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Computer Corner: Papermess to Paperless in 5 Easy Steps


Computer Corner: Papermess to Paperless in 5 Easy Steps
By Marjory Harris, Esq.

In this series, we explore organizational techniques, software and hardware that will help you clear the mess from your desk, be more productive, and cut office overhead.

This article presents a primer for setting up an almost totally paperless office.



Looking back

Awhile back I wrote an article called Baby Stepping Your Way Toward the Paperless Office.” I also wrote an article “Using Your Smartphone in the Paperless Office.” I felt a bit guilty since I did not at the time actually have a totally paperless office. I was phasing it in on new cases but there was still piled-up filing of old cases' paperwork. So I decided to put my own advice to work and really, finally, actually go paperless.

This turned out to be a painless process. It wasn't at all like root canal, more like a piece of cake. The reward was an uncluttered office and unobstructed desk (well, almost. There are still a few pieces of paper and some Post-its). No longer is my conference table covered with an undigested mantle of mail that is then scanned but not yet filed. The temporary accordion file is no longer in use, and many of the file cabinets have been removed from the auxiliary file room.

This article discusses the process I used, step-by-step. You may want to use other hardware and software to suit your needs but again, this is just how I am doing it right now. Since I frequently get new software and hardware, the details will change over time, but I will never go back to “papermess.”

It started with guilt...and turned out to be a painless process. It wasn't at all like root canal, more like a piece of cake.

Step #1: Calculate losses and savings and imagine the future. Create a motivating mantra and mental image.

How much time and money do you spend on your paperful office? How much will you save when you go paperless? Include the cost of staff, space rent, supplies (file cabinets or shelves, paper, toner, electricity, insurance for extra staff needed, phone bills associated with fax machines, etc.). Take your office ledger and note all the items that involve the handling of paper -- it really adds up.

Then imagine an office that is smaller and neater. You can work from various locations, save time and money not needing to visit the mothership to retrieve a file or, worse, to go to a storage unit in the dead of night to get an old case where you stored a brief that you need to use as a model for one that has to be filed in a few days.

Imagine being able to find everything quickly, on your laptop, notepad or smart phone, even cases from years ago. When old clients call, you will remember them immediately and the facts of their cases. They will feel loved and wanted and think you are really smart and have a great memory.

Imagine uploading extensive medical files to your dropbox and in the accompanying email, advising your client to review the documents and let you know if anything looks wrong or is missing.

As I said in the baby stepping article, sometime it's the first step that is the hardest. We've all seen a baby try to walk. Maybe the baby falls and cries at first, but soon wobbles toward the outreaching arms of the parent with a big grin. A few years later, baby is walking out the door with the car keys and $100 borrowed bucks.

So create a pleasant image, whatever you like, maybe a litter-free desk, a piggy bank burgeoning with $1000 dollar bills (because you are going to save big bucks after the transition, once you spend a little to get going). And create a mantra you like. I like the Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” You may like ”Free at last!”

How much time and money do you spend on your paperful office? How much will you save when you go paperless?

Create a pleasant image and a mantra, maybe a piggy bank burgeoning with $1000 dollar bills and ”Free at last!”

Step #2: Resolve doubts and announce your new practice. Order depo transcripts and subpoenaed records in electronic form; use electronic fax, dropboxes and email

Think of megastorms, Katrina, fires, earthquakes. Think paper is safe? What is safe is computerized files backed up to various servers (see the final step). 70% of the law firms in New Orleans lost their files thanks to Katrina. I remember a fire that wiped out a law firm on a San Francisco pier. It is far riskier to rely on paper files than on the Internet.

So why are so many afraid to go paperless? I think it is because they don't want to make the investment of time and effort to set up the system, even though once set up, they will be saving a huge amount of time and effort and money. It may be the same reason why we keep sticking to bad habits even though we know there are better ways to do things. Sometimes it takes a loss of income to prompt one to become more efficient; the loss of a valued employee prompts one to start doing things without the help we relied on before.

Linus may need the security blanket, but wouldn't you rather hug your iPad? Share the joy by advising clients and opponents and signifcant others (treating physicians, vocational experts, etc.) that you are now paperless.

You will need to add to your supplemental fee contract something like this:

“Paperless Law Office: Your case file will be in electronic format and available to you in electronic format as pdf files. You will generally receive documents from this office electronically.”

If clients balk, point out that their files are available later even if they move, lose their copies of documents, or the like. Also email and dropboxes are a much faster and safer way to deliver documents than the US Mail.

Limit the paper that comes to or leaves your office. Let others do your scanning, such as copy services or scanning companies like Scanfiles.

First, order depo transcripts to be sent by email. It is easy to get the court reporter to send a txt or ASCII file via email. Put it on the record after the witness is sworn:

“Before we start with admonitions and testimony, I'd like to put something on the record. I would like a copy of the transcript sent to me by email, MHarrisLaw at Verizon dot net, which is on the card I gave you. I would like a txt or ASCII file. Opposing counsel advised they have no objection.”

Order all subpoenaed records as CD only.

Switch to electronic fax (e.g., myfax.com). Faxes come via email as PDF files. You can get fax receipts or failure notices by email. A complete log is available online. A toll-free number does not cost more and encourages clients and others to send faxes rather than mail.

Use dropboxes to send or receive documents and Registered Email to send mail when you want a receipt without dealing with the Post Office and certified mail and green cards. My favorite drop box is YouSendIt. I also use it as extra storage space for on-line backup. I have dropbox instructions for both uploading and downloading on email templates, so they are ready to go out to a client or opponent or anyone else by just inserting the address. I use RPost for Registered Email, so I can be sure someone not only received and opened the email, but got any attachments. Another way to do this is ReadNotify. You can see if your email was read, if attachments were opened, if it was forwarded, etc.

