Respect the Process, Part 1: A Paperless Workflow Workshop


When January 2016 hit, we made ready for you 12 reachable New Year’s resolutions -- you know, just in case yours weren’t working out so well . . .

However, as we indicated in that prior post, lasting change doesn’t come from paying attention to your processes one day, or even one month, out of the year.  The highest levels of professionalism and efficiency can only be achieved through the establishment of, and reliance upon, effective processes. The development of processes implicates change on at least two levels: you have to know what tools you need to apply, and you have to know how to apply them.  So, when you are considering building processes for your law firm, it pays to think of that endeavor as if you were building a little house.  The foundation (the tools) come first, and must represent a solid base; the workflows, that you build on top of those tools, however, have to be livable -- you have to be able to work within them on a daily basis, comfortably.  Throughout the course of this short, four-part series, which will address the creation and maintenance of workflows, we’ll give you the tools you need to succeed, and explain how to use them.

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Everybody wants to go paperless; the challenge is how to get there.  Many lawyers get so intimidated, they can’t even take the first steps.  The good news, however, is that getting to a paperless place is a relatively straightforward procedure, and is one that includes more options than you might have anticipated.

Here, basically, is what you need to do:


Get a scanner.

(The kind of scanner depends on your specific requirements.  Solos and lawyers with mobile practices tend to like portable scanners, of which the leading class is the Fujitsu Scansnap.  If you’re scanning a lot, and in an office setting, the more popular choice is a leased, heavy duty printer/scanner/fax.)


Get a PDF conversion tool.

(Scanned documents are only images (literally, pictures of documents), unless they’re OCRed; but, even those documents that are OCRed are still PDFs.  If you want to make meaningful edits (say, out of Microsoft Word), you’ll need a PDF conversion software in order to transition to different document forms.  The Fujistu Scansnap comes pre-loaded with Adobe Acrobat, the best PDF conversion tool on the market; though, cheaper alternatives, like Nuance Power PDF, do exist.)


Get a place to store your scanned documents.

(You’ll need a device to connect to your scanner, wirelessly or otherwise.  Then, you’ll need a place to store your documents, whether that’s a local document folder, a cloud drive or a temporary holding place, from where scanned documents get transitioned to their final destinations.  Wherever you store your documents, back them up.)


Define a folder structure.

(You should have this in place anyway; but, especially now that you’re going to be scanning everything, it makes sense to have a place for everything.  You should use client folders that will include your files; and, you should be utilizing naming conventions for both.  An easy way to get organized is to apply a date first, before you name anything, such that your folders and files will default to chronological order; if you do that, you’ll be able to view the case history in chronological order, at a glance.  Here’s what you’re looking at, e.g.: 2016 01 22 John Doe → 2016 01 22 Engagement Letter.)


Get buy-in.

(You may want to go paperless; but: Do your colleagues?  Does your staff?  If not, things can go south right quick.  So, make sure that you don’t spring any decisions on the people you need to work with; involve everyone who will need to adhere to a new system in the development of that system, or risk nullification.)

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Paperless or virtual?  If you’re not going to see clients in-person, you need to find a way to get their signatures.