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How to Get Your Legal Papers Organized

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Papers, papers, everywhere I looked I saw piles of papers.

Transcripts, appeals, motions, legal decisions, attorney bills…aaauuugghhhh!  It drove me crazy.  I moved them from the table to the dresser, to the counter, and back to the kitchen table.  Inevitably, if I got rid of something—the attorney would ask for it and I would have to track down another copy.  Truthfully, I hated all of those papers. But, I also valued and protected them because I knew we were going to need them for something important in the future.

It was overwhelming to sort through all of the papers I picked them up from our defense attorney after the sentencing.  So many reports and files from both sides of the case.  All I could see were piles of paper that had changed the course of my life.  And now they were spread out across my house as a constant reminder that my life would never be the same. There were days that I resented the fact that I needed to take care of all those stupid, important, irritating papers.

For a long time, I would only sort them when our new attorney requested a copy of something.

After I found what he needed, I would take him a copy.  Then, they all got dumped back into random boxes where they waited for the next sorting to take place.  I do not know how often I sorted through all of those papers before my friend, Julie, finally insisted that we organize them.  It was many, many times.

I didn’t want to spend any more time with those papers than I had to.  They represented so much pain and loss to me.  So, I avoided organizing them until Julie made me.  Actually, if she had not helped me, I don’t think I would have ever done it. We took boxes and boxes and boxes of papers to her house and spread them everywhere.  We sorted, compiled and filed for hours—days!  Finally, we had everything organized.

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I cannot even begin to tell you what a relief it was to know where everything was.

After that, I never felt panicked when Ron or his attorney would ask for a document.  I just went to the file and got it.  Soooo much easier and so much less time.  I was stunned at how a simple system worked to reduce so much stress in my life.

If you are struggling to get your legal papers organized, follow these steps to take control of the legal mess:

1 - Find help.

Ask a friend or family member to help you organize your paperwork if you have more than one box of papers.  Otherwise, you will get overwhelmed and give up before the job is finished.  It isn’t just papers, these are the most important records you have until your husband is out of prison.

2 - Prep for File Day.

I mean emotionally, mentally and physically.  It will be hard to see the denied motions and appeals float in front of you and not experience a twinge of grief.  You cannot let disappointment distract you.  This is why you prepare.  Buy your favorite foods to snack on as you work, get plenty of rest in the days before you plan to sort, and have all of the supplies you will need on hand. Supplies include pens, folders, boxes, rubber bands, markers, and tabs.  If you can afford it, buy a filing cabinet (tip: Goodwill almost always has cheap filing cabinets!)

3 - Do one box at a time.

Even if pages of documents have found their way into multiple different boxes, only sort and file one box at a time.  You can always add the missing pages as you find them later. This will minimize the mess, maximize your efficiency, and make it a lot easier to take a break or quit for the day and come back another time to finish.  One box is manageable and you will feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete that one box.

There are some lawyers who do not care about their clients, some who are just too busy to do a good job, and others who are only concerned with getting paid. Don’t get me wrong, I believe lawyers should be paid, but I also believe they should give their best effort to help the people they represent. This includes court-appointed attorneys.

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4 - Organize by year.

I have tried sorting by type of motion, decisions, transcripts, and other groupings that made sense at the time.  The best filing system we used was to keep documents together by year.  The chronological order made it is very easy to find the exact document I needed quickly.


Label folders, the boxes and the lids. This will keep your organized through the coming years and make your hunt for a document so much easier.  Put the year and the name of the document(s) on both the folders and the front of the box so you know where everything is.

6 - Use the proper tool for the job.

Don’t put a 1,000 page document in a folder and think it will all stay together.  Use a rubber band to hold it together and label the front of the folder with a marker.  Use paperclips for a small stack of papers, etc.  You will be amazed at how much this will contribute to a neat system.

7 - Keep copies together.

Keep copies together. I think this one is self-explanatory.

8 - Never, ever, ever give anyone your original of anything.

You keep the originals because no one else cares as much as you do about this case.

9 - Save everything for at least 10 years after he comes home.

 You never know when you might need something.

Keeping your legal papers tidy and filed will give you more energy and time to manage the rest of your life.  And I know you need every spare minute you can get!

I am rooting for you!