Experienced business developer, account manager, partner manager, and information management strategist focusing on content lifecycle solutions including content creation, collaboration, management, discovery, and disposition.
In the beginning, “going paperless” was thought of as an archiving process – a way to preserve paper content for the long term, by converting the paper to digital format. Things have really changed since that first initiative to shrink paper. Going paperless now means digitizing your paper content so it is easily merged with all of the other electronic processes that keep your law firm humming.
Perhaps “going paperless” is in your strategic plan for 2019. No doubt you are carefully sifting solutions providers, considering hardware, and thinking about the details of implementation. What you’ve likely found during your investigation is the range of options in all areas of this project, are vastly different than just a few years ago.
To start at the beginning, consider your scanning hardware. In many implementations, a high-volume scanner is essential for the “central scanning team” in the copy center. Meanwhile, “convenience scanners” are time savers when placed in close proximity to desks throughout the office.
For the high-volume scanner, consider these features:
Blank page removal. Makes dealing with a mix of double and single sided documents much easier.
Scanning tab inserts. Yes indeed, there are scanners that can accommodate scanning tab inserts (feed the hole-punch side into the scanner). This can be a tremendous time-saver, otherwise you are removing tabs in inserting 8 1/2 x 11 pages with the corresponding tab number.
Hole punch removal. Speaking of hole punches, some scanners can detect-and-remove the image of the 3-hole punch, producing a nicer scanned result, especially if you might be reprinting the document.
DPI choices: smaller (or less) DPI is better in terms of scan-document size, as long as the scan is legible. Experiment with your scanner of choice to see how well you like 150, 200, or 300 DPI.
Deskew and Despeckle: these features can really clean up scans that go through misaligned, scans of older documents or scans of 3rd or 4th-generation prints that have lots of “artifacts” on the pages that often originates from residue on the machine glass. These features are worth testing to assure they perform as expected.
OCR is a typical feature of most scanners today, but quality can vary when compared to OCR tools (like Acrobat for example). Be sure the OCR feature can be turned on/off because you may decide to have OCR performed by software outside the scanner itself.
There are several software components to consider when planning your paperless office project:
Scanner Controller: Almost any scanner you select today, will have an accompanying piece of software to control scanner functions. On lower-end scanners, this software will operate on a workstation connected to the scanner. On higher-end scanners, the software is “embedded” in a built-in device hardware panel.
Process Controller: This piece of software is the “heart” of your paperless solution. The process controller should let you define workflows so that scanning tasks can be moved among staff.
In either case, take a look at how the software operates. Can you create scan “profiles” for faster access to features? Can you boil down the process to one click or the press of a button? Ease of use is essential. Be sensitive to the end user who is not technically savvy. Other people may not achieve proficiency because they have a role with infrequent usage needs.
What are the tasks in the process? Selection (incoming paper, open file paper, closed file paper?), classifying, document prep, scanning, quality control checking, and disposition. Assignment of paperless office “tasks” to different users so that the work matches the pay grade. That sounds indelicate, but tasks like coding paper documents or doing document prep work need to be performed by employees who are paid much less than knowledge workers.
Look carefully at how the process controller facilitates quality control. Someone should be comparing scanned documents to the hard copy. This is done to confirm the scan is legible and not missing any pages. This is usually done by visual inspection. Random sampling is effective so that checking every scan is unnecessary.
The system of record for the electronic document: You have one, whether it is Dropbox, a formal case management application or a document management system. Your Process Controller, the core of the scanning solution, should integrate directly with your system of record. Extra steps to move scanned documents into the system of record are a waste of time and money.
OCR: There are several choices – but OCR is an essential step and a huge value-add when scanning paper. In the ideal world, your core scanning solution, the Process Controller, includes an OCR solution to make the OCR step seamless.
Gains in efficiency can lead to significant gains in productivity, especially when those gains are reflected across the firm with a repeatable process like document scanning. Imagine the number of steps each person completes when scanning and multiply that across number of paper documents and the number of people involved in the scanning process. You get the picture.
