Records Management 101 - What is a Case File?


Case Management with Collabware CLM

Although case files along with subject files exist in all types of file plans,  I find that the topic is  not discussed in-depth within records management literature. In this post, I would like to lay out the key characteristics of a case file. Basically, there are two types of files in the file plan - case files and subject files.  Subject files contain documents relating to an ongoing subject or a business function. Case files, on the other hand, contain "standardized content relating to a specific action, event, person, place, project or subject” (ARMA International, Glossary of RIM Terms). Some examples of case files include legal opinion files, HR files, contract files and project files.

Retention & Disposition (R&D)

Case files and subject files cannot be mixed together under a file series because they have different policy and retention behaviours.

First, case files have clear start and end dates unique to each case file. Case files are time-limited because it is event/date specific. The start and end dates are usually business process dependent and cannot always be determined in advance. There are exceptional instances when a closed case file can be reopened (e.g., An employee is terminated [employee case file closed] and is rehired after a period of time [employee case file re-opened]).

Secondly, case file retention is managed as per the file (event-based retention) but subject file retention is managed by grouping the contents in a time-based manner (e.g., annually). In other words, the content of a case file  is treated as a whole and is managed together; that is, dispose all or none at all. The R&D rules of case files under the same parent category (i.e., case file series) are the same;  but the R&D trigger dates of these files are different. Normally, a specific event, such as a project completion, triggers the file closure and the R & D calculation. Thus,  the file close date and the subsequent retention schedule are often unknown at the time of file creation.

Case File Series

Case file series is a parent category that groups the same types of case files. The case files of its series all have same retention settings. However, each case file has different file-open and -close dates; thus, their retentions are triggered at different times.  Case files may also have their own unique numbering system as part of the classification (e.g., policy number).

What is often not discussed in RIM is the fact that highly used case file series may be divided by yearly file parts. This is to manage file quantities; otherwise, a collection of case files may accrue over time.   The best method of dealing with this is to organize the content based either on its creation date, grouped into years, or alphabetically, grouped into smaller chunks.

However, none of this organization needs to be represented within a file plan structure, since these case files are managed by the creating body, not the records management team. The organization should be according to the desires of the users creating the content. If the content is being created in a network share (Windows file structure), then using folders to subdivide large case file series is the only option. If there is some kind of EDRMS (for example, SharePoint), then dividing the content into different Sites and Libraries might make navigation  simpler.

Here is a case file example:

*Note that text in [   ] represent category names.

    • Case file series: 2790-20 [HR Staffing – Competitions, by position name and date]
    • Grouping Folder: 2013 [Competitions 2013] (this number may not be part of a file classification if it is also part of a case number)
    • Case number: 20130001 [RM Specialist (Full-Time)
    • Thus, case file's classification is: 2790-20-2013-0001 or  2790-20-20130001 (this seems more common)

 In a SharePoint Electronic Document Management System, you could have a Site dedicated to the case file series: HR Staffing – Competitions. Then you could subdivide the competitions into different document libraries, such as 2013, 2014, 2015, or even Positions A-F, Positions G-O, etc... Within those libraries, the case files would be located, potentially named 2790-20-20130001.

I hope you find this post helpful.  For questions and comments, feel free to contact us at

Collabware is one of the only providers of Records Management software that specialize in Case Management features. To learn more about how Collabware CLM  helps with Case Management, find our CLM page and brochure here:


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Tagged: Compliance, Records Management

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