By Bob Nine, Account Executive | Upland Software
It’s the dawning of a new decade, so WHY are so many legal professionals still pushing paper? It’s so 20th century. And to be frank, it’s so risky. Over the years, I’ve worked with enough firms to see firsthand the many benefits of replacing old paper-based processes with forward-thinking tech solutions. Going digital boosts productivity, increases billable hours, and ensures your clients’ data is safely stored and managed in the firm’s document management system (DMS). Let’s look into a few practices that need to be retired to ensure success in our digital era.
1. Old-School Paper Records Storage
Let’s start with the basics: how much is your firm spending to store closed matter records? What is the fate of paper records once you’ve purged them for Information Governance (IG) purposes? How about billable time lost waiting for documents to arrive from storage? How are you handling all the records clutter in hallways, conference rooms, and attorney’s offices?
To remain competitive and boost efficiency, law firms are updating processes by taking paper records digital. The first steps can seem daunting, but in the end, a top-down initiative results in immediate cost savings, the elimination of thousands of feet of storage space, instant access to
critical case files, increased billable hours, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing your clients’ data is safely stored and managed in the firm’s DMS. That’s a huge win.
Something to consider: how could an updated, digital approach to records storage help your firm stay competitive in a continually fast-paced, tech-reliant business landscape?
2. Paper Mail Delivery
Across the globe, law firms face a similar challenge: finding modern solutions to update processes, increase efficiency, and end the paper chase. One place to start on the “paper light” transition is at the document gateway by taking mailroom processing digital.
Most legal firms rely on the mailroom to handle items that arrive via USPS, FedEx, UPS, or couriers. The challenge is ensuring timely delivery of these items, and that’s where many firms hit a communications snag: mail still comes in, but there’s no way to magically get it to attorneys and staff working in various offices or from remote locations. The dilemma is solved if your firm’s mailroom is digital, which means attorneys and staff can access their physical mail anywhere, just like accessing an email.
Here are a few of the significant benefits of a digital mailroom strategy:
- Gives Attorneys Immediate Access
Documents and critical correspondence are available to attorneys and staff in a format accessible from anywhere, on any device. Accessibility equals efficiency in this case.
- Boosts Productivity and Accelerates Billing
Collaborative access, efficient organization, and security are the primary reasons why firms overwhelmingly rely on document management systems (DMSs). If content goes straight from the mailroom to the DMS, that means less non-billable time spent chasing down paper. Faster access equals more responsive client engagements.
- Increases Security
Implementing smart digital processes to deliver content to the firm’s DMS boosts security measures while making documents more trackable and accessible in one fell swoop. A quick side note – adding digital fax to the mailroom upgrade strategy is also part of the equation since digital fax generally includes features to ensure data security during transmission.
- Business Continuity
Digitizing mailroom processes isn’t just about convenience; it’s critical in an increasingly remote work era. You can’t foresee a situation where attorneys and staff may be required to work from home or offsite, and client engagement and billings must continue smoothly. A digitized mailroom ensures that your service to clients won’t fall short, and they will notice and appreciate the difference.
In the end, the benefits of digitizing mailroom processes boil down to allowing the attorneys to focus more time directly on client-related billable activities rather than tedious and frustrating paper processes. And this transformation results in an improved client experience.
3. Separating Digital Matter Transformation and Paper-Based IG
If your firm is starting an IG endeavor or wants to improve its framework, then digital matter
transformation is the single most effective step to ensure success. As your firm considers a shift to digital matters, you must consider how these workflows dovetail with IG.
Combining the “preparing records for scanning” process with the “preparing records for IG purge” process makes sense. Why go through this paper preparation effort twice? It’s a small step to combine the physical handling of documents for digital records purposes by preparing the physical file for IG purge and retention.
4. IG Assessment of Paper Documents
Paper-based IG workflow reinforces paper-process inefficiencies, raising staff frustration and creating obstacles to effective and successful IG. Paper records flagged for IG action must first be found and pulled from storage. Then IG staff and attorneys must physically handle the content to assess it, which means office space begins to clutter with folder pockets, binders, and banker boxes waiting for processing. The bottom line is that paper-based IG can get messy, and it is very inconvenient for attorneys and IG staff.