Henry Ford discovered this first: Doing work in batches makes a difference. The scanning process in this context looks like an assembly line. Recall the steps recited above:
Selection (incoming paper, open file paper, closed file paper)
Each of these steps may be composed of several tasks. Arrange tasks in batches wherever possible and assign steps to the right pay grade to achieve significant gains in productivity.
Here are a two examples:
The actual process of scanning paper is much more efficient when documents can be scanned in batches. Imagine a solution that allows users to select, classify, and prep paper documents, and accumulate multiple documents into a batch for scanning.
This batch could be handed off to someone using a high-speed scanner, making the scanning step much more efficient. Some scanning must be done immediately for individual documents. This is referred to as convenience scanning and that is what a desk-side scanner is ideal for.
Another example is quality checking. The person doing quality checking must be in possession of the paper that will be compared to the scanned image. This implies that the person doing the scanning is also doing the quality checking, but that is not the case with batch scanning. Once you have a batch scanning process in place, it is logical that quality checking is executed in batches as well. Designate a QC person to perform the inspections and approve the scanned results. They will set the paper documents aside for shredding once they are approved. Otherwise, a paper document is set aside for a repair process when it is rejected for any reason.
Look carefully at your scanning workflows and consider which steps can be “batched” because that is the essential part of any workflow, especially one like scanning.
Why go paperless at all? Law firms have operated perfectly well for years using paper as the currency for information, but a confluence of factors makes this change necessary. Here are some reasons why:
Space: Reducing office square footage is a common priority these days. Whether it’s the cost per square foot, or a desire to design better more efficient work spaces, a move to offices that do not accommodate rows of filing cabinets is a clear trend. To squeeze into less footage usually requires a hard look at document polices and an aggressive and concerted effort to digitize relevant paper.
Redundancy and security: If someone said… “Make a copy of every paper document and lock it all in a vault.” You would ask; “How?” It is simply not feasible. But once paper is digitized, it is an easy feat to accomplish. To rely on the paper record as an official matter file is risky for a number of reasons, including misplaced, lost, stolen or damaged documents. Paper is a great user interface for the 2% of the time you are using it while it is actually in your hands, but for the other 98% of the time, paper adds risks, costs and inefficiencies for your law firm. A physical paper file does not meet today’s standards for information governance.
Any information anywhere any time: Lawyers and clients are mobile. Making relevant documents available to mobile users simply cannot be achieved with paper. Only when all documents are digitized, can they be accessed remotely within very secure electronic confines. Then you can you meet the needs of mobile lawyers and mobile clients.
Velocity: Ever since the invention of the telegraph, the time factor between an information request and the information retrieval/response has been shrinking. Today, the expectation is an on-demand “instantaneous” response. The velocity of information is impeded by paper and enhanced by digital information.
Think of it this way: Paper is like the cholesterol of information flow… Digitizing removes the sludge.
Information Governance: There are a raft of information governance issues beyond the scope of this article that drive us to digitized paper, but a central issue for law firms is establishing the official record for a matter. This means that all relevant information about a matter should be collected in one source. For law firms, that is the document management system or case management system. To get there means digitizing the paper so it can join the collection of “already digital” content you create or receive each day for any given matter.
Profitability: If for no other reason, go paperless because it is profitable. Even with the up-front cost to transform your systems to support a paperless office, the returns are significant.
What are some of the benefits besides those discussed above? Searching through pages and pages of digitized paper in ways that simply cannot be accomplished with a hard copy. Re-use of documents, access and sharing of documents, and controls … all mean lower costs, greater efficiency, and substantially stronger information security. Then there is the data.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” That is certainly true with your paperless office.
Your paperless office “process controller” software should be able to collect and report on a raft of paperless-process statistics. A few examples:
Who is cataloging paper documents into your system of record? And how many documents are they cataloging? The “who” might be viewed as individuals or practice areas.
How many documents are identified for shredding? A percentage measure is important because it will disclose trends. How does this compare to the “before paperless” shredding practices?
How many documents are identified to be returned to practice or filed in records? Why are these paper documents being “preserved”?
What volume of printing is sourced from documents in your DMS or records management system?
Data can paint a very clear picture of what is happening inside your paperless office. Don’t overlook this when selecting a solution.
