Not all legal practitioners can afford to subscribe to electronic legal research services like Lexis Nexis. When I started practicing, the court I was assigned to didn’t even have an up-to-date set of the Laws of Jamaica.

​Practitioners who cannot afford subscription fees must rely on the good old Law Library, judgments published online and their stash of photocopied cases acquired over the years. In Jamaica, Kingston is the home to the only two Law Libraries in the entire island. The attorneys in St. James have been resourceful enough to create a small library but it is not extensive. Picture

Maintaining an organized digital library can help to make legal research and case preparation a breeze but conducting legal research electronically is often more challenging for senior attorneys and young attorneys who are not as computer savvy as they should be. Furthermore, most attorneys simply LOVE PAPER and all things stationery. I am guilty. I love law offices adorned with walls of Law Reports displayed, even if they are dusty and bookworm ridden, but I no longer conduct research using physical textbooks. In fact, I avoid buying physical books and, only do so if they are not available on Kindle or via PDF.

For your digital library to meet your needs you will need to exercise a little discipline.
You need the discipline to label and tag each file in a manner that helps you retrieve it when required. If you cannot locate the file when you need it, you are only wasting hard drive space and time by saving it. You also need discipline to save files in the correct folders. If you save the files in the correct folders as soon as you download or scan them you save yourself the hassle of having to sort them later. If a case deals with several points of law, duplicate the file and place one copy in each relevant folder when you are saving the file.

I implemented the system I am about to share with you to help me to locate files quickly when I needed them. (It is constantly being updated to make retrieval easier for me.) I will call it the “basic edition”. As involved as the basic edition may appear, the “premium edition” is even more involved. In the premium edition I summarize almost every case I read into a table in either Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Word, save a digital copy of the case, and hyperlink the name of the case in the Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Word document to the digital copy of the case on my computer. With just a click of the mouse I can locate and print or email copies of the case. I can also make a duplicate of the case and drag it into the folder for the case being worked on. All cases I have worked on have a sub-folder for authorities being relied on. That way, when I am working on a file I have all the relevant documents in one place.

You Will Need:

  • A computer
  • Scanner (to scan cases you only have hard copies of)
  • An idea of how you would prefer to organize your material.
  • Dropbox or a similar external storage provider or external drive you can access from your phone or tablet, preferably without the internet.

I suggest you locate all hardcopies of authorities you own. Take a day, … or four, to go through them and determine whether they are available online. The easiest way to do this is to check the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court websites to see which years are available. Write the period down on a post it note and put it where you can see it as you go through the pile of cases. Throw out all cases that are available online. Set aside the older cases to be scanned another day. Download digital copies of cases on the courts’ website as the need arises and save them.

When naming files and folders on my computer I use “Sentence Case” instead of “lowercase” or UPPERCASE LETTERS. Sentence case means the first letter of each word is capitalized. I personally find lists of UPPERCASE TITLES difficult to read. I also find it easier to read lists instead of thumbnails. To make the names of the files appear neatly in each folder I use dashes, not underscore, to separate some words.

Example: Criminal Law – Evidence – Recent Complaint - Name of Case - Citation.

By saving the files this way you will have all the Recent Complaint cases together neatly in alphabetical order. Additionally, this method also tells me where exactly to look for the original copy. Criminal Law – Evidence – Recent Complaint tells me the file is in subfolders in the Criminal Law Folder and I know I keep all authorities in one folder.

Steps

  1. Create a new folder and label it “Law”
  2. Create two Sub-Folders and label them:
  1. Areas of Law – See Item 4 below
  2. Legal Resources – See Item 3 below

3. Create Sub-Sub-Folders in the Legal Resources Folder and label them:

  1. Articles – Drag and drop all articles you have not had a chance to sort here.
  2. Books - Drag and drop all PDF Law Books you own here
  3. Journals - Drag and drop all PDF Journals you own here
  4. Law Reports - Drag and drop all Law Reports you own here
  5. Legislation - Drag and drop or download all Legislation here
  6. Practice Directions – Save all Practice Directions here

4. Create Sub-Sub-Folders in the Areas of Law folder for each area of law relevant to your practice and label them accordingly. Some areas of law will have several topics so create sub-folders for each topic. To keep topics together in an alphabetical list, start the names of all the related folders with the same word. You can also create sub-folders for documents you need to sort later. See examples below:

Criminal Law

  1. Trial - Cross Examination
  2. Trial – Examination in Chief
  3. Trial – No Case Submission
  4. Defence – Provocation
  5. Defence – Self Defence
  6. Offence – Murder
  7. Offence – Manslaughter
  8. Offence – Manslaughter – Motor

5.  In each Sub-Sub-Folder in item 4 above create three sub-folders and label them:

  1. Articles
  2. Cases
  3. Precedents

You can create a new folder and label it New Area of Law Folder. Then copy all the Sub-Subfolders in item no. 5 and paste them in this folder. This can be used as a “template” so, when you need to start a “new area of law folder” all you need to do, is copy this folder and rename the copy.

6.  Drag the relevant documents into each file.
7.  Save the folder in Dropbox, a thumb drive or iBooks so you can access it from your phone or tablet.

This may seem time consuming but the earlier in your practice you start this system the easier it is to maintain and the easier it is to conduct your legal research. Additionally, once your laptop or tablet is fully charged, blackouts do not have to impede your research.

I would love to know how you organize your authorities, my system is always being tweaked.

This article was originally published on JamLaw on April 28, 2017