Every law firm scans important documents, but performing quality control on the digital file is typically an informal process or done only on request. Why should a legal practice perform quality control on scanned document images at all? Or, to what extent is it even necessary?

As with many things, the real answer has many shades of gray. The question is not “do, or do not,” but “when and to what extent?”


Scanned Document Image Quality

Industry associates would argue that without a formal image QC process, the end user ends up doing the QC at the moment the scan is being used! Some have tolerance for this and others not so much. How many times have you asked for a better copy of something in the past because it is not legible or missing a page? This is irritating for the user, and it can be embarrassing for the sender, but it is not uncommon. In this instance, the QC done by the end user is “post-inspection” instead of “pre-inspection.”

Technophiles will argue that scanning hardware and software is so good, and improving, that the instances of errors are extremely rare events. This is simply not true and even low error rates are not an acceptable excuse for managers in Information Governance (IG) or the Records Department to have no quality control in place.

Truthfully, these attitudes rely on the fact that the original paper version still exists “somewhere.” What if we want to encourage getting rid of the paper altogether – either during the scan or at a later time in the process? Untold fortunes have been spent on offsite document storage because it serves as a guilt free trash can that is generally unseen. It is a costly example of “out of sight, out of mind” in a legal practice. Law firms and corporate legal departments are losing patience with the large and ever-increasing expense for offsite document storage services. Unfortunately, this problem won’t go away unless you fix it. The prerequisite for the Records Department to employ a consistent policy of shredding documents is to give everyone in the firm full confidence in the quality of the scanned image.

This is the moment when scanned image QC matters. Though laissez faire is the common attitude towards casual scanning, there are plenty of important documents scanned this way, so it does not enable a firm to proceed with confidence to shred that paper. The unsaid assumption with informal QC is that the original document is kept. However, once your law firm decides to adopt a less-paper initiative where only critical paper docs are kept, now QC is an essential part of the process. Read: actually shred and recycle paper instead of store it!

The decision in some projects is to immediately jump to the other end of the spectrum. “Let’s check every page of the original to the image.” While this is certainly thorough, have you actually tried it for more than a few documents? Tedious to say the least… and after hundreds of documents? Alternatively, is it really worth $20+ per hour, forever, to hire it out?

A Practical Approach

For each document, inspect only the first AND last page. Doing this QC with every document contains the possible errors in the process. It provides confirmation of the most essential results with three quality control checks. This is a practical approach that only takes seconds, and anyone in the firm can do it.

3 Essential QC Checks

  • The image was processed and delivered

  • The image quality is good… The inspected pages are readable and the file is not corrupted

  • The document feeder or PDF creation process was not interrupted

Rather than a binary, all-or-nothing choice, think of QC as a spectrum of options taking into consideration the casual scanning, structured scanning and even automated scanning in some cases.

A jammed document feeder caused by dog eared pages or torn pages will be the reason for the largest number of scanning errors by far. So, any completed scanning procedure (a scan that started and also finishes), will generally produce good image results because the technology is pretty good.

If a person somewhere, either the end user or an assigned person, at least touches the hard copy to compare it with the image results – however quickly – that is far better than the alternative of no quality control procedure at all. Just tracking any exceptions or issues as they are found provides the metrics to discover if a more detailed quality review procedure should be considered.

Other Best Practices:

  • Preview all pages in a thumbnail view: Dark or crumpled pages are easily seen
  • Page count before and after the scan: Can be semi-automated
  • Proactively look for probable challenges in the original physical paper document and inspect those images
  • Adopt a scientific sample size approach to testing: Inspect one document in each batch of ten, then inspect all documents in a batch if an error is found

When this approach is institutionalized, there are a few other considerations. Who does these QC steps? One answer is the person who brought the document to the party. There are other methods of quality control with structured scanning, but that is a topic for another article.

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