In this post we define best practices for an Email Filing System that will work for lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects and other professionals who do work on discrete projects (or matters if you are a lawyer).
The simplest system that you can use for organizing your emails is based on having a separate folder for each project/matter.
This is easy for everyone to understand since folder based filing is something that we all know from the paper world.
We will cover 2 Simple Rules that you need to follow and create and name the folders so that emails are easy to file and to find later. We finish with a final tip on how to separate Current Projects/Matters from Closed Projects/Matters.
2 Simple Rules
There are only 2 simple rules that you need to follow.
1. Create a separate folder for each project/matter
2. File ALL (both incoming and outgoing) emails for the project/matter into the folder.
Follow the above two rules and you will be able to find all related emails for a project/matter easily when you need to.
The trick however is to name your folders in such a way that the folders (and therefore the emails) are easy to find when you need them later.
How to name your email folders
There are up to 3 pieces of information that you can use to name your folders.
Client Name: Needs no explanation but remember that the same client may have multiple projects.
Project/Matter Number (Optional): Many firms assign unique numbers to each project/matter. This number is then used in all correspondence etc. related to that project.
Project/Matter Description: A brief description of the project/matter
Assuming that your organization assigns numbers to projects, we recommend that you name your email folders inside Outlook as follows.
CLIENT_NAME PROJECT_NUMBER PROJECT_DESCRIPTION
For example: Acme Corporation 2017-01 Wile E Coyote Vs Roadrunner
If you do not use project/matter numbers, just leave them out so your format is
CLIENT NAME – PROJECT_DESCRIPTION
For example: Acme Corporation – Wile E Coyote Vs Roadrunner
What are the advantages of naming your folders in this way?
Naming your folders in this way provides some very specific advantages for both when you want to file and find your emails later.
1. You can see all projects/matters for a particular client together in next to each other (since the folders are shown alphabetically in Outlook).
2. It is easy to identify what is in a folder even if you don’t know the project/matter number since the folder name contains both the client’s name and description.
3. Folders are easy to find using folder search tools like Find&Goto folder in QuickFile for Outlook because you can search using the client name, project/matter number or any word from its description.
Note: You may have seen system where users create folders for clients and then create the project/matter folders under them. I personally don’t recommend that because it creates an unnecessary level you have to drill down into when looking for emails. The folders are also not that easy to find using Search tools because Project folders do not contain client names and vice versa.
Separating Current Projects from Completed Projects
It is highly likely that you work on many projects and most of these projects are not ongoing forever i.e. they get completed and closed at some point in time.
We recommend that you create two top level folders to deal with this.
A_Current_Projects (or A_Current_Matters)
B_Completed_Projects (or B_Completed_Matters)
(I have named the folders with the A_ and B_ in front of their names so that Current Projects is listed before Completed Projects as Outlook sorts the folders alphabetically). Now…
Create folders for your new and existing projects in the Current Projects folder.
Once a project is completed move the entire folder out of the Current Projects folder into the Completed Projects folder.
Using the Filing System while still doing your real work
I hope that you find the guidelines from this post useful in either setting up or refining your own email filing system… and remember to file emails from both your Inbox and Sent Items folders into the dedicated project/matter folders.
If you work with many emails and many projects, you may find that filing emails takes too much time away from your real work. If that is the case we recommend you download 30 day trial of QuickFile for Outlook which makes it easy to find folders, file 90% of inbox emails at the click of one button, and send and file outgoing emails in one step.
Finally, if you have your own ideas for email systems or need more detailed instructions (maybe by video), please let us know by leaving a comment.