Despite the increasing digitization of business and society today, most law firms continue to be buried in paper. Lawyers work with enormous amounts of information and much of that remains on plain old paper.
Indeed, as other areas of business have become more and more paperless, document management for most firms remains mired in printouts, photocopies and manual workflow.
Remove the Burden of Paper
Can a law firm ever become truly paperless? Probably not. But a great number of documents – everything from client files to contracts or depositions – remain unnecessarily on paper.
Removing the burden of paper associated with these common documents can result in improved firm profitability and performance by eliminating the inherent delays and complexities of an archaically paper-bound process.
The Clutterless Office
Moving to a less-paper approach is a strategy that many law firms have successfully deployed, and the growing trend across the board is toward further automation.
But rather than focus on going paperless, firms should instead work to improve access to information, reduce physical storage requirements and boost workflow efficiency overall. In short, don’t strive for paperless per se, but rather “clutterless.”
A Fresh Look
If you have looked at scanning and document management systems in the past and were hesitant to act, now is the time to take a fresh look.
Once costly and complex, modern document management systems are affordable, easy to use, and available from everyone from your local copier vendor to specialized software integrators focused on the legal market.
These systems allow firms to capture and digitize paper documents, and then distribute, search and archive that information in ways that are simply not possible using traditional paper files.
Lack of a Strategy Costs You
The price of document management systems has dropped dramatically in recent years. But if you still wonder about the investment, consider a recent study that conducted a search of more than 10,000 documents looking for a specific topic, author, and data range. A manual search of paper files performed by a staff of paralegals took 67 hours and found 15 documents. The same search, performed using a document management system, required 4.5 seconds and found 20 documents.
Capture the Value
One important document management concept is known as Capture: Image Capture and Data Capture. When you scan a paper document, you literally capture an image of that document. Scanning and capturing images in lieu of printing or copying is at the core of eliminating filing cabinets and storage boxes.
Data capture allows firms to quickly search for and easily retrieve documents based on keyword data – such as client name, case number or date, for example. This query function provides immediate access to documents electronically and is a much better approach than pawing through file drawers and storage boxes.
What to Look For
Originally developed decades ago using specialized equipment, today’s document management solutions use common scanners and office copiers, and the approaches can be implemented without extensive or expensive technical support. Here are some important characteristics to look for in a potential solution.
- Easy Integration with existing copiers and scanners is a must. Most systems work with all major brands and your copier vendor likely has a solution offering available already built in.
- Full Text Searching allows users to locate a document by logical queries of words contained within the document (or within the document profile).
- Audit Trail capability is essential to know who is working on a document, when they started editing and what they did, and to prove an appropriate chain of custody.
- Remote Document Access allows you to work from anywhere with a laptop or to access all documents for a particular client/matter via laptop in court.
- Document Versioning is essential to keep track of different versions of the same document and allows access to any previous version without losing current version information.
- Document Retention should be part of a system that will automatically archive older documents in order to save digital storage space and to ensure proper records management protocols.
Document management systems have evolved from tools for the simple scanning of paper into a more a broadly strategic and intelligent approach to process workflow.
Many law firms are seeing the benefits. Using these next-generation tools could be your secret weapon to greater profitability and performance.