In the last few years, law firms worldwide have faced a similar challenge: finding modern solutions to update processes, increase efficiency, and improve the client experience.
After all, even today law firms remain buried under mountains of case-related paper. Take a look at your stuffed filing cabinets, bulging file rooms, and rogue banker boxes stacked around your offices. But let’s add a new challenge to the conversation: how to grant access to critical paper matter content to enable staff working away from the office. It’s well established at this point that a remote-hybrid work reality is here to stay, and many staff and attorneys will continue to work remotely. That means that firms must update practices so that all staff have easy access to onsite or offsite records content from anywhere.
Start by taking a look at onsite and day-forward records content in terms of making a “paper light” digital matter transformation. Installing modern digital processes can make the most impact to reduce staff burden, reduce non-billable hours, and connect your attorneys with the content they need to provide a better level of service for your clients.
Now is the time to eliminate endless paper records storage.
In the past, we’ve been accustomed to near-at-hand access to paper records documents residing in file cabinets and file rooms (not to mention banker boxes and redwells stored pretty much anywhere there’s room). Providing easy access to necessary matter content will present a challenge for remote workers: the best-case scenario, the attorney may only have access when in the office. Worst case, they don’t have much access at all. In the end, what suffers? Performance on behalf of the client? Billable hours spent in between home and office gathering documents? Billable hours spent directing limited onsite staff to retrieve, scan, and send relevant content?
Ouch. None of these outcomes paint a pretty picture.
The next decade of work will likely find law firms remodeling office space to create “hotel” style work areas to accommodate a reduced onsite employee footprint. Cabinet and file room storage is costly Class A real estate, which means that in this new era, there will likely be a reduction in square footage available for onsite document storage.
Where to start? The Accessibility Gap.
Records scanning is no small investment. We recommend creating a strategy that can minimize the cost by balancing the demands of each step in the records scanning workflow to streamline the process and eliminate traditional labor bottlenecks.
Here’s some guidance that is a result of my experience working with many firms as they modernize their records storage processes:
1. Choose an Access Point for Digital Records
Where’s the best place for attorneys to remotely access digital files? Overwhelmingly, firms choose the document management system (DMS). There are various best practice schemas for storing the records images under the client or matter. Still, in short, the strategy should focus on making it as easy as possible for the attorneys to find and navigate to relevant content.
2. Start with the Most Accessed Content
If your firm’s most-accessed content is in file cabinets or records rooms, start the transition to digital records there. Some firms choose to have the records staff take full responsibility from start to finish. Some firms have dedicated teams for each step in the conversion. Whatever your method, encourage staff to organize and pre-profile the records content before it is scanned. Prepared records packages create a streamlined, easy-to-follow process for staff to convert records to a digital format accurately.
Your firm’s solution should also include an image quality control step in between the document scan phase and delivery to the records repository phase to ensure that every digital image is a clear, accurate version of the source paper document.
3. Make It Easy To Profile Content and Minimize Scanning Time
A smart practice is to scan records content at the folder level. The contents of each folder will be a single, text-searchable PDF image, typically with a file name that matches the folder description. This is a reasonable compromise between the time required to profile and scan documents and the ease with which attorneys can find the specific content.
A next-level practice includes using barcoded records tracking identifiers for each folder if the firm uses a records tracking system. Find a solution that can read these barcodes, then retrieves properties from the records tracking system and automatically profiles the record scan for insertion into the DMS (thereby eliminating the manual profiling step).
What about day-forward digital records?
Transitioning new records to digital may take a different form than converting closed matter records. The firm can choose from several best practices when creating digital records for newly closed matters. Each firm and practice group needs the latitude to establish a process that works for the specific needs of the firm or individual practice group. As a firm, be sure to analyze short and long terms goals to determine the best method for day-forward digital records.
What about digital records and Information Governance?
Both the IG and records workflows are hands-on processes, and reducing the amount of time in the process can have significant productivity benefits. Law firms that have implemented an IG policy and a records review process find that moving to digital records consequently streamlines the IG workflow at the same time. First, they can combine the process of records preparation, IG assessment, and records purging so that the final record package to be scanned will get both records and IG attention. Once a closed matter is entirely digitized, the IG staff can easily classify digital files for retention. One tidy package – and a huge productivity boost.
Wrapping it up
Digitizing records pays many dividends to law firms: reduced record storage costs, less time wasted chasing documents across the firm’s records storage landscape, less attorney frustration over lack of access, and the elimination of records retention headaches.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to digital records. The key to a successful transition is to first plan through the preparation and scan workflow to find a process that works best for your firm. Once the workflow is defined, the next step is creating a “profile schema” to define the actual arrangement of the records images stored in the firm’s DMS that facilitates attorney access. Firms can develop their own strategy with defined steps to keep the transformation moving – or find an outside best practices consultancy to help create a workable strategy.
Legal professionals know that case-related paper isn’t going anywhere soon. But by creating a digital transformation strategy that focuses on records, you can set your firm on the path to eliminating those overstuffed filing cabinets, bulging file rooms, rogue banker boxes, and accessibility issues. By implementing a comprehensive digital matter transformation plan today, you will benefit your firm and enable a more remote workforce well into the future.