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Law firms of all sizes are moving toward a more paperless environment. In addition to it being “green” and affording the firm cost savings, the move makes information easily retrievable by all users—if, that is, documents are stored electronically on a centralized data server, which means scanning all incoming paper.
Scanning is an essential component of the paperless office, since it allows you to convert the doubtless large quantity of daily communication and evidence that your firm still receives in paper format. The following tips will help you implement a functional scanning work flow in your office. It all comes down to addressing some basic questions.
What Will Be Scanned?
Begin by establishing an internal procedure that is realistic given your resources. Will all inbound documents be scanned, including all mail, document productions, papers provided by your clients and so forth? If it is unreasonable to scan everything, then determine what is most critical.
You must assign one or more staff members to physically scan the documents, and then store and route them to the appropriate users for review. Make sure that there are formal written procedures for staff to follow so that all documents are handled and saved consistently. You must also address what happens to original paper documents. For example, will you keep pleadings or signed original documents in the file, forward some types of documents to clients, and shred other types?
Your firm’s outbound documents will rarely need to be scanned, since these days most are generated electronically. However, there should be consistency in how and where internally generated documents are saved within your file storage system, so they can be quickly found and retrieved.
What Hardware Will Be Needed?
There are really two key questions here: (1) What type of scanner do you need, and (2) what features should it have? Consider the following to answer both questions.
▪ Volume. What is the estimated daily volume of paper you believe will be scanned? All scanners have a “duty cycle” that indicates the maximum number of scans they can realistically process. For instance, the Fujitsu ScanSnap is an excellent desktop scanner product with a duty cycle of about 750 pages per day. In contrast, a small Canon ImageRunner digital document center can easily scan 4,000-plus pages per day. Will the daily volume of documents being scanned justify one or more digital document centers, or will desktop scanners suffice? If your copiers are near the end of their life cycle anyway, then a digital document center may be your best bet. If not, and your volume is fairly low, one or more decent desktop scanners may be the best value.
▪ Speed. Scanner speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm). It requires more staff time to scan documents on a slower scanner. Faster scanners will require less staff time, but they are more expensive to purchase. Once you determine the average volume of paper you will process per day, calculate the amount of time it will take to scan that volume using different ppm rates and determine what speed you feel to be the best value, given your anticipated scanning volume and staff resources.
▪ Features. Which of the typically available scanner features will be important for the scanning that you will need to do? For example, will you need double-sided scanning, color scanning or oversized-document scanning? Would the ability to scan to file, to e-mail or to a document management system right from the scanner make a significant difference in your staff’s efficiency (i.e., make the scanning process much faster)?
▪ Other Hardware Requirements. It’s easy to remember the scanner, but what about storage space for all those electronic documents? Think about the volume you will be scanning to ensure you have sufficient hard drive space on your server. For larger volumes you may need to purchase a network-attached storage device (NAS). Likewise, it’s critical to back up all of your documents, so be sure you have the necessary hardware (such as external hard drives) to accomplish proper redundancy.
What Software Will Be Needed?
To make the most of your scanned documents, you need more than a simple image or picture of each page. The full text of the documents must be searchable. You may also want to convert some of your scanned documents to word processing format so you can use the content in them in other documents. Having the right software is the key to these and many other scanning-related tasks. Ask yourself which components are critical, and when budgeting factor in software as well as hardware.
▪ Searchable PDF. This is one of the most commonly used formats in paperless offices. Searchable PDFs contain both an image of the document and the text in it. This is a must so that you can find your documents quickly after they are scanned. Some scanners have searchable PDF functionality built in, while others require a separate purchase of additional software. Most digital document centers are capable of creating searchable PDFs—however, it may require buying an add-on module. Ask your equipment vendor if this functionality is included in the hardware you’re purchasing. If your scanner doesn’t have it built in, you can use a product like OmniPage or Adobe Acrobat.
▪ OCR Capability. Optical character recognition (OCR) lets you convert scanned documents from an image-only format to a format that also includes the text of the document (like searchable PDF). OCR does this by recognizing and converting each character in an image of a scanned page and adding the converted text as data to the image file. Popular OCR programs include OmniPage, Abbyy Finereader and Readiris.
▪ Redaction and Markup Features. Some software products allow for manipulation of scanned images, including the ability to redact (black out or obscure select parts on some pages) and mark up the images (add annotations or comments). Adobe Acrobat and Nuance’s PaperPort are worthy examples.
▪ Bates Numbering. If you reproduce scanned images with discovery responses or as exhibits, Bates numbering may be important. Bates numbers are universal sequential numbers added to a collection of documents from different sources. They make referencing a specific page within a large collection of documents very easy. Summation and Adobe Acrobat can add Bates numbers to documents. However, be aware that Acrobat has a security deficiency that may allow others to edit your Bates numbers if you are not careful.
▪ Backup Software. Backing up electronic files is critical. If your paper files are gone (as in shredded, sent to the client or otherwise) and you also lose your electronic files, you may have a disaster on your hands. Always have at least one (if not two) backup redundancies in operation. The bonus with scanned documents: It’s a lot easier to back up a hard drive full of information than it is to back up a room full of files.
Where and How Will All Documents Be Stored and Retrieved?
If you’re serious about storing all documents electronically, then it is highly recommended that you look into a document management system (DMS). Not only will a DMS organize your documents in a very logical fashion, but it will also force consistency among your users. That means that users cannot circumvent the DMS to store documents outside of the appropriate file structure, and documents are automatically filed based on the information a user “profiles” in a document (such as client, matter, area of practice, author, document type and so forth).
In addition, a DMS will index all documents so that you may find them within seconds. Assuming that the documents are saved as searchable PDFs or in other text-searchable formats (such as word processing documents, spreadsheets or the like), it will also allow you to conduct full-text searches on the documents. Many DMS packages, such as Worldox and Interwoven, can also integrate with legal case management software programs for added flexibility and accessibility.
Should you opt to make do without a DMS, your firm needs to establish a formal procedure for file saving—and enforce it. This procedure should specify how to properly store documents in a logical, consistent file structure, with the appropriate nomenclature for everyone to use. One such naming convention may be to put the date at the beginning of the file name (for example, 2009-03-14 – Letter to Clerk filing Motion to Compel). This allows files to be sorted by title and remain in chronological order.
If you are not using a true DMS, there are a variety of search tools that you can install to aid in searching for documents. Some are even free, such as Copernic or Google Desktop.
While it may not be possible to eliminate all paper from your office, it is completely realistic to shoot for a reduced paper environment. Scanning offers many advantages, such as faster access to your documents, reduced physical storage costs and ease of searching. Just be sure to think about all of the preceding elements and plan carefully before taking the plunge.
Find more information and some product demos of the technologies mentioned in this article by visiting the following sites.
Britt Lorish Knuttgen is President and Legal Technology Coordinator of Automated Horizons, Inc., based in Roanoke, VA.
Britt Lorish Knuttgen will be speaking in Chicago at these ABA TECHSHOW 2009 sessions:
Thursday’s Paperless Practice program track will also include sessions on paperless basics, must-have tools and document management systems.