In December’s Law Practice Solutions column, I wrote about the benefits of going digital and the policies and procedures that should be implemented to begin the digital journey. This month, I introduce the hardware and software solutions needed for best practices.
HARDWARE OPTIONS AND NEEDS
Good scanners are a must for a successful digital practice. Fortunately, there are several good, affordable scanners available in today’s market. Equipping your practice with scanners is an area in which you do not want to skimp. Many law firms already have a scanner as part of a large, multifunction device that prints, copies, and more. While such devices have their place in many practices, they should definitely not be the only scanning device in a digital practice.
Determining how many and what type of scanners to purchase depends on factors such as law practice type and size, number of staff who need to scan, office layout, and remote work force, just to name a few.
Ideally, everyone who scans should have a desktop scanner. A popular choice is the iX1600 Fujitsu ScanSnap. Among the reasons you should consider a Fujitsu iX1600:
- An intuitive 4.3-inch touch screen.
- Wi-fi compatibility.
- Speedy high-resolution scans of A4-size color documents at up to 40 pages per minute and 80 images per minute.
- A 50-sheet automatic document feeder.
- An ultrasonic sensor and high-quality brake roller for stable feeds.
- A guide that provides stable scanning for inconsistent paper sizes.
While a dedicated server is not mandatory, you should discuss with an IT professional the benefits of having a server dedicated to storing your digital documents. Coupled with a document management system (more on that below), it allows everyone connected to the server to view, share, and annotate documents. It enables staff to quickly and easily search files and folders to locate documents containing author-created terms. Storing files in a searchable format on a server greatly enhances the efficiency and productivity of a digital practice.
Know that storing everything on a local server means that when the server goes down, so does the entire office. Therefore, invest wisely in a server with built-in redundancy and store at least one copy of all your data offsite.
There are ever-growing options for offsite storage and remote access, and you need to factor in the needs of your brick-and-mortar office and remote locations when making a decision. One size does not fit all. This is where you want to invest in a reliable IT professional who is aware of the confidentiality and security issues associated with a law firm — particularly digital law firms.
As touched upon above, if you don’t already have reliable and capable IT support, now is the time to find someone to help you make the right choices in selecting hardware and software and be available for ongoing support. Regular maintenance and upgrades are a necessity in a digital practice.
Redundant, reliable backup systems are also a must not just for digital practices, but for all practices. With a redundant backup, if one fails, the other is there to make sure your data is secure. One good option is backing up your computer to an external drive or server and secure web-based or cloud storage, giving you three redundancies (computer, physical drive or server, and internet.) A solid choice for local backups are ioSafe products, which also provide fireproof and waterproof protection.
Having multiple and/or large monitors for your digital practice helps provide easy access to your data. If choosing a large monitor, go with one no smaller than 27 inches. Since you’ll now be reviewing documents on a screen as opposed to on your desk, you’ll want to have a dedicated monitor (or area on a large monitor) for viewing and working with digital documents and another for accessing other applications.
SOFTWARE OPTIONS AND NEEDS
PDF creation software
Having the ability to convert documents into PDFs is critical to the success of any digital practice. Created by Adobe, PDFs are the gold standard for converting documents from their original format into a digital format that can be shared, searched, and stored across computer platforms. If not for PDFs, users would have to share and store documents in their original format; as software becomes obsolete, newer computers and devices cannot open these documents. Understanding this concept helps clarify the need for and importance of using PDFs.
Another important argument for converting documents to PDF is the security it provides. PDFs can be encrypted, making it impossible to alter, print, or copy the document, giving the document’s author peace of mind knowing their work is protected and can’t be modified, even after the document has been disseminated.
There are many software applications for viewing, creating, and converting PDFs, and the costs range from free to very expensive. It’s time well spent to understand the functionality of various applications. Two solid options are Adobe Acrobat DC and Foxit Phantom PDF.
When assessing which application might be best for you, consider some of these features:
- Editing functions. PDF software should let users make minor corrections without having to convert a PDF back to its original format. This is especially important when creating a PDF of a scanned document. The software should have the ability to mark up the document, allow for document signing and securing, and let users redact sensitive information.
- Multimedia inclusion. Full-featured PDF software should provide basic multimedia capabilities to add life to plain-text documents. At a minimum, the software should allow for the addition of images and hyperlinks.
- Usability. Software should create PDFs easily and should be intuitive and easy to use.
- Support. Getting help when necessary can save valuable time and eliminate frustration resulting from figuring it out on your own. Does the website have videos, tutorials, and/or articles? Is there live chat and 24/7 customer support?
- Optical character recognition (OCR). OCR is the mechanical or electronic conversion of scanned or photographed images of typewritten or printed text into computer-readable text. Using OCR enables you to search and retrieve your documents. Its importance in a digital practice cannot be overstated. Scanners and software should have OCR functionality.
- Bates tool. The ability to apply Bates numbers to files can be helpful. When documents bear unique sequential numbers or alphanumerical markings, it can eliminate questions about whether they were or were not produced. For example, when 2,000 pages of documents turn up in response to a discovery request and those documents are Bates numbered, there is no dispute about whether a particular page or set of pages was produced.
Document management software
Document management software (DMS) is an application used to track and store electronic documents. There are numerous such applications on the market today, and they incorporate naming conventions with myriad other functions. DMS can prevent users from developing naming protocols contrary to the firm’s digital policy. While coupling DMS with a digital plan is not a necessity, it can ensure uniformity and prompt and accurate document retrieval.
Metadata is data about data. The term itself is ambiguous, as it is used for two concepts. Structural metadata refers to the design and specification of data structures and is more properly called data about the containers of data. Descriptive metadata deals with individual application data and the data content. Regardless of how you break it down, metadata can be benign or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, harmful.
The first step in protecting yourself from the dangers of metadata is being aware that it exists. Spend extra time checking for metadata when working with confidential files being sent to external parties. Invest in software to remove metadata from your files. This software is typically less than $100, so it’s affordable. Adobe Acrobat is commonly used by law firms for metadata removal.
The benefits of going divgital are many. With proper planning, hardware, and software, you can transform your life and your practice by becoming less reliant on paper.
Law Practice Solutions is a regular column from the State Bar of Michigan Practice Management Resource Center (PMRC) featuring articles on practice, technology, and risk management for lawyers and staff. For more resources, visit the PMRC website at www.michbar.org/pmrc/content or call our Helpline at (800) 341-9715 to speak with a practice management advisor.