We’ve come a long way since the days when scanning was the means, and archiving was the end result. Today’s paperless initiatives are transforming firms into agile, efficient, and profitable organizations that are connected by digital information.
So, you have decided you want to become the paper to digital or less paper law firm of the future. But you are not sure where to start. Getting started in the right way is a key success factor. Through our experience, we have defined five over-arching questions for you to consider with care. Answering these questions will help you create a project framework to guide your paper to digital effort.
Implementing the paper to digital law firm means establishing policies and practices at the institutional level. You must study the various areas of your firm (administrative departments and practice areas) to determine what policies and practices can be implemented across the board, and where exceptions must be made. The give-and-take between individual preferences and institutional needs can sometimes be epic.
Question 1 – The Big WHY
Not all ideas are good ideas. Converting paper into electronic format has tremendous benefits, but those benefits only come with effort. A very clear understanding of the big WHY is essential. Let’s step back and ask;
“Why are we doing this?”
Objectives like more efficient operations, access to documents anytime from anywhere, improved information governance, or reduce off-site storage costs are typical tactical answers.
What about strategic benefits? Do you want to be a more agile law practice, or deliver better client services, or simply be the innovative law firm of the future?
Understanding the big WHY, or WHYs plural, means being honest about the burden that paper places on your business. Paper makes an organization sluggish. Think about it… You move it around, you store it, you retrieve it, you even lose track of it sometimes.
In today’s competitive market, there is no room for a sluggish law firm. Recognizing the costs, risks and inefficiencies of paper in your legal practice is how you and your colleagues will come to realize and articulate your big WHY.
Question 2 – Paper Paper Everywhere, but what’s the most important?
Your paper to digital effort will grow and eventually you will consume the entire paper monster. But you cannot begin there… First, you should decide which paper you will focus on when beginning your paper to digital project.
Let’s start with a hard look at which paper makes your firm sluggish. Paper can generally be divided into a back-file, which is paper that you are keeping but not actively working with, and active files, which is the paper used to conduct day-to-day business. Back-file paper typically will not make your firm sluggish unless it is constantly retrieved from storage. If that is the case, it probably means the paper was moved into storage too soon.
The paper that makes your firm sluggish is the paper you deal with day-to-day. It exists in the practice and it exists in the back office for administrative purposes. It is the paper received by mail or courier and it is also the paper printed from files received electronically. It is paper that is read, filed, retrieved, marked up, delivered to clients, and more. The paper you will focus on for your paper to digital initiative is related to active files.
Question 3 – Will your people change their habits?
The habits around paper-handling usually start in preschool. The method users apply to managing the paper in an active file are just as permanent and will vary from attorney to attorney, and practice area to practice area. The desire to have the a physical document in-hand, or at-hand, is very strong indeed.
One of the biggest challenges with the digital transformation of a law firm is getting folks to change their habits. Firms must move from a collection of fastidious paper filers, to a consortium of filers who all agree to follow the rules that institutionalize how the firm manages paper. To become both digital centric and paper smart requires everyone to work towards that shared objective. Three ingredients are essential: Senior partner/executive endorsement, Initial training at rollout, Ongoing communication/reinforcement. We will delve into those topics further in other posts.
Question 4 – Will your people use the technology?
The habits around technology are similar to the challenges around paper-handling. Some users embrace technology, while others choose to avoid it and have as little contact as possible. Implementing a paper to digital initiative in a law firm means implementing technology which moves the firm from individual process and practice to institutional forms of the same. This assumes all participants achieve the same baseline of technology fluency. It will be easy for some users to achieve the required fluency, while others will simply need more help.
Question 5 – Will your firm adopt new policies to support new practices?
A successful less paper effort must be supported by policies that drive paper to digital practices. A key example is your firm’s policy around shredding of paper. Will the firm sanction shredding? Will it be mandatory? Will it occur immediately after scanning? Will the electronic matter record be the “official record” for all matters?
The polices are not the hard part. Gaining consensus and the promise to support new policies is the challenge. It means that custodians of the paper must commit to new methods, new technology, and new attitudes towards the work they do every day.