How to Organize Discovery Documents

 In Practice Pointers

How to Organize Discovery Documents

Ever spent an embarrassing amount of time looking for specific legal case files? Been late to an appointment because of how long it took you to find all the documents you need? Or worse—did you miss a crucial piece of evidence because of a disorganized file system?

Situations like these are few in between if you know how to organize legal files correctly. When you’re dealing with critical documents, it makes perfect sense to have a proven system to manage all of them so your data is:

  • Easily accessible
  • Secure
  • Logically organized

In this guide, we’ll go over paper vs. electronic legal filing systems, the best practices for each type, and how you can set up a digital system for all your important documents.

man handing out documents

Why Do You Need a Legal Filing System?

A legal filing system is a structured method for organizing and managing legal documents and records. It makes sure that documents are easily accessible, properly categorized, and securely stored. But why is this so important for your legal practice?


Time is money, especially in law where billable hours are the primary way law firms remain profitable. With a well-organized filing system, you can quickly find and retrieve documents and save precious time that can be better spent on casework and client interactions.

Instead of wasting hours hunting for files, you can get straight to the most important parts of the discovery process.


Staying on the right side of legal regulations requires precise documentation and record-keeping. A solid filing system helps you meet these requirements, which minimizes the risk of fines or legal trouble.

You’ll have everything you need at your fingertips during audits or legal proceedings, making compliance a breeze.


Mistakes can be costly in the legal world, especially in the discovery phase where errors can make or break a case.

Organized files reduce the chance of errors by making sure all documents are up-to-date and accurate. Whether you’re filing court documents or tracking client correspondence, a good system decreases the risk of costly oversights.

Client Trust

Clients trust you with their most sensitive information, and you are responsible for protecting their data from entities that might take advantage of it.

So, an efficient filing system shows clients that their documents are handled with care and precision. When they see your practice is organized and meticulous, it helps build trust and reinforces your reputation as a reliable legal professional.

What Happens When You Don’t Have One?

After seeing the benefits of an effective filing system, you can probably already tell why all law firms need one. However, it’s worth going over what can happen when you don’t have a good way to keep files organized:

Lost Documents

Without a structured system, documents can easily get lost in the shuffle. Misplaced files can lead to missed deadlines, incomplete records, and even lost cases—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The frustration and time wasted searching for missing documents can disrupt your legal workflows and stress everyone out.

Wasted Time

Imagine spending hours digging through piles of paper or sifting through unorganized digital files. This wasted time could be better spent on casework, client meetings, or strategic planning.

Needless to say, an inefficient filing system drains your productivity and takes you away from more important tasks.


Legal practices must comply with strict documentation and record-keeping standards. Without a proper filing system, you risk falling out of compliance with these regulations. This can lead to fines, penalties, and damage to your reputation.

In worst-case scenarios, it could even result in losing your license to practice. It’s rare, but it can happen!

Errors and Inaccuracies

Disorganized files increase the likelihood of errors. Whether it’s filing the wrong document, missing an important deadline, or relying on outdated information, these mistakes can be costly and damaging to your cases. Clients expect accuracy and reliability, and frequent errors can erode their trust.

On that note, clients rely on you to carefully manage their sensitive information. Disorganization sends the wrong message and can make clients question your professionalism. 

If clients see you struggling to keep track of their documents, they might lose trust in your ability to handle their cases effectively.

Are You Still Using Paper Files?

Although cloud-based software is commonplace in most law firms, many legal professionals still rely on paper files. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s admit that paper files are more prone to disorganization, getting lost, and general chaos.

Luckily, you can avoid these issues with a solid filing system. Consider these tips:

  1. File alphabetically or numerically: Choose a filing method that works for you and stick with it. Alphabetical filing by client name and numerical filing by case number are both effective methods. Consistency is key to quickly finding what you need.
  2. Create clear labels: Clearly label all your folders and files. Use large, easy-to-read labels that include the case name or number and a brief description of the contents to save you time and frustration when searching for specific documents.
  3. Use subfolders: Within each main folder, use subfolders to categorize documents by type, such as pleadings, motions, correspondence, and evidence. This extra level of organization makes it easier to locate specific documents quickly.
  4. Color-coding: Consider using color-coded folders to differentiate between types of documents or stages of a case. For example, you could use red folders for active cases, blue for closed cases, and green for correspondence.
  5. Keep an index: Maintain an index or a master list of all your files and their locations. This can be a simple spreadsheet or a written list you update regularly. An index serves as a quick reference guide, especially for large volumes of documents.
  6. Regular audits: Periodically review and purge your files to keep things manageable. Shred or archive documents that are no longer needed to free up space and maintain an organized system.
  7. Store securely: Make sure that your filing cabinet is secure to protect sensitive information. Use locks or keep the cabinet in a secure office area to prevent unauthorized access.
  8. Back-up important documents: For crucial documents, consider making digital copies as a backup. Scan important papers and store them electronically to ensure you have a copy in case the original is lost or damaged.

woman working in a laptop

Should You Shift to a Cloud-Based Document Management System?

