By Request – Taking a Firm Completely Electronic

A reader asks:

I am a legal assistant in need of some quick advice. My employer recently asked me to track down a powerful and efficient program that would help take the entire firm electronic- files, client information, discovery. Is there one all-powerful program, or a line-up of key programs, that you would suggest to help take us virtual?

I get asked this question in one form or another on a regular basis.
I always suggest that the questioner take a look at the latest version of Ross Kodner‘s Paper Less Office presentation as the starting point. Let me also say congratulations to Ross on his recent wedding.
I’ve always liked Ross’s emphasis that scanning does not necessarily mean OCR and the presentation and article I link to above will help you understand the different factors that you should consider.
I’ve found that often people are really asking there is a fast, easy and inexpensive way to “go all electronic.”
My personal “quick advice” on getting something workable, simple and inexpensive in place would be to take three steps:
1. Buy an appropriate number of licenses for Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional. And I do mean that you should spend the extra money on the Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional version. This way you’ll use PDF as your standard format. You can scan directly into Acrobat, and it will index your PDF files, optimize file sizes, and let you organize and manage the files. It’s a powerful all-in-one solution. Familiarize yourself with all the features of Acrobat 8 Professional and I think you’ll agree. Note, too, that PDF is becoming a standard in electronic discovery as well as electronic filing.
2.Buy an appropriate number of scanners. This takes some thought. You’ll need to think through your workflow and how “electronic” you really want to get. My general sense is that in most offices an approach with one centralized, high-end (meaning fast and able to scan lengthy docs in a large volume) and a scattering of inexpensive scanners on desktops of the people who will actually use them is a good way to start. Do some research, identify scanners that get good reviews and the features you want. I notice that Ross (and others I know) seem to like the Fujitsu scanners these days. I’ve always been happy with HP scanners.
3. Install a desktop search program that will search networked computers. I like to add the desktop search piece because it adds the search layer to your all-electronic system. Acrobat 8 does a good job on searches, but the desktop search engines are fast, impressive and invaluable. Some are free. Features tend to evolve and change, so you’ll want to check the current feature sets and prices. I believe that currently Copernic Desktop Search (free) , Google Desktop Search (free) and X1 Professional ($50 per license) will search across networked computers. You might already have other search tools on your office network, too. I’ve used Copernic for a long time and am partial to it. I’m wary of Google out of a (perhaps misplaced) concern that my local info will become part of the Google data-mining ecosystem (not a small concern for lawyers with confidential client info).
There are many variations on this theme and you can definitely take more complicated approaches or build upon software (and hardware) you already own (e.g., document management software). Each will involve the three pieces: scanning software, scanner and organization/search tool.
That’s my quick answer to an increasingly common question. I’m interested in hearing reactions and how others might answer this question today.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
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  1. says

    Hi Dennis,
    Our law firm is completely electronic and we have had one year’s experience with all your suggestions. One thing your audience should know is that Adobe Acrobat Professional v8.1 has some compatibility issues with Windows XP. I understand that Windows Vista does not have the same issues with Adobe, but has additional issues with other software.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. says

    Mr. Kennedy:
    Twenty years ago, when I first started to practice, I would ask for the Smith file. A redwell would come to me with every document associated with the Smith case.
    A year or two later I persuaded the firm to let me use a computer at my desk. Eighteen years on and I’m still looking for the electronic version of “bring me the Smith file.”
    We believe we’re finally headed toward that with a move to NetDocs, scheduled for this spring. One of the advantages it has over our current document management system is that it will store nearly any kind of file. For example, we use CaseMap here, but the plug-in that would let us store CaseMap files in our current DM system costs several thousand dollars. Nor can we link documents to CaseMap from our current DM system.
    Thus, the inability (or high cost) of our DM system to store all types of files has been an obstacle to creating an entirely electronic file.
    Our current DM system required us to maintain three servers (all of which would have had to be replaced this year). No servers are needed with the new solution (although maintaining one local server for backup is optional.)
    I think you’ve given good advice here, as usual. Adobe 8 Professional is certainly the way to go. And particular attention needs to be paid to the purchase of scanners, and making sure they allow you to adopt a logical work flow.
    (We’re also looking at new scanners right now, and because NetDocs has an open API, getting scanners to work with the system is much easier. That means we can buy the scanners we want, rather than the only scanners that can be made to work with our current DM.)
    Through NetDocs, we will be able to run boolean queries that will retrieve documents from the Lexis databases, as well as from our own documents. And I haven’t seen it yet, but my understanding is that they have a beta of a Google-type search program.
    If I were starting right now to take an office entirely electronic, I would strongly consider looking at an SaaS document solution like NetDocs. In our case, the cost was a fraction of housing our own DM system, and actually provides more useful features than the in-house DM program.
    Thanks for maintaining this blog. It is a wonderful resource for those of us involved with choosing the technology to implement in our firms.

