Start with a Scanner
By Loren D. Jones
IF THERE'S a ray of good news after the New York City calamity, it's that report after report indicates that firms and corporate legal departments were well positioned to resume operations once new hardware was secured and configured, and backups restored.
But a recurring theme throughout these reports was the wholesale loss of the paper work product that overtakes every lawyer's desktop and office. This tragedy may be the ultimate impetus for lawyers to find ways to rely less on paper, and more on easily reproducible electronic copies.
Here's how to start: Buy a scanner. Today, quality document scanning hardware can be purchased for under $100. Quite a jump from the $7,500 scanner with optical character recognition (OCR) I purchased for my practice in 1985, which unfortunately was only capable of recognizing two typefaces, Courier 10 and Prestige Elite.
A low-cost scanner combined with appropriate document management system software (such as iManage, Hummingbird, and Worldox) can get you started. It will make all paper documents readily accessible to every member of the firm or legal department, electronically.
Documents received by the firm can be imaged and then stored in a standard graphics format, such as Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) or for a modest additional investment, in the Portable Document Format (PDF), a growing standard in e-commerce. Most DMS products today readily support PDF documents.
Adding imaging support to the firm-wide DMS extends its utility beyond firm-produced work product retrieval to all work product regardless of origin. More importantly in our current state of crisis, these comprehensive document collections are then easily reproduced in the event of a disaster.
Smart firms are taking this to the next level by implementing case management systems that integrate these capabilities with the organization of the other important "assets" of a law firm -- the "people" information (contact/conflicts management) and "deadline" information (calendar/docketing).
Systems to organize and manage this information enable lawyers to see everything in a logical, matter-oriented view and therefore are a boon to lawyer productivity. You can maintain all client, co-counsel, opposing counsel, insurance adjusters, doctors and witness information at your fingertips, along side every document received, document produced, e-mail sent or received, telephone conversation notes and your legal research, all ordered either chronologically or by personal preference.
This is exactly what products like ProLaw, STI, Law Manager and others attempt to do. Some even add the integration of "back office" features to simplify the capture of time and expenses as a seamless part of the workflow.
By definition, an integrated system allows this data to be treated as a unified collection and regularly backed up or duplicated off-site, which ultimately lays the groundwork for easier disaster recovery when the unthinkable occurs.
For some, the next step will be embracing these functions within a hosted model (a.k.a. application service provider.) WestWorks, an integrated practice management suite piloted by West Group over the past year, is an example of a hosted model.
Over time, as bandwidth increases and the cost comes down, the hosted model will become an attractive option for even large firms. For firms leveraging the hosted model, disaster recovery in times like these will be a simple matter of establishing an Internet connection from a new location, logging in from a new PC, and resuming their practice where they left off.
While we often preach in our technology writing about the need for effective disaster recovery plans, it is apparent that quick disaster recovery must include more than just the bits in the backroom. It must also include daily desktop notes, files and documents that were once treated as simple paper trails beneath the disaster recovery watchguard.
Loren Jones is director of WestWorks Customer at West Group, which recently purchased Provolution Corp., which produces ProLaw software.