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How to Create a Case File Number

In reviewing numerous law firm case management packages, we are continually amazed at the number of overpriced packages where “automatically create case numbers” tops the list of features, as if it were a difficult thing to do, and even Impressive as the packaging is functional. Also, most of these packages just create a 6 digit number starting at 000001, then going to 000002 and so on, and don’t let you customize it.

We recommend that case numbers should be codes that tell you more than simple numbers, but at the same time should have a simple format so you can easily create them and read them on the fly.

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

20100310-FL-CC-JS-009

Let’s break it down:

  1. 20100310 is the date. Use the descending date format because it is easier to find cases using the time range reference. Descending dates start with the year, then the month, then the day, so in the example above, the case starts on March 10, 2010.
  2. Next, is a two-letter code of your choice indicating 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. If you only practice one law, you can skip this.
  3. Your subcode is the 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 list these in the Reference Document along with the case type codes from #2.
  4. Depending on the sensitivity of the case and the client’s request for anonymity, the use of the client’s initials as part of the case number may be an option. In our example, we created the name “Jane Smith” and used JS. We certainly do not recommend using the client’s name in the case number.
  5. If your customer is likely to provide more than one case, put the actual number of cases for that customer in parentheses. In this example, this would be the 9th case for Jane Smith. If this is a single case, and the chances of repeat business from that customer are low, then you don’t need to add any numbers at the end.

Tips and tricks:

  1. When creating a case file number, use it when naming word processor or spreadsheet files so that everything can be searched and/or recalled using the case number. Also, write the number on any file folders and use it on stickers you might put on CD/DVD cases, cassette tapes, evidence boxes, etc.
  2. Naming your computer’s files is also easier to search for, since most systems allow you to use some kind of “wildcard” (such as an asterisk *) to search for part of the filename. For example, if you wanted to see a list of all family law cases from 2010, you could enter the search string 2010*FL*.doc (if you were searching for Microsoft Word┬« files). Not only that, but simply listing them by filename will automatically display them in chronological order based on their case number.
  3. Instead of purchasing complex and overpriced software packages, you can easily use software that may come with your computer, such as the word processor and spreadsheet mentioned above, and calendar/contacts programs such as Microsoft Outlook®.

Next, to learn more about paralegal and attorney case management, visit: www.theattorneycasefile.com.

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

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