Filing - some practical steps (MessageSave)

Credit: Samuel Zeller via Unsplash.

Credit: Samuel Zeller via Unsplash.

In my previous post, I suggested some general approaches to records, document and knowledge management. My key recommendation was to keep the systems separate. Don't bog down your document management system with 300 emails that should be filed in a records management system. Don't try and manage your knowledge in the same place as your records. But by "system" I didn't necessarily mean entirely separate software programs. Keeping documents and records separate could be as simple as using separate sub-folders for a particular matter. And if you already have a full-blown document management solution like iManage, eDocs or SharePoint, that will almost certainly be your preferred approach.

But what to do if you don't already have one of these fully-featured, enterprise grade, expensive solutions? There are plenty of cloud solutions available as SaaS, but people often have mixed views about entrusting their documents to the cloud (that will be the topic of a future blog post in its own right). Is there a non-cloud solution for a smaller legal team, or an in-house legal team working within a wider corporate IT environment?

I'm sure there are other solutions out there, but below I outline a solution that works really well for me.

What I was looking for

When I boiled it right down, I was looking for a solution that really only had two key criteria. First, it had to be compatible with Microsoft Outlook. Love it or loathe it, it is the legal industry standard for email, calendar and contact management.

Second, the solution had to maintain email metadata. The main way I find particular emails is being able to sort, search, and filter emails by subject, date, attachments, sender, and recipient. It would be a major issue for the way I work to lose or compromise this ability. Even an inconvenience that is only a few seconds in relation to a single email can become a big headache when you open or search through hundreds of emails a day.

What's wrong with inbox sub-folders?

But wait! If the only thing I wanted was Outlook compatibility and email metadata, why not just stick with Outlook? You can make subfolders you know!

A few reasons. While you certainly want to keep your email records separate from your knowledge and your working documents, it makes much more sense to keep all your records together all in one place. That means keeping your emails together with your signed contracts and final opinions. 

Next, it is much easier to share emails with others in your legal team outside Outlook (though shared folders can also work).

Finally, most lawyers will at some stage have dealt with the tyranny of mailbox limits, Outlook slowing to a crawl, or (worst of all) a corrupted .PST file. Saving emails outside Outlook avoids all these terrors.

There are some added technical advantages about incremental-only backups, but those are beyond the scope of this post.

The solution?

Believe it or not, a large part of the solution is already installed on every Windows computer. Windows File Explorer is a surprisingly capable email and records management tool. You can easily file emails, then search, sort and filter them so as to be easily usable for subsequent reference. Double clicking on a filed email will open it in Outlook, and you can forward or reply as normal. Saving emails to a shared network drive means that records can be shared with others in your team. Backups (including remote storage and cloud backups) will run as for any other type of document. You can even have your records and working documents sitting side-by-side in convenient to access (but separate) subfolders!

Can you save emails to Windows File Explorer?

There are a couple ways of doing this. Perhaps most obviously, if you have an email open, just select File > Save as and choose the correct folder - this is just an ordinary file folder on your hard drive or network drive. You can also just drag and drop emails, or just copy (or cut) and paste from Outlook to Windows File Explorer.

What's the catch?

There's always one. My second criterion was that the solution had to maintain email metadata. The subject, date, attachments, sender, and recipient that Outlook automatically displays. Where are these fields in Windows File Explorer?

To display this email metadata, there are a few more steps (if you don't care about email metadata, you're done. File away in Windows File Explorer). Adding the same fields to Windows File Explorer is fairly straightforward. Open a new Windows File Explorer window (protip: hold down the Windows key then press the E key). Then select View > Details. You will probably see field headings including Name, Date, Type and Size. To add the email metadata, right-click on any of these headings then (depending on your version of Windows) select More or Field Chooser. You will want to add the email fields, including From, To, Date sent and (probably) Has attachments. Also add any other email metadata fields you frequently use.

If you now look at your Windows File Explorer window, you will see the new field headings. But if you've already saved some emails from Outlook to your hard drive or network drive, you will also see that there is no information in those columns! Microsoft Outlook's default .MSG file format isn't readable by Microsoft Windows! Go figure.

You need to save your emails in the .EML format to have this information displayed. .EML files are perfectly readable by Outlook - double click on one and it will open perfectly. But Outlook won't let you save your emails as .EML files!

MessageSave

Enter MessageSave, one of my favourite programs ever. MessageSave is from a company called TechHit, which specialises in adding additional features and functionality to Outlook and Windows. TechHit provides a very generous 30 day trial period to try MessageSave and see if you like it.

Once you've downloaded and installed MessageSave, you will see a new MessageSave icon in the Home tab of the ribbon menu in Outlook. You will also see the same icon whenever you open emails. You will use this button instead of File > Save as to save emails to your hard drive or network drive.

Does the catch have a catch?

Only one. MessageSave is super powerful. There are a lot of options that power users can tweak and configure to make MessageSave work perfectly for them. But there is one change you need to make immediately in order to use the system I've outlined above. And it isn't that intuitive to find.

Click MessageSave more options (the down arrow underneath the MessageSave icon), then Advanced Options. In the window that appears click Manage Profiles. Select Default then Edit. In the window that appears, select Format. Change the File Format to Internet RFC-822 (.eml). Then click OK. You will then need to follow the same steps for Default Sent. Then click Close and OK until you are back in your inbox.

This is the only tricky bit. Until you start playing with all the other cool features MessageSave offers.

Using MessageSave

You're now all set to use MessageSave. Just select the emails you want to file and click the MessageSave icon. Click Browse or the drop down arrow to choose the right folder, then Save Now. Navigate to your chosen folder, and you will see your emails already filed with all email metadata automatically filled out! Simple, effective, and not a cloud in sight.

More information

TechHit's website has lots more information on all the cool features of MessageSave and their other programs.

I will also post other tips and tricks to get the most out of Outlook generally and MessageSave in particular in the future. If you've got any specific queries or suggestions you'd like to share, I'm experimenting with turning comments on for this post. You can either leave a comment below, or let me know via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with TechHit in any way. They just make products I really like.