Do as Google does

The goal of becoming a truly “paperless” law firm is one than most operations can achieve, but it’s also one that may seem so laudable as to be out of reach, according to two document-management evangelists speaking at the ABA TechShow Thursday morning.

A less daunting goal — and one that most law firms readily embrace — is to make the practice not so paper intensive, said Richard Serpe, a Norfolk, Va., plaintiff lawyer who has maintained a paperless practice since hanging out his own shingle three years ago.

Coming from a large law firm where he headed the IT committee, Serpe decided against buying a single filing cabinet when he opened shop in 2007, he said. So when paper does land in the mailbox or from a messenger, someone fires up a scanner to digitize the document.

The original then goes to the shredder, Serpe said.

But doing without paper is not simply a matter of scanning paper files and saving them along with email and other computer-generated files on a hard drive.

As Serpe and fellow presenter Steven Best of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Best Law Firm Solutions Inc. explained, the linchpin is a robust document-management system designed specifically for storing, sorting and indexing all manner of digital files, from the usual word-based documents like letters and transcripts to photographs and voice mail messages.

The advantage of this approach, Best stressed, is not so much doing without paper as turning over the work to a “butler who is there to serve you so you can find files later on.”

The initial cost of a document-management system may seem high — both in terms of actual dollars for the software and the added time when entering each new item into the DMS — the dividends are paid when a lawyer needs to retrieve a contract, say, that handled a matter in a particular way — five years and 50 deals later.

The usual work flow when a document is received starts with completing a profile of the file, Best explained. The profile form is pulled up on a computer. A series of menus and checkboxes characterize the file. Criteria such as author, client matter and originating source may be entered, Best noted.

Then the DMS does the rest, holding the document and indexing its contents for later retrieval, he added.

Thus, a DMS is like having Google inside your law firm, the two said. Everything gets cataloged and everything becomes searchable.

But as much as a DMS lets a firm do without paper, lawyers and support staff first have to surrender the filing cabinets and folders — as well as the analogous folder structure of a PC, the two said.

Instead, they have to let the DMS decide where an item goes and be content that the butler did it.

~ by CDLB on March 25, 2010.

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