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

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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.

4. What do you do after you’ve scanned a document?

When you eliminate paper you’ve also lost a key part of most traditional workflow systems. Many firms depend on paper moving from desk to desk to trigger processes like docketing, follow-ups and analysis.

I recommend you train the person scanning the document to take these three steps after the document is scanned. I call it the 3 Ps:

Put - Put the scanned image in the right place.

Pass - Pass the file (or a link to it or note about it) to someone who needs it or who will decide what needs to be done next.
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Post - Post a record in a docketing system, calendar, bookkeeping database or action list.

5. What to do with the paper you already have

You may be tempted to start your paperless project by scanning your archives’ files. I suggest you wait until after you have refined your system and know more about how you really want it to work.

There are service bureaus that specialize in high-speed scanning you can employ to get rid of really large piles of paper. Alternatively, you can hire temps or conscript your kids to help.

The key is to make sure the files get named accurately and stored properly.•

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Kim Brand is a technology expert, author and president of Computer Experts, Inc. In addition to the Indiana Lawyer, he writes for West Publishing, the ILTA and the IL Bar Association. Kim also contributed to the ‘On-Premises’ section of the recently released ILTSO.org legal technical standards and he is the inventor of the FileSafe Server used by many law firms. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
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  1. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  2. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  3. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

  4. If it were your child that died maybe you'd be more understanding. Most of us don't have graves to visit. My son was killed on a state road and I will be putting up a memorial where he died. It gives us a sense of peace to be at the location he took his last breath. Some people should be more understanding of that.

  5. Can we please take notice of the connection between the declining state of families across the United States and the RISE OF CPS INVOLVEMENT??? They call themselves "advocates" for "children's rights", however, statistics show those children whom are taken from, even NEGLIGENT homes are LESS likely to become successful, independent adults!!! Not to mention the undeniable lack of respect and lack of responsibility of the children being raised today vs the way we were raised 20 years ago, when families still existed. I was born in 1981 and I didn't even ever hear the term "CPS", in fact, I didn't even know they existed until about ten years ago... Now our children have disagreements between friends and they actually THREATEN EACH OTHER WITH, "I'll call CPS" or "I'll have [my parent] (usually singular) call CPS"!!!! And the truth is, no parent is perfect and we all have flaws and make mistakes, but it is RIGHTFULLY OURS - BY THE CONSTITUTION OF THIS GREAT NATION - to be imperfect. Let's take a good look at what kind of parenting those that are stealing our children are doing, what kind of adults are they producing? WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO THE CHILDREN THAT HAVE BEEN RIPPED FROM THEIR FAMILY AND THAT CHILD'S SUCCESS - or otherwise - AS AN ADULT.....

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