As law firms receive and create documents every day, the paper continues to increase exponentially, creating overstuffed file rooms, expensive offsite storage and difficulty in sharing documents. Meanwhile, although the idea of finally accomplishing a giant bulk-scanning project and rendering the office "paperless" sounds worthwhile, it does not seem to often rise to the top of firms' to-do list.
However, the need to create efficiencies, along with the courts' e-filing initiatives, means that the implementation of a uniform scan solution for active matters is urgently needed. Firms must create integrated programs and embrace available technology to stem the tide of paper in the law firm.
Scanning Workflow Solutions
An ILTA Technology survey shows that 34 percent of law firms do not have a scanning workflow solution. This means that they are not set to scan efficiently as part of their day-to-day activity. They cannot efficiently route scans to network folders, e-mail addresses or (ideally) a document management system directly from their scanning devices. They do not have a system to leverage their facilities management (FM) teams' ability to scan large quantities efficiently by having these documents automatically routed once they are digitized.
Unified scanning makes it easy for attorneys and staff to automatically follow their firm's scanning and information governance protocols, aligning best practices in records management with the easiest practices for users.
First Do No Harm
While the paperless law firm may be a pipe dream, a law firm with less paper is an achievable goal. The first step is to take a sort of "Hippocratic Oath" for records management: "First do no harm."
Your firm may already have boxes and boxes in storage onsite and off, and while it might be tempting to tackle them, your first objective should be to not make it any worse. Start by setting a policy that all incoming paper documents get digitized and properly stored in a document management system (or record management system). Then extend the same policy to boxes that are recalled from your offsite storage facility.
In the course of its regular business a firm typically retrieves approximately 10-15 percent of their boxes from offsite storage each year. A good strategy would be to keep doing that as necessary, but then digitize and destroy the (paper) contents rather than send it back offsite. This will slowly winnow down the archives over time, while immediately adding efficiency to the documents that are related to active files.
Scanning Every Day
The trick to gaining full efficiency -- and buy-in -- from a unified scanning program is to simplify the experience for all users by developing workflows and technologies that mirror how the firms' professionals are used to working already. Push users towards good processes by making them the simple processes. Users -- even partners -- should be able to practice good information governance right from the scanning device.
"Walk-up" scanning requires having technology and process to enable (or require) automatic document handling directly from the scanning device, without advance set up or walking away from the device to create a cover sheet or tag. A user should be able to walk up to the device and enter the key information necessary to direct the document to a DMS, network folder or elsewhere.
Scanning should also be simplified by making sure that all devices have the same interface so all users can work with no extra training or confusion, even if the firm has a variety of branded devices.
Firms should also consider developing an efficient solution for the digitizing of larger documents and quantities of documents. It is generally inefficient for fee earners and their support staff to spend a lot of time at multi-function devices (copier-printer-scanners) scanning documents. The staff member likely has a better use for his or her time, and long lines at the devices are wasteful for everyone.
Of course, it typically makes more sense for a firms' FM provider to do large-scale scanning. But those now digitized files still must be stored some place, again ideally in a DMS or RMS. The key is to communicate effectively and efficiently (often via cover sheet or tag) so FM can efficiently scan and automatically route these documents without professionals taking additional steps after the fact or clogging up email servers.
Uniform scanning creates streamlined workflows that build efficiency throughout the firm. When documents are managed properly, attorneys and support staff can save time by using electronic search tools to find documents.
Collaboration is easier as documents can be shared electronically. File rooms can be smaller, allowing better use of real estate (and perhaps someday lower real estate costs). And costs can be reduced through lower bills from offsite records storage providers. Increasing efficiency, improving collaboration, and reducing costs combine to improve profitability firm-wide.