The right tools can make it a breeze to respond to requests for information
FOIA requests, requests for information and public records requests. It doesn’t matter what your organization calls them. The process of responding to these requests can be time-consuming. You may even cringe at the thought of it.
Between the time it takes to handle these requests and the number of moving pieces, it can be overwhelming to keep everything organized. However, the process becomes much easier when you have the right tools to help.
Legal Files Software offers a variety of tools to help with every step of responding to records requests. Not only that, the software allows legal professionals to improve their practices by spotting trends in response times and the types of requests. In this two-part blog series, we’re going to explore how Legal Files can help with every step of responding to requests for information and FOIA requests.
The realities of responding to requests for information and records requests
A wide variety of team members may respond to records requests and requests for information. In the case of FOIA requests, this team may include attorneys, document and management analysts, FOIA specialists, public information officers, disclosure officers and clerical staff.
Regardless of whether an agency or office is processing a FOIA request or a general records request, they all must follow specific rules and regulations on how to handle it. The team members who handle such requests must perform all the duties related to request processing. These duties may include:
- Logging and tracking the request
- Capturing all relevant contact information
- Reviewing the request for thoroughness and validity
- Assigning the request
- Searching for responsive records
- Reviewing responsive records for scope, content and applicability
- Applying exemptions and redactions, when appropriate
- Communicating with the requestor
- Collecting payment, when necessary
Clearly, responding to a request for information, like a FOIA request, isn’t as simple as finding and releasing records. When responding to these requests, attorneys, paralegals and other must follow specific guidelines for response times and tracking at each step of the process. Without the right tools, this process can be cumbersome and disorganized.
Most requests for information involve six basic steps, including (1) receiving and acknowledging the receipt of the initial request, (2) reviewing the request (3) assigning the request, (4) conducting a records search, (5) processing the records for release and (6) releasing the records to the requestor. In some cases, additional steps may be necessary, such as collecting and processing payment.
Legal Files offers a wealth of tools that can help your organization keep track of every step of the response process and stay on top of everything. In fact, these features are why many of our customers have selected Legal Files for their organizational information needs, and not just legal case and matter management.
Legal Files can help as soon as you receive the initial request for information
The clock starts ticking as soon as your organization receives a request for information. For example, a federal agency typically has 20 days from the day it receives a FOIA request to respond to it. The agency must acknowledge the date it received the request, and issue an estimated completion date to the requestor. If it will take longer than 10 days to process the request, a tracking number must be assigned to it.
Other types of requests also have different guidelines. This means that it’s important for the process to begin as soon as your department or office receives a request for records or information. Losing even one day can cause delays, especially when you and your team need to review voluminous records in a short time.
Legal Files makes it easy to track a request for information, such as a FOIA request, as soon as you receive it. In just a few easy steps, you can add the request to the system, capturing critical dates and important contact information. You simply input information about the request and assign it to someone in the organization to start the process. By having all this information in one centralized location, the process can be standardized, your staff can act as a team, and processing the request quickly becomes a breeze
Searching for responsive records is easy with Legal Files
Legal Files provides more value as your team dives into the search process. When it comes to federal FOIA requests, all agencies must conduct a search that is “reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.” What does this mean in plain English? You must make reasonable efforts to search for records. Many other rules and regulations for records requests contain similar language.
Legal Files’ built-in document management system comes in handy during the search phase of the records request process. Our electronic database allows your team to store to store and index not only legal and non-legal documents, but emails/attachments, phone logs and mail logs, as well. With specialized search features, it’s never been easier to find electronic documents or the location of physical records that are relevant to a records request.
However, finding responsive records involves much more than just typing in specific keywords. Someone on your team needs to review each document for scope, applicability, attorney-client privilege and confidentiality.
Legal Files comes to the rescue again. After a preliminary search turns up a list of relevant documents, your team can use Legal Files to delve into the text of electronic records and determine whether they respond to the FOIA request or records request.
Additionally, sometimes relevant documents cannot be released because of confidentiality, attorney-client privilege or other exceptions. When this happens, you need software to record outcomes and track which documents were not released and why. Legal Files offers the tools to perform these critical tasks with ease.
Exploring other ways that Legal Files can help with requests for information
We are living in an age when records requests, including FOIA requests, are more common. This work can be tedious and time-consuming. However, there is no need to reinvent the wheel when responding to each request. Legal Files offers many tools to streamline the process.
This blog discussed how Legal Files can help you stay organized from the time you receive the request through the process of searching for documents. In part two of this blog series, we’ll explore how Legal Files can help with the final steps of the records request process.