Many law firms are making plans to go paperless, and many more are expressing interest in the concept. But not many of these companies are considering how they'll move all those e-papers from person to person-with accountability and without impacting their email systems. Good distribution is the key to unlocking the benefits of a paperless office, yet this make-it-or-break-it factor is often overlooked in the planning process. Someone who is talking about distribution is Robert Rice, President of Rice Software Consulting, LLC, and what he has to say can save countless headaches-along with all those trees.
The old paper shuffle
In a typical office, mail comes to the front desk where it is opened, then it is delivered to the appropriate attorney, gets shuffled around, and is eventually put into a paper file. The file is taken to a file room where it gets taken out, searched, and put back, and then taken out, searched, and put back-over and over as needed. Shuffling all this paper from place to place is expensive in terms of man-hours.
Scanning and emailing documents provides a slight improvement over manual delivery, but it comes with a hidden cost that can get worse over time. The movement of hundreds of new emails-many loaded down with large graphical attachments-can bloat the email program's database, contributing to instability and slowness. Just as bad, there's no responsibility or accountability. Unless you devise a complex tracking system in your Sent box, you can't know whether a person has even looked at an attachment, much less signed-off on it. This process basically transfers the responsibility to the recipient, and any chance of centralized management goes out the window. It is not always clear who is supposed to perform what actions, and there is no easy way to monitor results and status.
And, if you send an e-document to multiple recipients, the problems are compounded exponentially. Multiple copies of the document will reside in multiple inboxes. Users will frequently make their own copies and save them under different names and in different locations.
The single copy solution
As a best practice, create a single document, file it in a central location, and then send a pointer to that document to everyone who needs to access it. Recipients can work on the single copy and all changes will be made and stored in the same place. It is also a good idea to have a system that assigns a level of accountability to the document and allows all participants to track the status of each recipient.
Two main topologies of document distribution
E-documents can be distributed to one or many recipients, with pros and cons for each approach.
Single-recipient: "Hot Potato"-Any scanned document can be passed to another staff member who then becomes responsible for it. Some practice management software programs will let you audit this process with a feature that tracks the staff assignments and re-assignments. This is the simpler system because only one person is responsible for the document at any given time. To find out who the responsible person is, all you have to do is ask "who has the hot potato?"
Multiple-recipient: "Wide Net"-A more complicated system is one in which each document record is assigned to more than one staff member. This can also be done with document management software. Staff members "sign off" as they complete actions for which they are responsible. When everyone involved has signed off, the review process is completed. This approach spreads the responsibility to multiple staff members-like casting a wide net-but can also cloud the line of ultimate responsibility. You will need to ask Person A, Person B, Person C, etc., if they have looked at the document and dealt with it. When it's a hot potato, you always know who has the document and the status of its review.
How do you solve it?
New advances in software have made a less paper-dependent office possible. As a best practice, find a document management application that integrates email and documents automatically.
The ideal distribution system would process the scanned mail directly into the Document Management System (DMS), auto-naming the document into the correct folder, while also distributing the document to the correct recipients in an auditable and accountable way
Advantages of a good distribution policy
Paperless distribution from the front desk to the intended recipients greatly reduces the overall cost involved in administering documents. Paperless distribution also lowers the incidence of lost documents by routing the flow of paper directly into the filing cabinets and lowers the overall cost of filing, un-filing, re-filing and searching for misplaced documents. Best of all, you can move paper from the initial intake straight into the filing cabinet where hopefully it will remain untouched forever.
For more information about paperless offices or other practice management topics as they relate to LexisNexis Time MattersTM software, visit http://www.ricesoftware.com and click the Resources link.
At LexisNexis, we are committed to helping you spend more time practicing law and less time worrying about billings and collections. Our solutions for small law firms include award winning software created with input from lawyers like you and are backed by a highly experienced and dedicated services and support team.
Time Matters software enables the paperless office by providing leading document management, email, audit and review capabilities which allow for auto-naming as well as for single distribution or multi-distribution.
To learn more, visit www.lexisnexis.com/law-firms/practice-management or call us at 1-800-328-2898.