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Subject: Re: Subject Files etc.
From: Larry Medina <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Records Management Program <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 9 Mar 2005 11:30:54 -0800
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At 05:42 PM 3/8/2005 -0500, you wrote:
>I would respectfully disagree with John about subject files, particularly
>in law firms. Law firm files are divided by the type of work done which
>prima facie looks like a subject. In fact, each requires a different
>business process, i.e., under the function of litigation, appellate
>litigation is different from criminal which is different from civil
>litigation. I have never seen a law firm classification that was not in
>fact related to function and business process.

My experience with Legal Office filing systems is rather limited, but most
of what I've seen is typically filed by "Matter Number", then some other
categorization under that.  It may be referred to as a "business process"
by the individuals responsible for carrying out the actual legal work, but
the Records Managers generally still think of it as a subject.  I spent
about a year working for a firm that had been given the responsibility of
running the records management for a law office on an outsourced contract
and whenever the end users (attorneys, paralegals, whoever) were looking
for records, they would first ask for them by matter number, then some
subject and date related to that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the current ARMA Task Force working on the
Standard for Litigation Support comes up with something related to
establishing filing systems for legal offices that differs from the
standard Subject, Alpha, Numeric, Chronological systems.

>The work I have done with consulting firms, architecture firms,
>engineering firms, even the work I did with Doculabs all indicated that
>the business process was different for each type of project. Under the
>business process the records series may be different by industry, again
>because the process is slightly different. I don't think project files are
>best classified as subject files either.

I agree there is a substantial difference between "Project Files" and
"Subject Files", but the primary difference is the subject files tend to be
a subset of a project file.  In my past lives in Engineering, Architecture,
Consulting, Construction and Utilities almost ALL FILING SYSTEMS had as
their first hierarchy a Project Name, followed by a Subject category (which
were arranged alphabetically), with all documents/records filed within them
chronologically.  An example would be something along the lines of:

Project XYZ
         Accounting
                 Financial Reports
                         2005
                                 Jan
                                 Feb
                 Reconciliations
                         2005
                         2004
         Computer Services
                 Hardware
                 Software
         Progress Reports
                 Construction
                         2005
                                 Jan
                                 Feb
                                         Demolition
                                         Grading
                                         Paving
Etc, etc, etc....

>My own advice is that when you find yourself using the term "subject" in
>records management, ask yourself if there isn't really a better way to get
>at the issue at hand. I have even stopped putting the term "subject files"
>anywhere near file plans and the like. I prefer "reading files" because it
>indicates that the content is part of the business process of keeping
>oneself informed about the outside world rather than inside the organization.

Interesting comment, especially since the ARMA Standard on Filing
"Establishing Alphabetic, Numeric and Subject Filing Systems (ANSI/ARMA
12-2005)" was just recently re-issued after a 4 year review.  It seems that
throughout the RIM Profession, it's not at all uncommon for this
terminology to still be used as it's universally accepted.  If a decent
enough job is done of defining what a "Subject File" is comprised of, it
shouldn't be an issue for most organizations.

Larry

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