Are you considering running a paperless office, or transitioning from a semi-paperless office to a full-blown virtual paperless office? I will share with you how to start, and what you will need in order to convert the cabinet upon cabinet of folders full of paper I know law offices store,, into a virtual, organized and paperless file system.
First, it may not be as easy of a task as you may think, and you most likely will not be able to go completely paperless, and…it is possible you may need to purchase various equipment you may not have in the office to accomplish the task. Let’s break down what you will need to do to convert your office into a paperless office.
The first task will be making sure that you have the proper equipment. You will need a good scanner, and the type of scanner you purchase, whether it be a stand alone scanner or an all in one printer scanner, will depend on the amount of paper each day you tend to scan. If you generally have large volumes of paper going through your office in one day, you will be better off purchasing a stand alone scanner that can process large amounts of scanned pages in a short amount of time. Otherwise, you may get by with an all in one printer, but make sure you purchase one that will scan at least 25 pages or more at a time through the feeder.
An online fax machine is a necessity as well when going paperless. It is best to encourage clients and others you communicate with to fax correspondence, pleadings, and all other communications to your online fax number, which will then be sent to you via email as an attachment, most likely in a pdf format. So, then half your work is done; you don’t have to scan it.
Here are some suggested online fax companies that I have used in the past with other attorneys, and would recommend any of these for your paperless law office.
- Pam Fax – Pam Fax has no monthly costs or ads, you receive a free fax number, and if you have the following online collaboration programs (which we will get into in more detail later), Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or SkyDrive, you can send and receive your faxes directly to and from them. They offer a three-tier plan, one is sure to meet your needs.
- MetroFax – Metrofax offers a 30 day Free trial and a plan that starts at $7.95 per month. You can receive a dedicated local or toll-free fax number.
- Ring Central – Ring Central offers a variety of other online services other than faxing. It is also a dedicated online VOIP system, so you can send and receive telephone calls via the internet. They are a bit pricier, but you will have a full online communication system, including fax, phone, auto receptionist, conferencing capabilities and more. They do offer a free trial.
Software Needed For a Seamless Transition
Ok, now that we have run through the equipment, you will need to run a paperless law office, we will now need to talk a bit about the importance of the proper software needed to seamlessly convert your paper law office into a paperless law office.
First, I suggest that you either set up a server for your office, but better yet, I suggest you get into the Cloud online and use either Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or SkyDrive to store your client files and all that paper you are about to convert into a pdf. Now, the biggest question I get when speaking with attorneys about collaboration and file sharing software, such as those I just mentioned, is “Are these programs secure?” We all know it is essential that client files are kept secure and out of the hands of individuals not privy to the information contained in client files. Security on all of these programs have come a long way in the past several years. I use all four of the above-mentioned programs with attorneys that I provide contract / freelance paralegal work for, and I would recommend any of these programs for file sharing and file storage. My favorite though is Dropbox. Dropbox is the most seamless, and most secure of the four, as far as I am concerned, and most of the attorneys I provide paralegal services for use Dropbox. All four of the options I have mentioned can be accessed online, or you can download a small program so that the documents are accessible right from your desktop explorer function. They all have apps for Ipads and Iphones as well. You can virtually access all your files from anywhere you are.
The next essential piece of software you will need is Adobe Acrobat (not the reader). You will need the full professional version of Adobe Acrobat. The reader will only allow you to read documents. With the full professional version, you can do so much more like create comments on your pdfs, exhibits, convert pdfs to OCR for searching, and copy & past functions and more. If you are looking to simply convert Microsoft Word or WordPerfect files to a .pdf format, there is a neat little program that is free for download and use, and I use this program all the time. It is PrimoPDF.
Considering How Much Current Paper You Want to Convert
Ok, this is a big question for most attorneys. The majority tend to keep their closed files for up to seven years. That’s a lot of paper. So, first question should be how far back you want to go when converting your paper files to a paperless file system. If you consider the amount of paper that accumulated over the seven years, you may be looking at a very costly expense to convert to paperless. You may want to consider only converting the last year of closed files and all of your current client files to paperless to cut costs. It’s up to you.
You have your equipment and the necessary software, now what? First, get your entire staff on board, and make a plan on how you will be tackling the initial task of converting the paper you have, but also a plan on how you will keep the paperless trend going when you receive day-to-day paper documents.
My suggestion for the later would be that your law office have a designated person who will open the daily mail, immediately scan it, file it in the appropriate client folders and email a copy of the scanned pdf to your inbox or an email address specifically set up for incoming daily mail.
Using dictation to advise your staff of tasks you request of them, or drafting your documents, is also a good idea to utilize in a paperless office. This way you will use less paper to jot down these requests to give to your staff to perform. If your staff does not have a physical pedal style transcription equipment, free software can be downloaded from NCH Software called Express Scribe, and your staff’s computer keyboard is used for all the functions, i.e. stop, start, rewind, ect. I use this on almost a daily basis with numerous attorneys I provide contract / freelance paralegal services to and it is very easy to use.
Other Office Solutions to Consider
When you go paperless, you also run the risk of losing your important information if your computer or server breaks down. One solution to this problem is using one of the four Cloud programs mentioned earlier. Each one of these programs automatically back up your documents by a syncing feature. When you update a document on your computer in one of the Cloud folders, it will sync to your online account. But, I recommend you do not stop there. I believe it is important to also use an online backup service such as Carbonite. I can tell you that backing up my files to Carbonite has saved me from losing my files at least four times in the past three years that I have used Carbonite. Another option for online backup is Mozy. I would recommend either of the two of these backup solutions.
Consider how much paper we consume each day. By going paperless, we are contributing to the ongoing beauty of our planet by cutting down on wasted paper products.
Photograph brought to you by: anpac.com