  3. says

    I wanted to congratulate you on the quality of this blog, and the service it provides. Regarding the all-electronic law firm, from my perspective as a virtual assistant, my solution would be to hire a VA, especially in a small-firm environment, and choosing one who understands your technological goals and imperatives and can also serve as guide and facilitator in the move forward.

  4. says

    My small law firm went 100% paperless in March of 2004. We now have about 50,000 documents in our document management system. If a client calls and I need to review a document, I can find it in a matter of seconds and have it open on my computer monitor. We have personnel in three different locations, but everybody can access any document saved in our system.
    I explain how I did it in my article called “A Simple Inexpensive Way to Create a Paperless Law Office,” which is found here on my website:
    For us, the key components of our paperless office are: Adobe Acrobat 8 standard and Xerox Document 152 or 162 scanners for all computer users and Time Matters as our document management system.
    I’ve never had a need to OCR scanned pdf docs except if I want to convert the text to Word. OCR takes much longer to create and the file sizes can be huge. I don’t see a need for anybody to have Acrobat Pro except for a user who wants to create fillable forms.
    All of our computers use XP Pro and run Acrobat 8.1.1, but I’ve never known anybody in my firm to have a compatibility problem.
    Richard Keyt – 1,100,000+ visitors 2007

  5. says

    This scheme also works very well for small association management.
    Searches can be made much easier if you have a good OCR capability to go with the document scanning. Having to manually enter meta data is nowhere near as good as being able to get plain text from the document itself.
    For manual filing it is very important to have effective nomenclature policies for files and to also have a good file management structure. Being able to tell what a file is by its name and being able to find it in its proper place makes using them much easier.

  6. says

    I enjoyed your post. We are quickly moving to a Paper-LESS Office(tm), including scanning incoming documents with Fujitsu ScanSnap 510 scanners and using Adobe Acrobat Pro 8. While I have been a fan of Desktop Search engines, I have found them quirky at times, and I would not want to rely on Copernic or any other search engine to find documents.
    We are using TimeMatters as our document management system, and it is working extremely well for saving incoming scanned documents, as well as for saving documents that we have created in WordPerfect, TimeMatters or HotDocs.
    Now, when I have a phone conference with a client and the most recent letter is not in the paper file, I don’t run around looking for it. I take 5 seconds to open it in TimeMatters, and avoid the embarrassment and hassle. My staff loves it, too. They immediately saw how it would make their jobs easier, and the changeover was effort-LESS. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
    We set up our office system with the help of MicroLaw, Ross Kodner’s firm, and the system for scanning and saving documents has exceeded our expectations. So has MicroLaw, for that matter.
    Ed Detlie

  7. says

    For a smaller firm or solo wanting to go paperless, I would recommend using a web application. I run my virtual law office on a secure web application, software as a service (SaaS) powered by Virtual Law Office Technology (VLOTech). The web app contains the administrative functions of my law office, such as my invoicing, billing, accounting, client data, and but also has my case files and client homepages where we communicate, upload and download docs, pay online, etc. It has export/import functionality with other software applications on my PC should I need to use it. It’s not for every practice, but it’s secure and easy to work in and I don’t have to have a lot of expensive software updates or hardware, just secure internet access and my pc.
    My thanks to Mr. Kennedy for the valuable information he provides in this blog.