Walk into any law firm, from small solo practitioners to the global behemoths and the one thing they all have in common is paper. Paper is synonymous with legal work. From single sheets strewn across desks to boxes filled with old documents, minute books covering up entire walls to fresh reams neatly stored under photocopy machines, paper is everywhere. Seemingly, the more paper lying around, the busier the law firm.
But in reality, paper is more of a burden than an asset. Paper takes up space, and space has a price. Holding on to paper documents on behalf of clients often costs law firms more money than they think. A square foot in downtown Toronto can range anywhere from $35-$65. Minute books and closing binders are great examples of unnecessary, burdensome and costly paper storage.
Paper documentation is also inefficient. Sheets always need to be printed and often get lost. One sheet is negligible, but producing thousands of sheets daily adds-up. This is exactly the sort of thing clients are pressuring law firms to strike from their bills.
Moving forward, try and use less paper. Test and utilize the many available tools and technologies. Simple.
But what about the documents already printed, those large binders stuffed with documents? Law firms, either internally or with the help of third parties, have begun scanning mountains of paper documents and transferring electronic versions to internal servers or cloud-based systems. While not a bad starting point, the value-added is minimal. Digitizing every document to sit in a computer file is no different from cleaning your house by moving all the clutter from the living room to the dining room. The mess still exists in a big way and absent an organization structure, there is no added efficiency.
Before you start digitizing, here are a few pieces of advice:
1. Plan Before You Scan: Map out how you will access the documented information. Which platform will you be using and where will the information be stored? How will users interact with the platform? Have you canvassed users (lawyers, clerks, clients etc…) on their preferences for accessing the information?
2. Scanning Can be Pricy and Tedious, But Necessary: Scanning a single document is easy. Scanning hundreds of thousands of documents is not. Hiring third party scanning professionals who have experience digitizing the materials is a worthwhile investment. For added security, always use third parties who will work on-site.
3. Utilize and Optimize the Data: Don’t just store the information, use it. Artificial intelligence systems can parse out information from the scanned documents. Most law firms are unaware of the treasure trove of information they are sitting on, which can be optimized for everything from document automation to predicting negotiation outcomes.