It’s no secret that the legal industry produces a lot of paper. What’s less well known is that despite all the technology available to enable paperless offices, countless law practices still haven’t moved to an e-file environment.
Many have delayed the transition due to the perceived expense or uncertainty about the technology options. Here’s my response: Don’t worry. There’s a solution available that’s far less expensive and much easier to implement than you might imagine. In fact, now is the perfect time to make your office paperless.
Based on my experience, Fujitsu ScanSnap has made the process of building a paperless office incredibly easy with its affordable ScanSnap scanner technology and powerful software that is included as part of the package price.
When I implemented the Fujitsu solution, I committed myself to converting every file opened in the 30 days prior, and every file going forward after that. By digitizing all new work and periodically chipping away at archived files I was able to achieve a paperless office within a year. Time-consuming and space-eating paper processes are now mostly a thing of the past.
Let me walk through a few basics of getting to a paperless office.
First, the essential equipment you’ll need as the foundation for e-file is a computer, scanner, printer, and Adobe Acrobat software for creating PDF files.
Most people reading this article have a desktop or laptop computer that was built in the past three years. If that’s you, then your PC is probably fine. If it’s older than that, consider upgrading. There have been amazing advances in computer technology in just the past year or two, and new PC technology will let you make the most of it. The same applies to printers; you can now purchase fast laser printers with duplexing capability (printing on both sides of single sheet of paper) for less than $200.
Now, the two things that law offices often don’t have are a good, dedicated scanner — that is, a machine used exclusively for scanning — and the right software. If you have relied on multi-function devices that combine several functions in one machine, or have an older existing scanner, chances are that the hardware and software in place is not really up to the task. Remember, you are about to do a lot more scanning, so you want to make sure the equipment will meet your needs.
I highly recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500, which I purchased for my office for less than $500. When looking at that price, consider that it includes a great software bundle that forms the core technology for your paperless office — including Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, which helps support search functions in scanned documents – and Adobe Acrobat. If purchased separately, Acrobat by itself retails for more than $300.
The scanning process is very easy. The ScanSnap iX500 will scan about 25 duplexed (front and back) pages a minute; it’s also smart enough to recognize and not scan blank pages. Scanned documents can include actual signatures, or you can use Acrobat to generate a digitized “e-signature.” You save them as PDF files to any folder you designate using an intuitive pop-up menu. I strongly recommend setting up a logical file structure before you start scanning. In my office, scanned documents begin with the date, then I use acronyms to store documents by type or client. For example, a motion filed on April 5, 2013 to compel discovery in the John Doe case would be labeled “2013-04-05_Doe_MTC.”
You’ll generate a lot of files, so adequate storage may become an issue. Hard drives used for storage have certainly become a lot cheaper in the past few years, but I recommend looking at encrypted cloud storage services. These are almost infinitely expandable — you just pay for more storage space as it’s needed — and they eliminate the potential theft or damage issues associated with physical drives. Fujitsu has partnered with major cloud-service providers, including SugarSync and Dropbox, to streamline the transmission of scanned documents into password-protected cloud storage. If you want additional security, you can use Acrobat to create passwords for individual PDF files.
There is no question that the Fujitsu ScanSnap hardware and bundled software, including Acrobat, will enhance your practice. Not only does the solution allow you to be compatible with the e-file process, but it also lets you generate forms and collect data like never before. You can sign documents, create forms, make edits, and even create searchable documents — all with the click of a button.
Joel Harris, Harris Law LLC