General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division
Winter 2003 vol. 9 Number 2
My Paperless Office
By David L. Masters
In my paperless office we use Adobe Acrobat to convert all incoming paper and print all outgoing work product to PDF (portable document format) files. (You will need the full Adobe Acrobat software program to access, manipulate, and create PDFs. The program costs about $250 retail; $200 street. For more information, go to the vendor's website at www.adobe.com.)
When mail arrives, each item is reviewed and a fair amount goes directly to the recycle bin.
"Real" mail (correspondence, pleadings, bills) is scanned into the computer, converted to a PDF, and stored to the appropriate folder. The original paper is then delivered to the proper recipient (lawyer, paralegal, bookkeeper.) A letter from opposing counsel, for example, comes first to me, then through the scanner, and back to me. I then write to the client. Paper comes in-goes through the scanner-then goes out to the client. In some cases, we can simply e-mail the client, attach a digital copy, and destroy the original letter. Although confidentiality is a concern with e-mail, we have come to view it as secure as regular mail or facsimile.
We also use PDFs for our outgoing work product. Printing to PDF is as simple as clicking a toolbar button and selecting a destination folder. In many cases we file pleadings electronically with the court; copies are served on the other parties by the filing service (either electronically or by mail), and we send a copy of our pleading to the client as an e-mail attachment. From our perspective, the work product never exists in paper form.
By scanning or printing to PDF, our electronic files contain copies of all incoming paper and all outgoing work product. The information is stored and organized just as if it were in an old-fashioned filing cabinet, but our filing cabinet is "virtual" and exists only on a shared computer hard drive. The cabinet containing active files is named "work"; we also have virtual filing cabinets for closed and administrative files. Each computer links to the filing cabinet by mapping a network drive-"x:\work" for example-giving each desktop access. Within the "work" file are scores of folders, one for each client, "x:\work\smith" for example. Each client may have several subfolders, such as "x:\work\smith\corporation" and "x:\work\smith\wills."
Each client folder has subfolders for documents, such as correspondence, pleadings, expense receipts, research, and privilege. In order to maintain a digital file that looks like a paper file we keep dual folders for correspondence and pleadings. One folder contains the native application files, such as Word or WordPerfect, and the other contains the PDF versions. Dual folders allow us to keep the original work product in its native format for easy reuse. The PDFs acts like the old paper file, containing all of the incoming and outgoing correspondence or pleadings. Within the folders, files are named following another simple convention; the first part of the name is the date in reverse, followed by a descriptive phrase; for example, "x:\work\smith\pleadpdf\030927 complaint." For correspondence we put the initials of the author and recipient after the date. By inserting the date at the beginning of the file name, all documents in a folder are sorted in year-month-day order.
Use these easy steps and any office can become paperless.
David L. Masters is a solo practitioner in Montrose, Colorado. He can be reached at www.masterslawfirm.com.