Industry News Legal Management Updates

How to Solve the Paper Records Workflow That’s Killing Your Firm

Of all the paper formally filed in a law firm, 57 percent is a printout from the firm’s electronic file in the document management system (DMS).* And that bloated paper matter file would grow another 39 percent if you gathered up all the other DMS-printed paper that is scattered around the firm, on lawyers’ desks, in secretaries’ workstations, and in hallway boxes.
Steve Irons

So, if we already have these documents properly stored in the DMS, why do we print, file, store and archive them as paper?

To start, we print because many attorneys like to work with paper. That is why almost all law firms still run enormous paper filing operations. We keep filing, refiling, moving and storing DMS-printed paper documents because the filing staff, and even the attorney, aren’t sure if the corresponding electronic version is in the DMS — and the paper is filed, and the print-file-store-archive cycle continues.

However, the defacto cycle of print-file-store-archive is unnecessary, costly and loaded with risk. Hard-cost effects are related to real-estate expense for on-site and off-site records storage and related labor. The table below represents the hard costs related to filing paper that has been printed from the DMS — for storage alone:

  100 Attorneys | 300 Attorneys | 500 Attorneys
Monthly  $    2,919 $    8,756 $  14,594
Annual  $  35,025 $105,076 $175,127
5 Year $175,127 $525,381 $875,635

When an electronic document is in the DMS, it is secured by the network and the login access and privilege of the DMS. But when that document is printed, all that security goes away completely. Efficiency is compromised, along with corresponding profitability, by the workflow drag of constantly managing and reconciling a paper matter file to the related electronic DMS matter file.

The frustrating workflow of print-file-store-archive gets extended at matter closing, when these extraneous paper documents, more than half of the file, are then packed, boxed and shipped off-site for the maximum retention period. Firms rarely have a structured way to remove duplicates from closed files before they’re sent off-site; there is no more billable time and the culling process requires someone familiar with the matter. Like other off-site records, they occasionally get retrieved, driven back to the firm, refiled and returned to off-site records.

You would think we’d call out the print-file-store-archive workflow as an unsustainable burden for a law firm. Yet, lacking a solution, we keep repeating the cycle.

While most paper-loving attorneys are resistant to change their habits, what we don’t want to do any longer is to permanently file and store these duplicate documents. The related workflow needs to change.

This new workflow would physically identify any document printed from any desktop application if the corresponding source file is in the DMS. By marking these printouts, a destruction process could eliminate all the laborious steps of handling, filing and storing these unnecessary documents. Once these printed documents are marked, they can be shredded at any time in their lifecycle, by policy, during the active or inactive stage of the legal matter.

For example, one 1,000-attorney New York-based firm adopted a solution that:

  • Seamlessly achieved a DMS printout marking through the application of infrastructure technology.
  • Applied the marking/barcode at print time, so that no change was made to the actual electronic document stored in the DMS.
  • Was triggered by the desktop print process itself, regardless of whether the printed file was an email, a PDF or a word-processing document, and regardless of the application that initiated the print.

The bottom line with this new process is that paper can be shredded instead of completing — and repeating — the inefficient print-file-store-archive-archive cycle. Even better, more than half of the paper that bogs down a legal practice can now be eliminated. Additionally, information governance can be substantially improved by ending the exposure of unsecured printouts.

For firms looking to improve matter management workflow, fixing the print-file-store-archive problem now is low-hanging fruit. 

*2016 DocSolid IG-Records Survey