3 Tips for Controlling Incoming Documents in a Paperless Law Firm

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By: The NBI Team

Monday, August 17, 2020

3 Tips for Controlling Incoming Documents in a Paperless Law Firm

The so-called “paperless office” has been the talk of the legal field for several years now. In theory, this concept results in a fully digitized office that reduces waste, cuts down on needed office space, and provides for streamlined document retrieval.

However, a poorly designed paperless law firm will only result in more printing. The following tips can help paperless law firms control their incoming documents and avoid waste, errors, and malpractice claims.

1. Protect Your Inbox

With paperless law firms, the inbox is where every document enters the firm. Firms that fail to ensure every document is secured digitally before it leaves the inbox are bound to suffer the consequences in the future. Lost correspondence can result in missed court deadlines or important inquiries from a client. No attorney wants to explain to their client that a document scanning error resulted in their failure to respond to a motion to summary judgment.

Immediately scanning every document when it reaches the inbox before any other steps are taken is a firm’s best bet for protecting its files. Outside of a few original documents that must be kept, this inbox policy ensures an accurate file and a successful transition to the paperless office.

2. Select an Organization Strategy, and Stick With It

Immediately scanning every document is a vital step, but the value of these digitized records is lost if they are impossible to retrieve. That makes it vital to not only develop a system for organizing these files but also to ensure staff members follow the system to the letter.

The most important aspect of organization is arguably the file naming structure. Every firm approaches this differently – some firms sort their files by unique file numbers, while others go by their client names. Regardless of the specific system, what is important is that every firm selects a naming convention and uses it uniformly.

For many firms, proper file naming is enough to ensure the safe storage use of scanned documents. However, it is also helpful to adopt and maintain a careful system for storing these documents. Instead of dumping every digital document into a single folder, it can be easier for attorneys to find what they need by organizing documents in digital folders by type or by client.

Finally, the software law firms rely on will also play an important role in the process. One especially useful feature is the ability to index and search documents after scanning. Some solutions allow attorneys to search keywords against thousands of pages in a matter of seconds. Firms that prefer a streamlined approach could opt for software that does little more than quickly scan every piece of incoming mail. Other systems have far more options, including the ability to convert correspondence into readable text and allow for more advanced keyword searching techniques. Some of these systems make sharing documents to authorized users via fax or email simple. This feature can drastically reduce preparation time for conference calls or depositions.

3. Take Care of the Originals

Information security is vital to every law firm. Attorneys not only handle the specifics of sensitive litigation and/or business transactions, but they also maintain clients' personal information. As attorney Kristina T. Larry of Sassy Litigations, LLC explains in the NBI course The Paperless Office: Dealing with Incoming Documents, the job of maintaining a paperless law firm does not end with the scanning of every document.

Every firm should not only have a written process for document intake, but they should also have a system for destroying originals after scanning is complete. The goal of this system is to avoid paper copies from getting lost in the shuffle. By ensuring every document is immediately scanned, the process of destroying them once they have been digitized is simplified.

There are undoubtedly exceptions to these broad policies. Some original documents must be kept in physical form, while others will need to be mailed to the client for execution. A law firm’s paperless workflow should also provide for a system of tracking these documents.

Controlling incoming documents is only one part of maintaining a paperless law firm. The NBI Course Catalog has a variety of other helpful courses that can help attorneys get the most out of their paperless practice.

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This blog post is for general informative purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or a solicitation to provide legal services. You should consult with an attorney before you rely on this information. While we attempted to ensure accuracy, completeness and timeliness, we assume no responsibility for this post’s accuracy, completeness or timeliness.

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