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Saturday, May 12, 2007

More first-hand testimony on going paperless...

Saw another good blurb from Technolawyer about a lawyer's experience and "how to" of going paperless. Can you afford NOT to be paperless?

TechnoLawyer publisher Neil Squillante asks:"Is it possible to go paperless without adding anyone to your payroll? Who does the scanning and how much more time does it take than the old method of filing paper?"

Enrico Schaefer responded:"Yes, going digital allows you to be more efficient. But it also allows you to handle more clients in a day, drastically reduce turn-around time and improve overall quality. You will find that, if done properly, paperless offers market opportunities which justify adding staff."

After reading Mr. Schaefer's comments about a paperless workflow, I note that my experience regarding staff requirements has been significantly different than his. I've been practicing law for more than twenty years, with experience as a government trial lawyer, head of the litigation department in a medium-size law firm with a full complement of associates, paralegals, and legal secretaries, and for the last four plus years as a solo practitioner/small firm lawyer with a very active litigation practice. Adopting a paperless operation has enabled me to maintain and expand my practice with far less staff support than would ever be possible in a typical law office.

In a paper driven practice, a large part of a legal secretary's day is spent in file organization and maintenance. The documents come in, are delivered to the attorney, retrieved from the attorney, and filed for the attorney. If more than one attorney wants to review the documents, numerous trees are sacrificed at the alter of the photocopier. Pleadings and discovery are received, reviewed, retrieved, indexed, and filed. The same documents are often retrieved, reviewed, and refiled on multiple occasions. The same is true for correspondence, bills, invoices, etc., etc. The bane of a legal secretary's existence is filing — I never knew a secretary who didn't hate it. In addition to all of this, of course, is the inevitable misfiling of documents and the numerous search operations required to find the file that just isn't where it is supposed to be, or that is buried on someone's desk.

A well designed document management system in a paperless environment eliminates all of this. In my current practice, one secretary serves three attorneys. When the mail arrives, she scans it in to the appropriate location on the network, then delivers the paper mail to the appropriate attorney. After the mail is read, it is thrown away, not returned to the secretary and not placed in a paper file. All outgoing documents are saved as pdf's — no photocopies are made or maintained (we do keep originals of some documents, such as affidavits and verification pages on interrogatory responses). We do not have file cabinets full of documents, do not need storage units for closed files, and we spend almost no time searching for misplaced paper.

Though the secretary spends time scanning the documents into the document management system, she spends no time on filing or managing paper files.Though I admittedly have not done an empirical study of the differences in staff support required by a paperless operation versus the standard way of practicing, my prior experience tells me that the paperless operation has reduced the administrative support requirement in my practice by better than fifty percent. This might be different in a transactional practice, but in a litigation environment where paper flies like snow in the arctic, a paperless practice allows me to compete with much larger firms and keep my administrative overhead to a minimum.

David N. Ventker
Ventker & Warman, PLLC
101 West Main Street, Suite 810
Norfolk, VA 23510
E: dventker@ventkerlaw.com


At 10:22 AM, Blogger David Wright said...


I would like to ask if you are using a purchased system to manage the scanned documents. I work in software and may be getting involved in this kind of system, so anything you are willing to say about such a system would be a help to me.

At 11:33 AM, Blogger docs2digital said...

Hi, wonderfully written blog. I have a small Document Management company that serves a few Legal Firms. The exact things that you state here are what my soap box is all about. I do want to make one other point tho....SECURITY... I don’t know what you are using to manage these docs but having a system that is very secure is critical. Think of the possibilities...disgruntled secretary, Attorney that knows they are about to be let go.. I see quite a few "homegrown" systems that actually work fairly well. However they do nothing to lock down the files and restrict and track access. Be very careful here the pain can be great...I've seen it first hand.


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