File Naming Policy

The recommended practices in this policy are specifically endorsed and recommended in an excellent article by California business lawyer David Sparks.

The First Element: The Date

The first part in a filename should always present the date in a YYYY-MM-DD format. For example, November 12, 2012 appears as 2012-11-12

This format is really computer-friendly. If you have thirty files named this way then sort them by name, your computer will automatically sort them in date order. 

Hyphenate

Use a hyphen between the year, month, and date. 

If the date or month is a single-digit number, it's best to always use leading zeros. (01for January, not just 1.) If you don’t use leading zeros, the sort order gets messed up.

After the date, use a space followed by a hyphen, followed by another space. You could skip this and simply use a space, but the extra space helps with readability.

The Second Element: Document Description

Next, describe the document. For example, 2012-05-15 - property insurance declarations page or 2012-05 water bill.

Don't be afraid to use long descriptions. Longer descriptions can make those files easier to find later on.

Dates: Further Considerations


After understanding the use of the date format, the next question is which date to use. Often you will use the date the file was created. But that doesn’t always make sense.

For example, the file-creation date in many cases will be the day that you scan the document into your computer (or save the PDF file to your system).

That date will often not be the one you want to use as "the document date." For example, someone may sign a letter on May 18, which gets delivered to you on May 23, but gets scanned on June 5. Saving it as 2012-06-05 doesn’t make sense.

The best date to use is 2012-05-18 (which is the date it was created by the document author).

Use Spaces Between Date & Description


After the date, place a space followed by a hyphen followed by another space. You could skip this and simply use a space, but the extra space helps with readability. Next, describe the document. For example, 2012-05-15 - property insurance declarations page or 2012-05 water bill.

Indicating Sender/Recipient

For correspondence, you can put the name of the sender and recipient after the date separated by an arrow (->), followed by re- (for regarding) and a brief explanation.

So, for example, a letter from Brett Terpstra on May 16 about a new iPhone gets named 2012-05-16 - terpstra->sparks re-iphone 7.pdf.
You can add more. If you are in the service business. For example, you could add the client name after the date: The February 7 service agreement for a company named Area 51, Ltd. would be named 2012-02-07 - area51 - service agreement.pdf.

You could classify documents by type of document. For example:
  • Pleadings
  • Contracts
  • Discovery 
  • Admin
Whatever your classification needs are will dictate what categories you define. But once you define that classification system you'll need to be disciplined in using it and also enforce that system with other people in your organization.

Therefore, it's best not to have too many categories. The more you have the harder it will be to use and enforce others to use.


Prohibited Characters in filenames

These common characters/symbols are typically not allowed by computer operating systems, so don't use them:
  • # pound
  • % percent
  • & ampersand
  • { left curly bracket
  • } right curly bracket
  • < left angle bracket
  • > right angle bracket
  • * asterisk
  • ? question mark 
  • $ dollar sign
  • ! exclamation point
  • 'single quotes' 
  • "double quotes" 
  • + plus sign
  • ` backtick
  • | pipe  
  • = equal sign




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