Sunday, May 6, 2007

More automating the office

I wrote about automating the practice under the heading Fees, Automation and Business Clients - it is a long one. This post follows up on that post.

For almost nine years I have been trying to follow Ross Kodner's PaperLess Office concept. Every document coming into the office and every document going out becomes a scan on the computer. Where I differ from Ross Kodner's program is that I do not use Worldox. I am finding that a combination of Paperport (ver. 10) and Copernic desktop search tool handles the document management tasks. (I create a folder for each client under Paperport and I convert the scans into the Adobe Portable Document Formant - PDF - for searching under Copernic. I use Copernic since Google Desktop did not include WordPerfect files in its search parameters.) Crude but effective for a solo office, but I suggest that anyone who has not set up a system like this read everything you can Ross Kodner's site.

Frankly, I see a great benefit from scanning and not touching the hard file. I can read the documents on the computer screen while talking on the computer and not take the time to find the file while keeping a court, a client or another attorney on the line. Another benefit comes from clients who have e-mail: I can e-mail them PDF files without having to copy and send by regular mail. (I did have an odd incident where a client insisted that I had not e-mailed him all the documents but that was the concluding incident of many in a deteriorating relationship. Yes, not every client is a happy person.) Kodner's theory is we cannot eliminate paper and I still agree with that theory. However, I do think that as more clients and attorneys use e-mail that we will get closer to a no paper office (on the other hand, no one wants to hear me rant about my problems with electronic filing with the federal courts). I think this post at TechDirt is more about this future than the present.

What does this have to do with document automation? A lot. Forms received from other attorneys or form books can be can go from a scan to the word processor via Paperport. That they need cleaning up (no OCR - Optical Character Recognition - software is perfect) has less importance when they are going to converted over to HotDocs templates. (I have written a bit more about using HotDocs here on my Indiana Divorce and Family Law Blog.) The time saved by scanning and converting to a WordPerfect document beats typing directly into WordPerfect.

All this does have two weaknesses and one problem. First, making sure that everything is scanned in. I recently hired a girl to do some part-time work. I found she did not scan everything and now she is unemployed. The other weakness lies in the scanned documents being on a desktop machine. Since I acquired a laptop, I expect that problem to fade away

I think I discussed the problem before: documentation only succeeds if the work can be automated. That means in practical terms what gets processed through HotDocs are those documents for an area I practice in on a regular basis or routine work for a particular client.