Making a record: Organize your case files

A place for everything, everything in its place. – Benjamin Franklin

Your time line and the other two documents, like your life, are works in progress. Keep them up to date. The time line is a diary of your potential lawsuit—and will become the everything log when your lawsuit has commenced.

Now let’s organize.

As I was reminded by an artist friend who for years made a living as an office manager, [S]he Who Files Has The Power. So, Gentlemen and Ladies, Start Your Files!

Grab your M[ess]O[f]P[apers]. If it isn’t yet in chronological order, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to file in coordination with your time line, which will become not only a diary, but also a table of contents for your files.

A tiny history of legal filing systems.

When I started working for lawyers, they kept their files in legal size folders. Documents got tossed in, wrinkled, torn, out of order. Documents spilled out. Sometimes documents disappeared.

At some point–this was really innovative–prong fasteners got added to the folders and the papers were clipped in.

Lawyers didn’t particularly care for fasteners; and, indeed, they were a pain in the ass. When you needed a document, you’d have to open the prong, remove the layer of documents lying atop the one you wanted, pull the document out and put back all the others. Subsequently the document would be tossed back loosely into the folder, out of order, torn, coffee-stained, et cetera.

It was Dave the Dude who introduced me to three-ring binders with front and back pockets. Binders keep everything in order, the documents are easily removable when you want to make copies and nothing falls out of them.

Once I met binders, no other filing system made any sense.

A gossipy tidbit about lawyers and filing systems: I once had an argument with an associate about filing systems. I’d designed an excellent system. He, who had never filed a scrap of paper in his slob life, objected to my system. He wanted me to question other, bigger law firms about their systems.

Fortuitously, a week or so later, the founding partner of one of the best law firms in the city walked in. I stopped him in his tracks and asked what his filing system was like.

He looked uncomfortable. “Well,” he said, “We’re always meaning to figure out a system but right now we don’t really have one.”

Q.E.D. My system prevailed, at least while I was working there.


So take your binder. Take your three-hole punch. Take your binder tabs. Make a time line tab, insert it into the binder, then punch the time line and stick it behind the tab. There.

The People Involved list and the Case List can go into the binder front pocket.

Seize your MOP, three-hole-punch each piece of paper and put it into the binder in chronological order. Eventually, as more documents accumulate and time passes, you’ll make tabs to separate months or years and indicate important documents, such as your complaint. Or as in my case against the Skush-O’Briens, co-op Board meetings during which agreements were made but never fulfilled.

Put your binder on a shelf. Be impressed with yourself. You’ve done a really good job. Don’t you feel calmer, more in control of your litigious future?

(And I virtually guarantee that when you go to interview lawyers, carrying your binder, they’ll be impressed. They won’t tell you they’re impressed: they’ll be too embarrassed about their own filing systems.)

Before you investigate the kind of case you have and, most important, the statute of limitation governing your potential lawsuit…

Your support system.

Invite the friends who’ve supplied information for your time line to a tea or beer party. Give each a cupcake and a copy of your time line and ask that he/she read through it, check that her/his recollection was correctly recorded, and tell you if the story reminds him/her of other relevant incidents.

This will get them invested, so to speak, in the validity, the substance of your lawsuit.

Make notes about what your friends say. After the party, revise your three documents accordingly, adding any useful information garnered while your friends were dripping cupcake crumbs all over your rug.



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