NetDocuments -  Filters or Folders? (or Maybe Both)

NetDocuments can be configured in a variety of ways. One of the first questions many people are confronted with concern filters and folders. What is the difference? Why would you use one or the other? What about using both? I could probably fill multiple whitepapers with the answers, but let’s start by breaking it down into a few general concepts.

Filters use a NetDocuments field to automatically display documents in groups. I have seen some creative applications of filters but, typically, the field chosen almost always contains a list of document types (e.g. Correspondence, Memos, Pleadings, etc.). I like to think of Filters as 1) Automatic, 2) Easy and 3) Consistent. Filters are automatic because you simply choose a document type during the save process and that document will automatically appear within the group for that filter.


Filters are easy because selecting a document type is all that is required. You don’t have to drill up or down through folders and nested subfolders until you find the right place to save a document. Filters are consistent because the document type list you select from is relatively static. It is a controlled drop-down list, eliminating user-error. You decide which document types are available and choose from that list. Individual users cannot add new types on a whim. Everyone follows a consistent and standard practice. If you want to see your documents organized in a consistent way where users don’t have to make a lot of choices, filters are the way to go.

In contrast, folders are familiar and flexible. Almost everyone has created folders in Windows or the Mac OS and knows how they work. This makes them very familiar and makes it easy for people to start using NetDocuments in this way. Folders are flexible because they can be added at any time, and because subfolders can be added for additional organization. Individual users can organize things any way they desire. This has both positive and negative aspects because different people organize in different ways. Some users will create a simple folder structure very similar to what you would see in a filter environment. Others will create a virtual labyrinth of folders and subfolders that only makes sense to them. If you want users to organize things in their own way and don’t mind the occasional inconvenience of trying to figure out how someone else organized things, folders are a great choice.

Can you use both filters and folders in the same NetDocuments configuration? Yes. Some firms require a document type which creates a filter automatically but also allow users to create folders. This provides both the consistency of filters and the flexibility of folders. A folder can be assigned a document type which makes this even easier. Personally, I almost always use filters, but I do add folders in one of two situations. The first situation is where I want to group or gather documents of different types but see them in a single location. For example, perhaps I want to see one pleading, a few discovery documents and a few pieces of correspondence gathered in a single topical location. The second situation is where I want to break down documents into small batches. Let’s say I have a lot of discovery documents but want to see them broken down by party or in some other way. I can create folders that represent each party and file the documents by party, while still selecting a document type to create the automatic filter.

Another option is to configure your workspace (matter) template to display the documents organized by folders instead of filters as see here:


This workspace display provides a familiar interface to those who prefer to see folders instead of filters. With this configuration, mandatory filters are used as well as folders. One can even create subfolders, if needed. However, since the document type field (filter) is mandatory, one can search, and filter results based on document types. You get the best of both worlds.

As you can see, there are many ways to configure your NetDocuments system. Depending on when you deployed your NetDocuments system, not all of these options may have been available. If you have questions about how best to configure or re-configure your system, we’re here to help. Reach out to the Document Management Team at Affinity by calling 877-676-5492, or simply request a consultation.


Jeff Krause

Written by Jeff Krause

Jeff is a Partner with Affinity. Jeff’s expertise ranges from case management, document management to billing and accounting. His career in legal technology has focused on not just helping other attorneys choose the right technology and use it the right way; but also, understanding how to apply it to their daily jobs in the context of their current work process and master business concepts that they can apply to their practice and achieve greater success. Jeff is a frequent author and speaker on a variety of legal technology subjects.

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