Law Offices Get Smaller, Records Rooms Get Digital: A DocSolid White Paper
Law firms are facing a tremendous opportunity to reduce real estate, but paper-based records rooms are an obstacle to this. As firms strategize real estate compression plans, eliminating floor space required for records rooms and ad hoc paper file storage is key. Not only that, but the new hybrid workforce of in-house and at-home attorneys cannot be supported securely or efficiently when records room workflows are paper-based.
The DocSolid white paper, “Law Offices Get Smaller, Records Rooms Get Digital” outlines a digital records room strategy and implementation plan. A digital records room is a firm-wide system of software, workflow and services, to digitize paper records to the DMS (including iManage or NetDocuments), replacing paper file rooms.
Jamie Blomquist, CIO at Maslon, comments: “There are essentially three use cases for transitioning to a Digital Records Room: reduce costs by reducing the footprint of paper so we can optimize our office space for higher value work; improve productivity and help attorneys have anywhere access to their files; and lastly, driving our paper files into one centralized DMS file helps us govern and reduce risk better.”
The white paper includes insights from information governance and records professionals and details IG and security requirements for a best practice digital records room such as:
Tight DMS / RMS integration with leading industry platforms such as iManage, NetDocuments and FileTrail
Vendor DMS expertise and solution flexibility so that a firm’s DMS customizations can be accommodated
In-house and outsourced staff empowered with DMS profiling-scanning capability without DMS logins
Enterprise software that matches a firm’s security regime
Avoidance of scan-to-email attachments or new operating repositories
Built-in auditing of the overall capture process, down to the document level
Paper document disposition-retention-shredding built into the process
Ability to segregate processes for confidential content e.g., HR documents
For more information about the DocSolid white paper, “Law Firms Get Smaller, Records Rooms Get Digital” go here: https://www.docsolid.com/2021/06/law-firm-digital-records-room-white-paper/
Why is DMS Integration so Pivotal for Digital Mail and Records?
A System of Record is Requisite to Information Governance and Managing Risk
In the beginning, document management was a system used to manage versions and eliminate the risk of sending the wrong version to clients. Documents could be more easily shared and re-used when stored in a managed library.
As the market matured, four things happened to change the economics and structure of the market for systems of record solutions and help move this market across the chasm.
In the wake of a dramatic increase in compliance and risk-based concerns (Enron, SarBox, FRCP), organizations realized that they needed better control over their silos.
SharePoint disrupted the market by entering at the low end.
Users realized that they were spending too much on all of their silos.
Users realized that they could only automate across departments if they did something about
Fast forward to today and we see that the top five issues keeping Chief Legal Officers awake at night, three pertain to how law firms handle of their records, including:
Protection of corporate data
Governance and management of data
Ethics and compliance requirements
Why DMS is Necessary
Client information must be managed within the technology framework of the document management system (DMS). Only through the technology of the DMS can we deliver security and the effective, timely, and consistent disposal of physical and electronic information that no longer needs to be retained should be a core component of any Information Governance program.
Email (for better or for worse often) is a corporate “record” just like any other document. Email is the de facto standard for business communication across organizations at this time. Just as any other type of business information and record, email must be included as part of, and adhered to, the organizational standards addressing information and records.
Therefore, scanning inbound postal mail via email is creating a new record that must be filed in the document management system. This is an inefficient, laborious process that puts unnecessary labor on the part of the attorneys who must then file the email.
There are other options such as sending inbound postal mail via the DMS directly to the attorneys without using email. This eliminates the inefficiency of sending via email and protects the firm’s information governance processes.
Reduce Real Estate by Digitizing Daily Mail and Records – The Right Way
The ways attorneys prefer to work has transformed. 76 percent now favor remote work, according to the 2021 Peer Monitor and Georgetown Law State of the Legal Industry Report.
And if attorneys change the way they work, that means everything changes: from how attorneys receive client mail and request matter files, to large scale financial decisions that affect one of the most expensive costs law firms have after salaries: real estate.
This is why we shouldn’t be surprised when Sherry Cushman, Vice Chair and Executive Managing Director of Cushman & Wakefield, predicts “The legal sector will be downsizing its real estate needs on average 10% to 30% — and in some cases, 40% to 50%.”
The opportunity to recapture real estate costs is extremely attractive to law firms, but firms first need to solve the paper-based problems of daily mail and onsite records.
Paper2Digital Transformation leads to real estate optimization
When it comes to daily mail, attorneys and staff working from home absolutely require reliable, digital delivery of daily mail. Scan-to-email workarounds were hastily applied at the onset of the COVID-19, but now the mailroom needs to be made into a durable, permanent and secure operation.
Legal mail items contain client information, and the methods for processing them digitally should incorporate the same standards applied for all client data at the firm. In retrospect, building a daily mail delivery process based upon email was not a good idea.
