Advances in Contract Storage and Organization

“Get it in writing” is the mantra of business and the law. “Get it on paper” is its sibling. When you “sign on the dotted line,” you are signing a contract. Once a contract is signed, it must be stored for a long time. And the storage must be organized so that it can be retrieved at any time in the future. All of this organization is accomplished through contract management and its cousin vendor management.

Until the second half of the Twentieth Century, all contracts were on paper, and the method of organization involved folders in the filing cabinet. Or rather rows, banks of filing cabinets. Filing clerks were hired to oversee this organization. When a contract was needed, the filing clerk located the correct filing cabinet, went through the folders, and pulled out the contract and gave it to the boss. When the contract was no longer needed, the boss returned it to the file clerk to be filed again. Since no organization scheme is perfect, this regimen was not always followed to the letter. Depending on the tidiness of the boss and the conscientiousness of the file clerk, contracts might pile up on one desk or the other. (Contrary to what you might expect, this messiness increases efficiency, to a certain extent. If there is a small number of contracts that need to be used over a period of time, it is more efficient to leave a small stack on the desk rather than filing and unfiling.)

The second half of the Twentieth Century brought greatly improved document management through the development of the computer. Now, instead of banks of filing cabinets, the storage medium of choice has become the computer. Stacks and stacks of paper were replaced by electronic bits and bytes. In fact, the paper documents could be scanned for computer storage and then shredded. Later, the office local area network (LAN) was developed. Under this plan, the electronic contracts are stored on the office server, available to anyone whose computer was hooked into this network. At this point, all organizational schemes didn’t become obsolete with the filing cabinets. A file can be just as lost in a computer as it is in a filing cabinet. From the beginning of computer systems, the electronic storage mimicked the physical filing scheme. They were originally called “directories,” but when the Windows operating system came into being, the terminology was adjusted so that it more closely followed the paper storage metaphor. Now, instead of “directories,” we use “folders” in our computers.

File management in the computer has additional benefits, beyond more efficient storage. Before computer systems, the secretary had the job of putting the contract on paper. This meant that every contract had to be typed individually unless it had blank spaces for writing in changeable information, which didn’t look very professional. Now, through the use of word processors and desktop publishing, templates and boilerplate text can be stored for reuse. There even exists software that will store all of these pieces and will assemble the needed document from these components.