One of the duties of a paralegal is organizing client files. Law firms keep client documentation in folders in the same basic format, usually with separate sections for correspondence, pleadings and exhibits. This article pertains to the pleadings section.
A pleading is a legal document that has been filed with the court. Once a lawsuit begins, incoming and outgoing pleadings are processed. Copies of those pleadings should be managed by paralegals in some quickly identifiable way. Why? One example is when an attorney attends a hearing. The attorney may need to refer to a pleading while arguing a point in front of the judge. Another example would be referring to information located in one pleading while drafting another pleading. There is no quick way to locate pleadings unless an understandable filing system is utilized.
The file copy of pleadings are hole-punched and added to either a folder with prongs or a three-ring binder. The copies are added in order by chronological date, starting with the earliest pleadings and the most recent being filed on top.
We now have some initial order developing for the documents, but we still need them to be located easily. At this point, paralegals will realize the importance of a pleadings index. A pleadings index is a typed list of the pleadings in a table format.
Start your document with the style of the case as a heading at the top. Entitled it “Pleadings Index.” Include page numbering in the document’s format.
An index table usually has four columns that include these column headings:
1. Tab Numbers;
2. Filing Party;
3. Description; and
4. Date Filed/Received.
The first column is for the numbers assigned to each pleading. The number one pleading would be the first document filed in the case, and so on. The pleadings are placed in the folder, and numbered tab divider sheets separate the documents. The numbers of the tabs correspond with the numbered list on the index.
The second column designates which party filed the pleading: “Plaintiff” or “Defendant.” If there are several plaintiffs or defendants, designate further – “Defendant Anderson.” It is helpful to highlight your firm’s client in bold on the index – “Defendant Anderson.”
The third column contains the title of the pleading. A diligent paralegal will add a bit more information if the title is short and generic. If a title is merely “Order,” add what the Order accomplishes – “Order (setting trial date),” or “Notice of Deposition (of Dr. Johnson).”
The fourth column is the date the document was entered, or received. If the pleading is an order or similar instruction by the judge, use the date that document was entered in the court record by the court clerk. Use the date received for pleadings sent to your office from other counsel.
Your firm may utilize abbreviations in their indices. This is fine as long as the abbreviations are uniform and make sense generally. Some firms prefer formal wording with no abbreviations.
Once the index is prepared, hole-punch it and place the index on top of the tabbed pleadings.
As the case develops and more pleadings are prepared or received, add them to the index and file promptly. Ensure that the pleading file is current particularly before any scheduled events in the case.
Now the case’s litigation story has been captured and recorded, making your attorney’s tasks easier. A job well done!