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Start Page: Going paperless doesn't have to be painful

May 9, 2012

Kim BrandYou promised your-self this would be the year you went “paperless.” The year is half over. How’s that working out for you?

Paper has some wonderful advantages: It’s cheap, portable and sturdy. What’s not to love? It’s also bulky, non-searchable and difficult to share. Many strategies that aim to reduce your dependence on paper trade “familiar and simple” for “complex and powerful.” When you add “costly” to “going paperless,” many plans get derailed.

Going paperless is not document management

For the firm that is just starting down the paperless path, adopting a full-on document management system can be daunting. DM includes systems that manage workflow, routing, permissions, retention policies and indexing. Typical programs cost thousands of dollars and may take days away from work for training. They can be the information backbone of a large firm or simply back-breaking for the solo with a small staff.

Our experience is that going paperless doesn’t have to be painful. Here are some practical tips to propel your paperless plans into unparalleled productivity.
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1. Refine your current computer filing system

Most firms have a decent computer filing system – but going paperless means adding a lot more files. Create template folder structures with place-holders for folder names and simply copy and paste those structures to kick-start new clients or matters. This method is efficient and guarantees consistency.

Create naming rules that make it easy to search for a file. A simple scheme that includes the type of document, version, party, etc. is best. Don’t be terse – names of files and folders can be two dozen characters or more.

You’ll find some great examples in this American Bar Association article from “Law Practice Today.” http://bit.ly/FolderTemplate

2. Stop the paper before it multiplies and spreads

Identify choke points where paper enters your business, and create procedures to eliminate it as quickly as possible. Scan documents when and where you open the mail on a fast, two-sided (duplex) scanner that sits on your desk. Good ones cost about $500. The Fujitsu Scan Snap S1500 includes Adobe Acrobat Standard.

Communicate your paperless preference to business partners, vendors and colleagues. You may find they have great ideas you can use.
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Subscribe to a service – or buy a system – that converts incoming faxes to PDFs and delivers them via email attachments. Then detach the PDFs and store them in the appropriate place.

3. Think data safety

The compliment to a good scanner is a great shredder! But that takes courage unless you have a reliable backup system. I recommend a dedicated file server, daily local and offsite backups and regular monitoring by a competent professional. Digital backup and disaster recovery systems are as much a part of a paperless office as a scanner.

As a backstop, you should keep documents organized chronologically for at least the time it takes to be sure their scanned versions have been protected by backups.

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