A best practice Digital Mailroom operation delivers mail directly to the DMS where sensitive information can be delivered securely and governed according to firm policy. A best practice digital records room is similar, building a digitization project for scanning large volumes of paper records and storing them in the document management system. Built-in quality controls enable confident shredding of the scanned documents. It’s a Paper2Digital Transformation that can make entire file rooms disappear.
These are best practices focused on the critical paper-based workflows inside the law firm. The value proposition is strong just based on eliminating the costs and inefficiencies of paper records and nothing more. However, a multitude of other high value, and high visibility, goals become possible including; repurposed office space, hoteling, and downsizing. Beyond the tangible cost savings, these digital workflows are required to keep attorneys and staff productive, no matter where they may choose to work on any given day.
DocSolid’s Airmail2 Digital Mail + Records Suite transforms a firm’s paper-based mailroom and Records Room functions into streamlined, digital operations supporting both work-from-home and return-to-office strategies simultaneously, while enabling firms to optimize their real estate.
The Airmail2 Suite provides scanned delivery of sensitive and time-dependent mail and file requests via the document management system (DMS), enabling firms to govern, secure, and distribute information efficiently, according to policy and in keeping with individual client guidelines.
Law firms now need a formal Digital Mailroom operation, moving beyond the scan-to-email workaround established at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Because doing something immediately was driving the decision, the workaround was formulated with little or no consultation with IT or information governance teams.
It has become evident over the past year that attorneys and staff working from home value reliable, digital delivery of daily mail, but it is now time for those mailroom operations to align with firms’ best practices.
For example, scanned legal mail is currently delivered as improperly named PDF attachments stored on Exchange, requiring never-ending growth in storage space at the same time posing a security and compliance risk for the related client.
Legal mail items contain client information, and the methods for processing them digitally should incorporate the same standards applied for all client data at the firm. Email is a key source of phishing and email attachments are a key source of malware. Email attacks are constantly evolving because email represents an open vulnerability for IT systems. In retrospect, building a daily mail delivery process based upon email was not the best idea.
Airmail2 Digital Mailroom was engineered from the ground up to solve the security and compliance requirements of law firms by providing direct delivery of daily mail to the firm’s document management system (DMS), where sensitive information can be protected and governed by the DMS best practices.
Here are the top reasons why CIOs love the Airmail2 Digital Mailroom:
Purpose-built, targeted application replaces the hodge-podge of responses to last year’s immediate need
Moves scanned daily mail storage from the already over-burdened Exchange System to the more scalable DMS repository
Zero footprint deployment to mailrooms across the enterprise, leverages existing scanning devices and workstations
Non-firm personnel, e.g. the facilities management (FM) company can provide Digital Mailroom services because operators do not require access to the DMS
Keeping attachments out of the Outlook Inbox make the information governance (IG) folks happy
Targeted and flexible notifications make attorneys happy and productive: no notification, no mail today
Big opportunity for cost savings by eliminating physical delivery now, and centralizing mailrooms in the future
Wins an important battle in getting attorneys to act more digitally by capturing (digitizing) incoming paper at the point of receipt, the mailroom
A How-to Guide to Transform Your Mailroom for the Normal Now
As law firms transition from crisis management to long-term solutions for the Normal Now, a crafted Digital Mailroom is essential. Inbound legal mail needs to get in the DMS, not the email system where it is delayed and exposed.
If your firm is still scanning daily mail to email, how many of these challenges does your firm experience?
The mailroom scanning operation is not integrated with the document management system (DMS).
Scanned mail recipients must use their email inbox as a workflow tool to process daily mail.
From an IT and security perspective, scanned legal mail ends up as unnamed PDF attachments stored in the email server, clogging storage space and compromising security and compliance for the related client information.
After scanning, the physical paper mail is still manually distributed to attorneys’ or assistants’ desks, or stored in a makeshift file area, replicating the labor of the previous paper-based operation, in addition to the new labor for scanning operations.
Attorneys and staff have complaints about the mail scanning results, such as delays, inadequate notifications, misdirected distribution, and scanned file quality issues.
DocSolid is pleased to offer the industry white paper, “7 Reasons to Upgrade to a Digital Mailroom Operation,” to help guide firms’ transformation to a fully Digital Mailroom. It includes:
Airmail2 by DocSolid is engineered from the ground up to solve the productivity and information security requirements of law firms by providing direct delivery of postal mail to the firm’s document management system (DMS), where sensitive information can be protected and governed by the DMS best practices.
