Scanners, PDF technology, optical character recognition (OCR) software, and document management software can be time saving organizational/storage & retrieval methods in the legal setting. In order to make informed decisions about purchases, a review should be made to establish who, what, when, where and how the product(s) will be used.
Scanners come with many functions. Dependent on work load and type of document it is possible to auto-feed documents, scan over-size documents, or lay them on a flatbed scanner. Compatibility with graphics and color is another choice to be made when comparing scanners. Questions such as "will we be scanning documents as text files or as image files?" will determine whether OCR software is necessary. If documents are saved as text files (thus enabling text searching, editing, etc. in the future) the OCR software should be compatible with the scanner and the word processing program. Many scanners and OCR are integrated (bundled) to begin with, thus making it easy to buy a package that will suit the needs of the practice. OCR software also often includes a rudimentary document management component. If the need is for keeping track of the scanned-in text only, then be sure to look for this function in the description.
A popular format for storing documents is to convert them into a PDF (portable document format). A PDF can be thought of as a picture of the original document because all graphics and text will remain as they appear on the original instead of being converted to an OCR document. Adobe introduced the PDF format and the software needed to read PDF files ( Adobe Reader) is available for free from the Adobe site. Because the Adobe Reader is free, and many scanners come with the software to create PDFs, PDF has become a standard for archiving information since it can then later be retrieved. The format also allows all of the original notes and markings on the document to remain intact.
In order to maintain both the scanned in documents and new documents as they are created please read about Document Management software. Other considerations when converting paper documents into a searchable digital archive include digital copier/scanners, outsourcing, and storage options.
When searching and purchasing new peripherals and software never hesitate to call the company and ask questions. Also, before purchasing anything, contact a consultant or expert for advice, finalization, and potentially implementation. This is intended as a guide only. Below are some of the major vendors for these products and some reviews.