Breaking Out of the Paper Prison
by Doug McQuiston
Walk down to your file room. I’ll wait right here. How many 6-inch redwells does each case occupy? How many manila subfolders? Paper file dividers? Little label tabs? Multiply that by the number of active cases in your office (plus the hundreds of closed files you send to storage every year), and your practice probably accounts for a square mile or two of clear-cut old growth forest every year.
But the nagging environmental guilt is just one of your problems, isn’t it? How much do you think all of that paper storage costs you every year? You probably have thousands of dollars tied up in redwells, manila folders and plastic tabs alone. That doesn’t count the thousands of bucks’ worth of paper that stuffs these files, or the rent you pay for your file room. According to a 2003 Berkeley study:
Contrary to notions of paperless offices floated in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the consumption of office paper has gone up substantially in the recent years, especially following the move to laser/inkjet printers from dot matrix printers. Paper use in offices has further risen with the increasing speed of laser printing coupled with its decreasing cost. Each year, almost 500 billion copies are produced on copiers in the United States; nearly 15 trillion copies are produced on copiers, printers and multi-function machines. (Source: XeroxParc, http://www2.sims.berkley.edu/research/projects/how-much-info-2003/print.htm)
One of the best ways to grow your firm’s profitability is to cut costs. Yet, there you sit: printing all those e-mails, electronic pleadings, and faxes and routing them to your file clerk to be indexed, spindled into one of those manila folders and jammed into a redwell.
There is a better way. Stop printing! Stop copying! Just step away from the printer and photocopier slowly, and no one will get hurt.
While the "paperless promise" may have been empty back in the ’90s, now it is inexpensively within your grasp. You (and your colleagues) will have secure real-time access to every document in your files, anywhere you are, at the same time if necessary. You can carry your file room with you. It will be fire-proof, shareable, disaster-resistant and recoverable.
The lag time between when you receive something and when it finally winds up in your file will drop from days to minutes. Misfiling nightmares will decline dramatically. The index and search tools in most digital document management software will let you easily pinpoint a single document among thousands with just a few keystrokes.
You probably already have a laptop. Your secretary and paralegal have desktop PCs. You have an office network drive with file servers. (If not, get ’em.) Next, invest in a good document scanner (acceptable machines cost about as much as a new copier or can be leased), as well as a digital document management program. There are several to choose from, so careful review is critical. The last thing you want to do is drop thousands of dollars on software that doesn’t do what you need it to do.
One of the leading software packages was developed in Colorado by a company owned by Denver lawyer and digital file guru Garry Appel (see, "Reduced Clutter = Big Dividends," Garry S. Appel, The Docket, June 2004). Digital Office Systems (http://digitalofficesystems.com) offers software designed to be all you need (along with your scanner and computers, of course) for storing, retrieving, organizing and managing your electronic documents. Documents are scanned straight from the mailroom (or your secretary’s desk), converted instantly into Adobe Acrobat ".pdf" format, then dropped into the case’s electronic file in the digital file room, already organized and ready for instant retrieval at the same time by everyone in your office (or anywhere else in the world with an Internet connection to your network). That "file room" resides on your network file server, where it can be backed up as frequently as you need. Your files can be taken with you (via Windows file synchronization) right on your laptop’s hard drive, a portable "thumb" drive, or CD-ROM).
Once digitally filed, many documents are full-text searchable.1 Can’t think of the name you gave that document you received last week about the Schwartz closing? Search for "Schwartz," specify a date range, and zap — there is the document. E-mails sent and received can be automatically captured and filed. Electronic pleadings also are captured and stored instantly, and can be text-searched.2 In fact, Digital Office Systems now offers (free until September) a new tool, called "EZCourt," (http://digitalofficesystems.com/EZCourt/index.html). It automatically downloads and files Lexis-Nexis® Justicelink File and Serve (and federal court) pleadings into your digital file, and will save the pleading to the correct folder. You then can easily calendar and task items for the pleading. Try that with a paper file!
Discovery responses and document dumps are easy. With a document management system, you can organize every page as you want them, "Bates" stamp the documents, then prepare them for disclosure or discovery via CD-ROM, all right on the computer.
Your cost savings moving to a "less paper" office likely will be 50 percent or more over the cost of maintaining paper files. Those savings will go straight to your bottom line. The time it takes for a document to reach your file will decline from days to seconds. But it’s about more than saving money. You will:
Imagine looking out your kitchen window at 7 a.m. on a cold, winter morning, watching the blinding snow, then pouring yourself another cup of coffee and working all day in your Uggs and pajamas. "Bike to work day" in the summer? Take a spin around the neighborhood, then just take off the bike helmet and settle in to your home office for a full day of e-mails, phone calls, correspondence and hearing prep. When you’re "digital," your office is wherever you are.
Next month: Let’s look at some hardware —
In addition to the Digital Office Systems software discussed in this article, other possible candidates include: Client Profiles, http://www.clientprofiles.com; Perfect Law, http://www.perfectlaw.com; Thompson Elite Pro Law,
1. To become text searchable, scanned documents would have to be passed through the "OCR" or optical character recognition process.
2. If "OCR"ed first.