Airmail2 by DocSolid enables clerical operators with minimal training and without login access to the DMS to scan, QC, and directly deliver postal mail in electronic form to the firm’s DMS of choice. DocSolid’s Airmail2 Digital Mailroom provides:
Scanned mail delivery to iManage and other DMS systems
DMS matter lookups when full profiling is required
Mapped mail delivery to attorneys and legal assistants with automated notifications
Batch workflows for productive alignment with legal office staffing resources
Law firms were forced to develop new habits to handle work during the pandemic. Physical mail delivery is no exception. Some solutions were carefully thought out, but like many problems solved at the start of the ‘stay at home’ orders, many are still running in the same way as when they got cobbled together as an emergency response. Just for fun let’s take a look at some of the fire drill mail delivery routines we have come across that were hurriedly put in place.
Multi-national Law Firm 1. Dropping scanned mail to a folder on the network – quick and dirty right? Well those of us in IG have been battling unstructured file share repositories for years, yet here is another one! First there is no way to notify you when you specifically receive new mail, so all the employees in the firm have to be notified at once when the mail scanning work is completed. This means, you get notified via emailevery day, whether you have new mail that requires your attention, or not. Important mail gets processed out of these folders – maybe making it into the DMS where it ultimately belongs- and some legal assistants are good at doing duplicate file clean up, but it is basically a redundant repository accumulating matter related documents on a regular basis as it competes with the intended official repository for matter files in the document management system.
US AMLAW 200 Law Firm 2. This stuff is important! Let’s get executives involved. Everyone was safely sent to work at home or furloughed, but after several important client mailings and invoices were missed, something had to be done quickly. Emergency commandment: hire couriers to deliver the postal mail to the senior managers at home.Executives sorting firm mail in their kitchens! A new job skill for law firm executives. If the courier logistics were not enough, the sorted mail gets couriered again, or may be scanned at home. All of these operational gymnastics are just to to achieve the simple, but essential, task of getting your firm’s postal mail to the intended recipient.
Yet Another Firm 3.once a makeshift scan-to-email solution was in place, the attorneys complained 1) excess notifications filling up his precious email inbox with scans of items that mostly have already been received, 2) Delivering the physical mail after the scan to the practice area anyway – just in case. Great, so your legal assistants and partners are doing double work to sort the mail. Good luck accounting for all that in time and billings, 3)Attorneys and associates missed their ‘grey mail’ too.Though this was not business-critical correspondence, it meant that the practicing law person missed sign up dates for required continuing education events!
So, I hope do you want to go through this again: being dependent on someone else to decide what mail is valuable and how quickly you need it,random, intermittent and duplicative ways to get it. You never intended for work-from-home to become the rule rather than the exception, but it’s 2021 so the time has come to start rationalizing the normal now. Otherwise, that postal mail of yours is a fire drillheaded for becoming an absolute train wreck.
How do we resolve this? A safe, reliable, structured and scalable system must be settled on. This involves a top-down re-assessment of the daily mail operation in terms of the people, process and tools involved. Look for the smart solution. It is out there, if you know where to look for it.
Congratulations! You weathered the onslaught of the pandemic and transitioned to distributed work from home offices. That home office relocation is looking permanent for much of your workforce so it is time to harden the systems that make a work-from-home (WFH) law firm function. A Digital Mailroom is one such system. Using existing scan-to-email utilities at the outset of the pandemic is not an effective permanent solution for a law firm’s mail operation. It was never intended to be, but most legal practices are just beginning to reconsider how essential operations like daily mail will function with a distributed workforce. It is now time to remodel your Digital Mailroom into a permanent, effective operation.
Your firm isn’t going back to paper mail delivery distributed to desks in the city offices. That was a faulty, antiquated process anyway. Digital is better – you just need some finishing work to make it a reliable, secure operation. Your attorneys and staff need to stay productive anywhere they work. Legal technology professionals are now considering the daily mail operation as one of their firm’s greatest opportunities to improve. It’s time to make your Digital Mailroom a permanent fixture of your remodeled law firm.
Here are three keys to remodeling your Digital Mailroom:
Deliver legal mail to the document management system (DMS)
Embed quality controls, monitoring and reporting
Make the mailroom operation simple and efficient
Deliver legal mail to the DMS, not to email. Legal mail is mission critical and time-sensitive, and it contains confidential client information. Once mail items are scanned, the PDF files are destined for the DMS, their permanent home. It’s easy to set up daily mail folders for each DMS user, and when scanned mail items arrive, the DMS provides a move function so that users (or support staff) can place the PDFs into the proper matter folder. Routing scanned legal mail items through the email system is inefficient, and it’s a multi-faceted security risk. Using the email system to distribute scanned legal mail is not an acceptable long term solution.
Embed quality controls, monitoring and reporting in the Digital Mailroom solution. Perfectly scanned mail items delivered reliably each day to waiting attorneys – that’s the standard. Attorneys working at home don’t have nearby staff to fix errors or tweak process for them. The Digital Mailroom should have embedded software and process to ensure quality. Did every received mail item get scanned, with all pages and image quality checked, and the envelop scanned as a last page? Is the mailroom technology connected to a help desk to assist when needed? Can we run reports to track volumes and productivity, so that peak days, growth and operational efficiencies can be anticipated?
