case number.
  5. If you have a client that can provide multiple cases, put the actual case number for that client in parentheses. In this example, this would be our ninth case for Jane Smith. If this is a unique case with little chance of repeat business from this customer, you do not need to put a number at the end.

Tips:

  1. When creating a case file number, use it when naming word processor or spreadsheet files so that everything can be searched and/or retrieved using the case number. Also, write the number on any binder and use it on stickers that can be placed on CD/DVD cases, cassette tapes, evidence boxes, etc.
  2. Naming files on your computer also makes searching easier, as most systems will allow you to search for part of the file name using some kind of “wildcard” such as the asterisk*. For example, if you wanted to see a list of all family law cases in 2010, you would enter the search string 2010*FL*.doc (if you were looking for Microsoft Word┬« files). Not only that, but simply listing them by file name will automatically display them in chronological order by virtue of their case number only.
  3. Instead of buying complex and expensive software packages, you can easily use the software that probably came with your computer, like the word processor and spreadsheet mentioned above, and a calendar/contacts program like Microsoft Outlook®.

Next, for more information on case management for paralegals and attorneys, visit: www.theattorneycasefile.com.

(Copyright 2010 – Paul Purcell. Permission granted to share this article provided all parts remain intact.)

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