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File Organization for High Asset Divorce


Please understand that I, Eric Roy, write these articles primarily for my own personal benefit, as well as for the benefit of my staff who I insist understand this material. Take from it what you will but understand that all practitioners have their own unique approaches. I happen to find the one written bellow to be effective for my organization.

If you are counsel in a high asset divorce case then you must understand the significance of proper organization. If you are not thoroughly organized you will not be able to effectively represent your client in settlement or trial in a high asset divorce case. The documentation is simply too immense to proceed otherwise. Counsel thus should take such measures as creating a trial ledger. You really should have your staff well trained on how to effectively create this ledger. I personally, have one staff member who is dedicated to this task. That staff member has excellent organizational skills to begin with which is critical for this position.

This trial ledger is an index for all documents related to Financials, Liabilities, Court documentation, Property Distribution, Research, History, and fee agreements. Your legal secretary should have a basic template she or he uses for all divorce cases. Using this template she or he can then begin organizing these documents and entering them into the clients digital file immediately upon receipt. It doesn't make sense for your legal secretary to go back and do all this organization just before settlement conference or just prior to trial. Have your legal secretary enter all documents into the digital file and organize these same documents within the digital file on the same day they are received. Have all documents bate stamped as they are received. There are computer programs as well as newer scanning devices that will bate stamp your documents for digital storage. As documents come into your office your clerk will bate stamp each document as they are consecutively received. The first document received should be bate stamped 000001 with the following document bate stamped 000002 and so forth.

After your legal secretary has bate stamped the documents and filed the documents in the proper digital and/or tangible file the legal secretary must then enter the document into the digital trial ledger template in the client's file. Your legal secretary should always list the most recent bates stamped number on the top of the trial ledger. In this way she or he will easily know what number to begin the bates stamping process from as new consecutive documents comes into the office.

This bates stamping process is highly effective on several fronts. First of all, when your staff sends out any disclosures to opposing counsel they should send only bates stamped copies. Along with those bates stamped documents they should send a letter describing the documents by title along with bates stamped numbers of the pages sent of those same documents. In this way you are protected in the event opposing counsel says they did not receive certain documents. In your letter accompanying such disclosures you need to advise counsel to respond immediately if any of the disclosures listed in your disclosure statement were in fact not provided. In the event there is no response we can then assume that all disclosures identified in your letter were in fact disclosed and made available.

It is important that your legal secretary understand that after she enters the incoming documents into the trial ledger along with the bates stamped number that she then file that document in the proper digital/tangible file. When she files this document into the file she needs to name the document both by its actual name along with the corresponding bates stamp number. In this way it is easy for counsel or other staff to look at the ledger and then quickly review the labels of the documents to identify the documents they are in search of. This creates efficiencies in the office as well as at settlement conference and/or trial.

At periodic stages in litigation it is important that you send a copy of your trial ledger to your client. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, you can send the ledger along with a letter requesting that your client provide you any outstanding documents existing at that time, providing reference to the ledger for the client's benefit. The second reason you want to send the ledger to the client is so that your client understands that you have a strong understanding and organization of his or her file. When a lot of money is on the table your client needs to be assured that you are in control of the situation. A good way to demonstrate this to your client is to show the client the level of attention given to organizing his or her financials.

Understand that the documents in your trial ledger may not all be used as exhibits for trial. As trial approaches, you as counsel, will pick and choose using your ledger what documents will be pertinent for trial. Having the ledger handy accelerates this process. Understand that all pleadings which come into your office need to be filed as well. However, you should not include pleadings in your trial ledger. All pleadings should go into their own unique pleadings bank. In this pleadings bank the pleadings should be listed chronologically in reference to the date they were filed. The oldest pleadings at the bottom and then most recent at the top. Each file should clearly state the name of the pleading along with who filed it and the date of filing. For example, "Plaintiff's motion for temp maintenance 1.2.15". It is very important that the pleading bank is updated as pleadings are filed both by your client and by opposing counsel. The reason for this is that this allows any staff member who opens the pleading bank to be able to immediately determine what the last pleading filed was and thus what the next document expected from your firm or from opposing counsel should be. Your legal secretary should be updating this pleadings bank with new pleadings on the same day those pleadings come into your office. Filed pleadings do not need to be bates stamped as they are uniquely numbered already and filed with the court. Thus easily identifiable and already a part of the court record.

For organizational clarity I have my legal secretary create the following digital folders for each and every family case:

  1. Correspondence
  2. Drafts
  3. To
  4. From
  6. Drafts
  7. Discovery Propounded upon OC
  8. Discovery Received from OC
  9. Discovery Disclosed to OC
  11. Financial information
  12. Income Section
  13. Assets
  14. Personal property
  15. Expert Reports
  16. Liabilities
  17. Credit card Statements
  18. Home Equity Loans
  19. Mortgages
  20. Personal Loans
  21. Business Debt
  22. Other
  23. Court documentation and requirements
  24. Support
  25. Custody
  26. Property distribution
  27. Research
  28. Memoranda/briefs
  29. Cases
  30. Statutes
  31. History
  32. Court Orders

Remember that for all documents in each one of these folders it is imperative that the title of any and all of those documents include a description of:

  1. What party provided the document
  2. The name of the document in clear understandable language
  3. The date the document was produced or if filed the date of filing

All documents in your trial ledger need to be bates-stamped. The documents in the remainder of your folders listed above do not need to be bates stamped as they will not be used for trial. Understand that there will be some overlap between your discovery folder and your trial ledger folder. This is ok however as there will be times you will need to quickly determine not only what documents exist (trial ledger folder), but also who produced those documents (discovery folder).

For a better understanding, though somewhat different approach, see the writings of Lynne Gold-Bikin and Steve Kolodny who have written thoroughly on the subject and provide excellent insight on this material.

Categories: Family Law