Even though the legal profession remains awash in paper, you can hardly practice law today without knowing about Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Indeed, the federal courts and a number of states have mandated PDF for electronic filing. PDF provides a reliable, easy-to-use electronic format for sharing, reviewing, filing and archiving documents across diverse applications and platforms. In sum, with Adobe Acrobat software and the use of PDF, you can move nearly any file into digital form, ditch the paper morass and discover a world of electronic work flow that can increase productivity, decrease costs and improve client service. Follow these steps to make the switch to an all-digital, all-the-time work flow.
1. Use a Logical Filing System
Begin by creating a folder for each client. For clients that have multiple matters, create subfolders for each matter. Within the client-matter folders, create folders to sort documents by type, such as correspondence, pleadings, drafts and so forth. Name the individual files within the folders starting with the date of the document in year-month-day order, followed by a few descriptive terms—for example, X:\Work\Smith\PleadPDF\080107Complaint. Inserting the date at the beginning of the file name enables you to sort all documents in a given folder in year-month-day order.
2. Scan All Incoming Documents to PDF
Whenever a piece of paper bearing information that you want to retain comes into your office, scan it to PDF. Be sure to scan at a sufficiently high resolution (300 dpi) to produce good clean digital copies. Save the resulting PDF file to the appropriate folder in your logical filing system.
3. Print All Outgoing Documents to PDF
Convert items of outgoing work product to PDF and use them for your file copies. In most applications, converting an electronic file to PDF is generally as simple as clicking on a toolbar button to invoke the Adobe PDF print driver. You then select the folder (in your logical filing system) where the PDF version of the document will be stored.
4. Segregate PDF and Native Application Files
For correspondence and pleadings, use dual folders to maintain a digital file that looks like a paper file. One folder will contain all the native application files (in Word or WordPerfect and so forth), and the other will contain the PDF versions. For example, correspondence files created with WordPerfect get stored in a folder named “CorresWPD,” while all the PDF correspondence files are stored in a folder called “CorresPDF.” Use a similar dual-folder system for all pleadings.
5. Use a Laptop Computer
Using a laptop instead of a desktop computer makes sense for several reasons.
• First, using the same computer in and out of the office, day in and day out, keeps you familiar with the particular keyboard layout, program customizations (toolbars, macros and the like) and individual quirks of the machine.
• Second, using just one computer reduces the cost of hardware ownership.
• Third, using only one computer reduces the number of copies of software applications or software licenses that must be purchased.
• Fourth, synchronizing network files to the laptop provides a layer of backup protection.
6. Synchronize Network Files to Your Laptop
You can accomplish file synchronization by using the Offline Files feature in Microsoft Windows (version 2000 or later) or by using a utility called Network Unplugged from
Mobiliti. Network Unplugged will create an exact copy of any network drive or folder on the laptop and then ask whether to synchronize that folder each time the laptop logs on to, or off of, the network. When you are working away from the office (off the network), the laptop will continue to “see” the network drives or folders as though actually connected.
7. Back Up Properly and Test the System Regularly
When your information is stored in digital form, you can back up, replicate and synchronize your files so that they exist in many locations at any given time—thereby virtually eliminating the risk of loss associated with paper-based information. That said, there are backup rules you must follow strictly.
• Number one: Perform full backups daily; do not rely on differential or incremental backups.
• Number two: Keep one or more fairly current full backups off site.
• Number three: Regularly test your backup-and-restore process to make sure the system is working properly—meaning that backups are actually being made and you can in fact restore files when the need arises.
Remember at every step of the way that once you commit your files to the digital realm, you also have to safeguard them.