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Digital File Management for Lawyers and Individuals

I have blogged many times about using technology to simplify your life. In fact, I have talked about using a digital file system instead of paper. This post at Rob Witham’s website really renewed my interest in the prospect of going all digital and not keeping papers hanging around. In Rob’s own words:

Convert your paper filing cabinet to a digital filing cabinet. Scanning and saving records digitally saves space and makes it easier to retrieve documents. I converted to a paperless, digital system two years ago and have never regretted it. I burn an archive disc periodically for backup storage and periodically delete archived files from my hard drive to minimize security risks. Modern desktop search utilities may be freely downloaded to speed searching for archived files as well.

Rob has some other good tips in this article, but I am particularly intrigued by this concept. It seems that other people are doing this digital scanning & storage as well.

The hard thing to accomplish with this system would be to actually get your files scanned in. This might be difficult if you have lots of incoming documents. For a law firm, I would think it would be especially time consuming.

More importantly, there might be reasons why lawyers need to keep the original papers. For example, you would not want to throw away the original signed papers for a contract or a client’s estate plans. Thus, the time spent in scanning documents would be added to the time already spent in filing them the traditional way.

With that said, there are presumably benefits to digital filing system. As Rob points out, it greatly simplifies the search and retrieval process. Copies of all documents would be available from your computer. If you have a secure method of access, you could even pull up documents away from the office – for example, at home, in your hotel room, or at a client’s office.

Another big benefit to a digital system is that everyone who needs a certain document can access a copy at any time. You don’t have to send a firm-wide email, hunting for the Smith file.

In the end, it seems like a digital filing system might be good for two different groups. Large firms, who have lots of lawyers and assistants, multiple offices, and extensive travel requirements would obviously benefit from flexible document retrieval. On the flip side, individuals, who most likely do not need the original paper version of last month’s cable bill, would benefit (if they can buy a quick-and-easy scanner).

It seems that small firms largely get left out of the digital filing game. They need to keep original paper documents on file, but they don’t need as flexible access to them. Thus, the benefits of scanning documents might not justify the cost for smaller firms.

Do you have experience with digital file management, either at home or work? Please post a comment or drop me a line to fill us in on your experience.

[tags]legal andrew, digital files, digital file management, file management[/tags]

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