PDF In-Depth

How to (successfully) switch to a paperless practice

May 13, 2010

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In the three years that I've been practicing as a solo lawyer I have been completely paperless. Before that, when I worked in a large firm, I kept the files that I worked on by myself in a completely paperless form. So, when I hear people say that it's impossible to be completely paperless I know that's not true. In addition to my own personal experience, I know several lawyers who have completely paperless law practices.

It's true that some lawyers prefer not to become completely paperless (for various reasons). But, it's not because it would be extremely difficult; it's simply a matter of choice. What seems to be difficult, for many lawyers, is making the first step toward becoming paperless. Typically, a lawyer will buy a scanner, tinker with it, but then hit a small snag and get completely derailed.

Why is that? From my experience, there are a few common problems -- none of which are hard to solve or expensive.

First, it's important to have a strong commitment. But sometimes commitment isn't enough. For example, if the attorney is not technically skilled he or she can quickly run into small problems that seem insurmountable. Getting the right scanner can help you avoid most of the technical snafus that plague most people. That's why I always recommend that people start out by buying the Fujitsu ScanSnap 510 (if you have a Mac get the 510M version).

So, my advice to people who want to start scanning is always to: (1) get a Fujitsu ScanSnap 510, and (2) hire someone to help you set it up and teach you how to use it. The first step is easy (even though many people try to improvise away from it). The second step, though, is the really important one. Because, even folks who buy the ScanSnap sometimes hit snags.

The first snags are about how to set the scanner up.

For example, what resolution setting should you be scanning at? Should you scan everything in color, or should you let the scanner decide whether to scanning color or black-and-white? Or should you force the scanner to always scan in black and white? [Answer: usually, you should scan to black-and-white]

Once you get all the settings tweaked properly, then you face the issue of adopting a new workflow. This is another delicate turning point, which can easily lead to failure. I'll discuss this issue next time, but for now let's review the two key points.

  1. You need an easy to use scanner it's also easy to set up. You need the Fujitsu ScanSnap 510 (if you have a Mac get the 510M version). You need this even if you have a scanner already -- unless you are tech-savvy and highly motivated.
  2. If you are not technically skilled and motivated, then you will need somebody to help you set up the scanner and learn how to use it. (You will also need someone to coach you on how to develop a digital workflow, which is something I'll talk about in the next post).

Who can you hire to help you? Well, I can't say unless you live in New Orleans. If you live here then I'd recommend Becky Diamante. She has helped many small businesses and law firms become paperless. She's not only good at setting up the scanner but also very good at getting people comfortable with using it (in most small businesses this is more important than setting up the scanner).

Becoming paperless isn't hard and it isn't even expensive. But you probably do need some help. You may not need help, but if you do then don't be afraid to get it. It might mean the difference between success and failure.

This piece originally appeared on PDFforLawyers.com, and has been reproduced with permission.

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