Dear Eula Mae:
We are trying to go paperless in our office, but I am finding that process more time-consuming. We scan every incoming document and it goes into a “scanned” subfolder. At some point it needs to be renamed and then moved to the proper client file. We file the hard copy in the client’s paper file. We also scan every piece of outgoing mail and then make a hard copy for filing in the client’s paper file. Of course, the scanned document needs to be renamed and moved to the proper client file. We are a small office—three attorneys, two legal assistants, and a receptionist. I work for two of the three attorneys. The legal assistants also answer the phones. I do not have time to rename and move the scanned documents to the client files and the “scanned” subfolder is out of control. Any suggestions?
—Buried in Michigan
Dear Buried in Michigan:
Oh dear! The amount of effort in this huge project has easily doubled your workload! There has to be a better way. Fortunately, I have worked in an office full of paper, a hybrid of both, and a paperless office and have several options for you to consider.
This appears to be a process problem but, really, scanning is about purpose. Are you scanning for storage or for quick transport to the courthouse for presentation of a case?
If the purpose is for storage, then I would not scan anything until the case is closed and then would scan the whole file and name it like this: “last_name first names_type of case_dates opened and closed.” At some point, I would burn all the scans to a disk. Burn two disks of each and lock them in a file cabinet for storage.
If the purpose is for presentation, naming the documents properly is key to finding what you need quickly in court. I would recommend setting up the client folders with the client’s last and first names, type of document, and date, like this: “Smith_Mary_Corresp_12-31-2016” or “Smith_Mary_Motion to Dismiss_1-3-2017.”
One of the hardest things about moving to a paperless office is HOW you are going to do it. It is a huge process and decisions have to be made for closed files and current files.
For closed files, I would recommend taking them to a professional legal document scanning company and paying that company to do the work. Ask for two copies of all scanned files. Remember, chances are slim that you are not going to have to revisit these files once the cases are closed; however, if you need the information, you should be able to search and find it quickly.
Should your office want to continue to scan the documents for current files, I would recommend scheduling scanning time, such as Friday afternoons for four hours. Pick up a paper file, scan each of the documents, and name as above. Then save the documents to the client’s file immediately. How do you know if a document has been scanned? It will need to be marked in some way or stamped (on the back). If you are interrupted in the process, binder clip the documents that have been scanned and place a piece of colored paper on top of the documents that have been scanned, like a placeholder noting that they have been scanned to avoid duplication of effort.
Also, it might help to have one computer set up as the designated scanner. When the document is being saved, name it appropriately and then move the file. This computer would absolutely need to have some kind of backup done every night so that you do not lose any of the scanned documents. Scanned documents are not supposed to be altered, so saving to an external hard drive would be a good idea. It would be very helpful if everyone knew the system of scanning and naming the documents.
Before you continue this project, think it through and figure out some solutions. Go to your attorney and discuss the purpose of moving to a paperless office. Then you will know exactly how to proceed and when.