Access to these flagged documents as digital content provides a much more efficient workflow for staff assessment. Immediate access from the firm’s DMS, paired with transparent document navigation from text-searchability, makes it much easier for IG staff and attorneys to handle the documents that pop up for retention review. This strategy is a dramatic process improvement compared to waiting for paper documents delivered from offsite storage or retrieved from multiple onsite locations. Not to mention that you can implement the best IG content security practices once all content is digital and resides in a controllable repository like the firm’s DMS.
Digital matter transformation – including digital records – dramatically increases the firm’s digital footprint, which means its IG content security framework is that much more robust. I recommend taking the digitization process on all at once: purge (and profile) and prepare records for scanning simultaneously. Your firm will realize dramatic operational improvements from both digital records and digital IG.
5. A “Scan Without a Plan” Culture
Even when a law firm already has document scanning taking place, without a strategy for those scanned materials, what’s the point? Case in point: scan-to-email. Although, on the surface, it seems there’s nothing wrong with capturing and sending a document directly to an individual’s inbox, there are limitations – and security concerns – that a more targeted scan strategy, like scan to DMS, can address.
Some users scan-to-email and store files in their Outlook sidebar folders or on their local desktop storage, among other locations. This method raises a vital issue – who can easily find and access these files? Scan-to-email is only useful if the firm has an enforceable workflow that ensures that the image flows directly from an email into the DMS, which is rarely a consistent, universal practice.
A firm’s DMS provides a convenient and secure platform for collaboration among colleagues and team members. Matter management goes much more smoothly and efficiently if all the relevant content and data are fully accessible. If relevant matter content is not convenient to access, then it typically has to be tracked down – which is inefficient at the least and a mad scramble at its worst. The reality of scan-to-email can also cause headaches for records staff and IG teams.
Firms can ensure a more reliable scan-to-DMS strategy by implementing practices to make scanning to the DMS is just as easy as scanning to email. Suppose the matter content resides in the DMS, where it can be easily accessed. In that case, the practice group operates much more productively, which ultimately means that more activity can be devoted to billable tasks.
6. Building Digital Records for Closed Cases
Another advantage of a well-controlled, easily adoptable scan-to-DMS initiative is that your firm can build an electronic or digital record along the way. By automatically building a record, the practice group staff has instant, complete access to sets of content to create the final document of record for closed matters.
Suppose the firm assigns responsibility to the records or IG team to create the digital record for a closed matter. In that case, all necessary matter content is available to build the document of record and assess it for retention or destruction. Any remaining paper content can also easily be scanned and merged into existing digital records. Paper versions of the retained documents can be efficiently destroyed or packaged for offsite storage.
The key to success here is a consistent process in creating digital files to ensure that relevant matter content is visible and in reach. Suppose the records assembly or IG team can’t track down important content because it was initially organized into a location outside the DMS. In that case, the firm ends up with an incomplete record. A more effective scan culture will help business run more smoothly and position the firm for digital matter transformation success across all disciplines: convenience scanning, digital records, and digital IG.
7. Ignoring the Importance of Business Continuity
Historically, digitization has been considered a “convenience” or additional cost-saving activity. However, Digital Transformation has not generally been a component of a comprehensive business continuity plan. Until recently.
Digital matter transformation must be a part of every law firm’s business continuity and workplace enhancement plans moving forward. Law firms that can quickly adapt with substantial technology investments are well prepared for our current work environment’s reality. Firms that can’t adjust are behind the curve, and their business will suffer due to the oversight. It’s just that simple.
Let’s Wrap It Up
It’s not just about going “paper light” anymore. An increasingly mobile, remote working environment demands a shift from paper-based document handling to digital capture, access, and collaboration. When accessibility is an issue, or productivity and wasted billable hours become an issue, business suffers. But more importantly, the firm’s ability to efficiently respond to the client’s needs is compromised.
In this new digital era of business, clients notice when a firm has a robust digital matter footprint, and they appreciate faster response times and resiliency. A digital strategy leads to higher client satisfaction in addition to other productivity and operational benefits.
Creating a workable strategy to achieve digital matter transformation must be a part of every law firm’s business continuity and workplace enhancement plans moving forward. The time is now. Reach out to request a demo to see firsthand how Upland can help your firm get moving.
Bob Nine is an Account Executive for Upland Software and has spent more than ten years finding top-tier technology solutions for legal professionals.