I also like that I can track what I send by fax, e-mail or YouSendIt. I get fax confirmations and read notifications that way. The services don't cost much. I save the notifications to the client's folder for proof of receipt. I use Ooma rather than the local phone company, and get my voicemail sent to me by e-mail with both a sound file and a transcription of the message. These messages also get saved to the client's folder using MessageSave, a program worth its weight in gold.

I use my smart phone to e-mail notes to myself when I'm away from the main computer, or to draft documents, using the free Dragon Dictation app. I also use my laptop, a Folio Ultrabook, to dictate into Dragon Naturally Speaking, where I can save what I'm writing to a flash drive or, if I'm in the office, I can copy and paste to my main computer using the free Microsoft program, Mouse without Borders. I found that my laptop allows me to dictate into it without using a headset or microphone, which is a real convenience. I don't like to use Dragon on my main computer because it tends to interfere with other programs and to crash a lot. Sometimes I have Dragon working on my laptop with the microphone on, and then use remote desktop to dictate directly into the main computer.

“Safe” means computerized files backed up to various servers.

Limit the paper that comes to or leaves your office.

Step #3: Get the right scanning equipment and software

Since scanners first came out, I purchased them. It saved having to type documents, so it was worth the money back then. It cost less than paying someone to type even for a few days.

Scanners have come a long ways since then, but there are still problems with using them efficiently. If you think an all-in-one machine that scans, copies, prints and faxes will do the trick, my experience is that it will leave you with paper mess rather than paperless.

The best scanner I have had -- and there have been many more scanners than cars -- are the Fujitsus. Small, easy to keep at one's elbow, my current favorite is the fi-6130. It comes with great software, too. The anti-jam technology means I do not waste time clearing paper jams. The anti-jam technology is what separates it from cheaper scanners.

Fujitsu scanner at left end of desk

Having a little machine on your desk means not having to stand by some big machine that competes with other uses, or jams alot. It means as soon as you scan you can provide an appropriate label, comments, take action as necessary, and add the document to the shredding pile.


The author's current favorite, the fi-6130, is worth the price. See customers' reviews on Amazon

Step #4: Use a folder tree and viewing program to organize your documents

As soon as anything arrives electronically (fax, e-mail) I save it to the appropriate hard drive folder. Since faxes, voicmails, and e-mail come to my Outlook program, I use MessageSave to quickly send the documents to the right place. If I receive something by fax, I use the OCR function to convert into searchable text. That way I can find anything I am looking for later, in seconds.

Using my favorite file viewer program, FileCenter, I scan any documents that have come by mail. I have set the scanning function to OCR all documents. Once scanned, I review the document, add comments or notes or take other actions, as necessary. This could be to create a task or alert or add to the “To Do” log I keep in OneNote.

All important folders are cabinets in FileCenter, so I can see their tabs and quickly move to whatever I need. Click here for more information.

Image from Lucion FileCenter


A good file viewing program limits the need to open files of any sort -- computerized or paper

Step #5: Establish the habits of scanning, shredding, and backing up

Scanned documents or CDs go into a shredding pile to be micro-shredded or into paper bags to take to a shredding service. My current shredder is the Fellowes Powershred MS-450Cs SafeSense 7-sheet Micro-Cut Shredder. For local shredding services, Google “paper shredding services.”

For safety's sake, I back up automatically to the Internet using both Rebit Pro and YouSendIt. I use the free SyncToy to sync my major folders every evening to the YouSendIt desktop app. By the next morning the programs are backed up to my online folders on YouSendIt. I also have the Synology DiskStation in my office with mirrored drives and everything is backed up daily. I also use another backup in my office called ClickFree. That way I can access documents even if for some reason I can't connect to the Internet and need to find something that was accidentally deleted from my main computer. Recently I was traveling and needed some document. I had not activated Logmein on my main computer. No problem. I logged into Rebit using Roboform Everywhere, which stores and syncs all my logins, safe notes, and identities, found the document, and downloaded it. This works from a smart phone, too.

Scan and shred regularly, and backup automatically on office devices and the Internet (“cloud”).

The fruits of your labors

So there you have it, it is really quite simple to set up and use a paperless system. You need, of course, to have a good folder tree or two on your computer, otherwise you will have a disorganized mass of data. Click here for some articles on how to store data using folder trees. If you set up your system right, the FileCenter cabinets are a great way to see at a glance what you have on each case or in each area of law.

There will always be some papers: opponents who insist on mailing routine letters even if they fax or email them; paperless insurance companies or adjusting agencies that print out files to mail you; documents that are required by the Labor Code or some other code to be mailed or served by hand; clients who have no access to email or computers, and the like.

But most of the paper will be gone, along with the obligation to store papers. What comes in goes out by way of the shredder, either yours or some company's.

Say goodby to offices and hallways stacked with paper files, file clerks scurrying around, visits to distant storage locations. Say hello to a neat desk and files always available, no matter where you are. Telecommute from a lanai in Hawaii, a yacht in the Caribbean, your deck or patio or kitchen table. Free at last!

There will always be some papers, but most of it will be gone. Say hello to a neat desk and files always available, no matter where you are.

Marjory Harris, Esq.

Marjory Harris began practicing law in 1974 as a defense attorney and later became an applicant's attorney and a certified specialist. She continues to represent injured workers at the San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and San Bernardino venues and mentors attorneys on big cases.


Reach Marjory at (888) 858-9882 or email: wcwebzine@gmail.com

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