Make the mailroom operation simple and efficient. We hear many stories about how all sorts of exceptions and process variations were put in place to accommodate attorney requests when a firm first put a makeshift mail scanning operation in place. The result is spotty performance, jagged quality, and a high reliance on clerical staff memory and Post-it Note bulletins. A remodeled Digital Mailroom needs a best practice approach with software designed expressly for this operation, and repeatable workflows like scanning stacks. This reduces dependency on staff heroics and it establishes much needed reliability in the operation. It also enables repeatability across multiple law office locations, or a better path to mail centralization across offices… A game changer for law firms embracing distributed work.
There you go. Three keys to remodeling your Digital Mailroom, for the better future we’re starting to see. Of course, you will want a good contractor with the proper tools to do this remodeling job. That’s the unmatched expertise you get from DocSolid along with the Airmail2 software you need to create your Digital Mailroom.
When the pandemic sent the workforce to home offices, most law firms quickly started scanning daily mail to email inboxes. Facilities management or mailroom staff went into the office and cobbled together a new work process to accommodate this method of digital delivery. But delivering scanned mail via the email system compromises the security, compliance and the integrity of the process.
Email is a highly susceptible point of security and compliance in the lifecycle of matter documents and client information. And it has proven to be a poor workflow management tool and perhaps more importantly, nearly impossible to govern.
Legal documents arriving in daily mail should not be delivered via scan-to-email for these reasons:
Scanned documents are stored residually in the email server, unmanaged. Sensitive client information delivered as attachments violates basic principles of information governance regarding storage and access.
The email inbox is not a workflow tool and cannot be easily shared with other workers to manage the multi-step process of review, profiling and notification. And there is no way to monitor that every item was properly processed, or even reviewed.
Scanned images create larger documents that may violate attachment and/or Inbox size limitations. Not to mention bloated message stores that create headaches for IT managers.
Email messages are a key attack vector for phishing attempts while email attachments are a significant source of malware. Building a mission-critical application on arguably the weakest link in the IT infrastructure would never be advised if starting from scratch.
Clients pay attention to this. Year over year, the ACC survey of Chief Legal Officers show that the governance and management of their information is a top concern. Accordingly, law firms have invested heavily in document management systems (DMS) to store client information. The DMS has become the primary productivity and governance tool for firms to service clients and protect their information. Therefore, the DMS should be the delivery platform for scanned daily mail.
Lawyers and law firms storing documents outside of the DMS expose the firm and its clients to multiple layers of risk—financial, ethical, regulatory and security risks. Such exposure is magnified by a new scan-to-email delivery of legal mail to remote workers.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that our shift in operations to include a home workforce is not temporary. Therefore, law firms need something better than the patched together scan-to-email process established earlier this year.
Forced to use existing copier-based technology, law firms are jamming mission-critical mail delivery through a system designed for ad hoc use where scanning occurs one document at a time. Quality checks are difficult and unstructured, evidenced by the fact that scanned mail is still retained in makeshift filing boxes, or delivered to empty desks for later pickup and review.
If the firm’s existing scanning system and email platform is not well suited to take on this important application, what does a modern, compliant mailroom operation look like?
The modern mailroom is a digitaloperation, comprised of software, process and clerical workers. The operation is founded on productivity, security and reliability. Software and process enables current clerical staff to work efficiently and with minimal training. They scan, QC, and securely deliver daily mail as searchable PDFs to a legal practitioner’s daily mail folder in the DMS, e.g. iManage or NetDocuments. Digital mail delivered into the DMS should accommodate the options of delivering to attorneys, their assistants, profiling staff, or even directly into the matter when teams are sharing work.
Mailroom software should make DMS deliveries using existing secure methods, but not require mailroom operators to have DMS logins. Nor should mailroom operators need to learn complex profiling procedures, or unique and changing delivery preferences and notifications for mail recipients. The solution must support batching of work – such as profiling, stack scanning, and QC checking. It should enable scanning with in-place multi-function copiers or scanners, without adding hardware, software, or requiring complex or error-prone keystroking while standing at an office machine.
To provide operational integrity, firms will also need automated quality controls for the process, a remote help desk and reporting.
The good news is that a Digital Mailroom, run optimally, now routinely digitizes the biggest remaining flow of inbound paper documents – daily mail. The better news is that longstanding Paper2Digital® initiatives will now accelerate, without the pushback from attorneys who insist on paper files. A Digital Mailroom now becomes the driver towards a conclusive Paper2Digital® transformation.
About the Author
In his role as VP of Customer Success, David Guilbault provides strategic vision and management for the Customer Success program and the Consulting Practice. Dave is a U.S. patent holder with a degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern Maine with more than two decades of experience in document solutions.
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.
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?”
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.