As you can see, it takes a lot of effort to organize paper files, let alone maintain your firm’s productivity with a physical file system. With that in mind, is it time to switch to an electronic system for managing documents? 

Here are some of the most pressing reasons why you should:

Better Accessibility

With a cloud-based DMS, you can access your files from anywhere, anytime. Whether you’re at the office, at home, or on the go, all your documents are just a few clicks away.

This flexibility means you can work efficiently and respond to clients quickly, no matter where you are.

Enhanced Security

Cloud-based systems offer top-notch security features to protect your sensitive information. They typically include encryption, secure access controls, and regular backups to protect your data from unauthorized access and loss.

By moving to the cloud, you improve the security of your documents and reduce the risk of data breaches. In contrast, paper files are inherently more prone to unauthorized access, destruction, or simply getting lost in the fray.

Improved Collaboration

A cloud-based DMS allows multiple team members to access and work on documents at the same time. Improved collaboration means your team can work together more smoothly, share updates in real-time, and avoid the version control issues that often come with paper files or locally stored documents.


Switching to a cloud-based system can save you money in the long run. You won’t need as much physical storage space, you’ll reduce paper use, and you’ll cut costs associated with maintaining and securing physical files.

Plus, many cloud services offer flexible pricing models, so you only pay for what you use.

Disaster Recovery

Cloud-based systems offer strong disaster recovery options. In case of a natural disaster, fire, or other emergency, your documents remain safe and accessible from the cloud.

Environmentally Friendly

Moving to a cloud-based system is also better for the environment, which is necessary for a greener law firm. It helps reduce your carbon footprint and supports a more sustainable way of working by cutting down on paper use.

Best Practices When Organizing Legal Discovery Documents

We’ve talked about organizing paper files, but what about electronic documents? We’ve come up with a comprehensive guide to keep your filing system safe, orderly, and efficient:

1. Consistent Naming Conventions

Use clear, consistent naming conventions for all your files. This means naming your documents in a way that makes them easy to identify and locate. For example, include the case name, document type, and date in the file name.

Consistency is key to avoiding confusion and making searches quicker which, in turn, leads to less stress when looking for important files.

2. Use Folders and Subfolders

Create a well-structured folder system. Start with broad categories like client names or case numbers and then use subfolders for specific document types, such as pleadings, motions, correspondence, and evidence. A hierarchy helps you navigate your files more easily.

3. Regular Backups

Schedule regular backups of your electronic documents to prevent data loss, and use both local and cloud-based storage solutions for redundancy.

Regular backups ensure that you have copies of your files in case of accidental deletion or system failures. Luckily, you can set up backups to run automatically in the background so it doesn’t interfere with your legal workflows.

4. Access Controls and File Sharing

Implement strict access controls to protect sensitive information. Only authorized personnel should have access to specific documents. Passwords, encryption, and user permissions are the best ways to safeguard your files from unauthorized access.

When sharing documents, use secure methods to protect the information. Avoid sending sensitive documents via unsecured email. Instead, use encrypted file-sharing services or secure portals to exchange documents with clients and colleagues.

5. Use Document Management Software

Invest in good document management software (DMS) designed specifically for law firms. These systems often come with features like advanced search capabilities, secure storage, and collaboration tools that make managing electronic documents much easier.

Discovery Doesn’t Have to Be Tedious

Managing discovery documents is one thing, but creating them with the level of precision and consistency required is a whole other story. If you want a faster way to generate discovery requests and response documents, let Briefpoint’s generative artificial intelligence do most of the work for you.

With Briefpoint, you can create the following discovery responses and requests in minutes instead of hours, saving you time, money, and brain power:

Save Time and Money in the Discovery Phase With

Discovery responses cost firms $23,240, per year, per attorney. $23,240 estimate assumes an associate attorney salary of $150,000 (including benefits–or $83 an hour), 20 cases per year/per associate, 4 discovery sets per case, 30 questions per set, 3.5 hours spent responding to each set, and 1800 hours of billable hours per year.

Under these assumptions, you save $20,477 using Briefpoint, per year, per attorney.

Test Briefpoint yourself by scheduling a demo here.

FAQs About Legal Filing Systems

What’s the best way to organize legal discovery documents?

Start by sorting your documents by case. Once you’ve done that, categorize them by type, like pleadings, motions, or correspondence. Use clear, consistent labels for everything, so you can easily find what you need without any hassle.

Why is a legal filing system important?

A solid filing system boosts efficiency, keeps you compliant with legal requirements, and provides peace of mind by keeping everything organized and easy to access.

Should we switch to a cloud-based document management system?

Yes, switching to a cloud-based system improves accessibility, improves security, and makes collaboration with your team much easier. You’ll no longer have to deal with paper clutter or outdated systems.

How can we manage the switch to electronic documents?

To smoothly transition to electronic documents, start by choosing a suitable document management system. Next, digitize your existing paper files. Ensure your team is well-trained on the new system, and implement the change gradually to avoid overwhelming everyone.


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