In reviewing numerous law office case management software packages, we're always amazed at the number of over-priced packages that have "automatically creates a case number" high on the list of features as if it's a difficult thing to do, or even impressive as a package feature. Too, most of these packages simply create a 6-digit number and start at 000001 then go to 000002 and so on and do not allow you to customize.
We suggest that case numbers should be codes that tell you much more than a simple number does, but at the same time, they should have a simple format so you can easily create them and read them on the fly.
Let's look at a simple yet informative case number:
Let's break this down a bit:
- 20100310 is the date. Use the descending date format since it's easier to look up cases with a time-frame reference. Descending dates are arranged starting with the year, then month, then day, so in the example above, the case was started on March 10th, 2010.
- Next, is a two-letter code of your choice that indicates what type of case this 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.
- Your Sub-Code is a second two-letter code clarifying the type of case. In our Family Law example above, "CC" stands for Child Custody. Create a list of applicable sub-codes and keep these listed in a "reference file" along with your case-type codes from # 2.
- Using the client's initials as part of your 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.
- If you have a client that may provide multiple cases, put the actual number of the case for that client in parenthesis. In this example, this would be our 9th case for Jane Smith. If this is a single case with little chance of repeat business from this client, you will not need to put any numbers at the end.
Hints and Tips:
- When creating a case file number, use it when naming word processor or spreadsheet files so everything can be searched and / or called up using the case number. Also, write the number on any folders and use it on stickers that might go on CD / DVD cases, cassette tapes, evidence boxes, etc.
- Naming your computer files also makes it easy to search since most systems will let you search for part of the file name using some sort of "wild card" such as the asterisk *. For example, if you wanted to see a listing of all Family Law cases in 2010, you'd enter the search string 2010 * FL * .doc (if you were searching for Microsoft Word® files). Not only that, but simply listing them by file name will automatically show them in chronological order by virtue of their case number alone.
- Rather than buy complex and over-priced software packages, you can easily use the software that probably came with your computer such as your word processor and spreadsheet mentioned above, and a calendar / contact program such as Microsoft Outlook®.
Next, to learn more about case management for paralegals and attorneys visit: www.theattorneycasefile.com .
(Copyright 2010 – Paul Purcell. Permission granted to share this article provided all portions remain intact.)