There is a substantial value in scanning (and then destroying) as much paper as possible. That is why we promote a “less paper” strategy. Less paper reduces office space, reduces offsite storage costs, and more. But if all your firm is interested in is less paper, you are missing out on substantial value. This is because electronic files not only take up almost no space, but can also improve workflow, knowledge management, and disaster recovery.
While it may seem that managing the workflow of paper documents is easy, there are a number of hidden complicating factors. For starters, paper documents must be filed, and finding the right file to put a document in is not always as easy as it seems. An active file may be in any number of attorneys’ offices (and in any number of places within those offices) or with any number of administrative assistants, or perhaps even in the appropriate file cabinet.
It is also very easy to misfile a paper document. There may be dozens of different manila files or Redwelds associated with any one case, all of which with similar labels. Slipping a page into the wrong one is an easy mistake to make—and that page may never be seen again. Compare these processes to a uniform scanning process, where any document scanned anywhere in the firm can be automatically and instantly routed to a file folder, email, or the proper location in a document management system.
Relying on paper files is also inefficient when a document must be shared. First the document must be found, which is not necessarily simple (more on that later). Once it is, someone must interrupt their day to walk over to an MFD and copy, fax, or scan (and email) the document. After that it must be re-filed, hopefully in the right place. Compare this inefficiency to working with an electronic document, which can simply be searched for in a document management system and easily attached to an email for the intended recipient.
A piece of paper sitting in a box at an offsite storage location is effectively useless. Not only does it take time to find and retrieve paper documents, but unless they are appropriately organized and labeled, it can be impossible.
Even if the paper is filed onsite, it can take hours to find the right folder and then more time to find the document in the file. Scanning directly to a document management system makes search and retrieval almost instantaneous.
However, there is one critical element that is often overlooked: scanning a document only creates an image of it; the process is akin to taking a photograph. If the documents are labeled and named properly, finding them will still be easier than with a paper process. But the key to unlocking all the power in a database solution is making those documents searchable. And this requires optical character recognition.
Once optical character recognition is applied, a scan is actually worth more than the piece of paper in the first place. All the language in scanned-and-OCR’d documents—not just the titles—are easily searchable by content, which makes the document easy to find. OCR also delivers value by making copies of files editable, allowing for reuse of key clauses and other language for updated versions or future similar documents.
Many firms, however, do not ensure all scans are OCR’d by allowing different processes based on who and where the documents are scanned. For example, documents scanned by the facilities management team in the copy center may be automatically OCR’d, but scans made by attorneys at their desktops may not be. And while some firms have automated tools that crawl their DMS and OCR the documents, these tools do not work on all systems. That is why best practices dictate uniform scanning throughout the firm, with all devices using the same workflows and interfaces to ensure that documents are processed into the proper file format, OCR’d, and routed correctly to the proper location in a document management system.
While intuition may suggest that paper documents are more secure than electronic ones, the opposite is usually true. While documents stored offsite are generally safe (though time-consuming and expensive to retrieve), documents stored in an office are at risk. Physical facilities may not provide the protection from prying eyes that they should, despite access cards and ID checks. Once guests gain entry to the office suite, it is easy for them to find, view (and with today’s smart phones), photograph, or even steal sensitive documents.
There is also the matter of paper files being removed from the office, and then misplaced. (They are often left in airplane seatbacks, taxis, and hotel rooms). Because they are not password protected or encrypted, and cannot be wiped remotely, once they are found they can be read and distributed.
Finally, and unfortunately, we seem to be learning over and over again that disasters happen. Many firms have lost paper files recently in fires, hurricanes, floods, and even terrorist attacks. Electronic files backed up offsite or “in the cloud” can easily be restored, while paper documents kept on site are typically gone forever.
While lawyers tend to be document hoarders by nature, there is no reason to keep a document if it cannot be found and retrieved. And while some paper documents are required to be kept by law or regulation, if those documents must be produced judges are regulators tend to not be too receptive to an argument that, “We have it around here somewhere.” Kept document can be found if necessary. They also must be dealt with efficiently and remain safe from disasters. These three reasons, in addition to the cost savings from real estate and storage, provide the rationale for a uniform scanning process that results in less paper.