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Ask Eula Mae: Transition to Paperless Files

Posted By NALS Editorial Board, Friday, March 24, 2017

Transition to Paperless FilesDear 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. 

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Comments on this post...

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September D. Holmblad PP PLS says...
Posted Tuesday, April 4, 2017
I too am struggling with paperless issues. We primarily scan everything because we efile, eserve, and exchange documents electronically. We can scan to a "scan" folder or to email. Email is my preferred method because then at least I don't have to go find it. It's in my email, I can forward and/or save it from my computer. I have programed some default "subjects" in the scanner and select that when I'm scanning. I also use "copy for your information" and add the client's name, then I can just forward it to a client. It's not a perfect system, but it involves less "touches" along the way.
Permalink to this Comment }

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Carol P. Long ALP says...
Posted Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Email is easy but if your email account is hacked, sensitive documents are just sitting there waiting to be stolen and possibly released to anyone, including the public. I prefer a closed system where your scans stay within your own network.
Permalink to this Comment }

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Ann Sachet PLS/CLP ALP says...
Posted Tuesday, April 4, 2017
When we get a new client we automatically open a new file for that client on our local server where everyone in the office can access that file. Then we all have a ScanSnap on our desk and we can scan documents and save directly to the client folder all in one step. It makes scanning and saving documents a snap!
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Amy J. Shackelford (Sears) PP PLS says...
Posted Tuesday, April 18, 2017
We opened a paper"less" office in January 2015 and are loving it! Mind you, it took a bit to get the kinks worked out, but we're rocking it now. Any client file opened after January 2015 is fully electronic. Incoming paper is scanned to the attorney and legal assistant. Once scanned, it is either recycled or shredded. There are, of course, things that have to be kept in hard format, but that's just an alphabetical accordion folder. Once the case closes, we check the accordion, and give the original documents that were kept to the client with a closing letter.
Permalink to this Comment }

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