Snail Mail in a Paperless Office

So you’ve taken the plunge.  You’re going to scan and OCR all the paper in your office and store client documents in PDF format.  Now what? 

First things first

Establish a protocol for the proper disposition of paper after scanning.  As a general rule, keep original documents whose authenticity may be disputed, or those with particular legal importance (original signed contracts, original executed wills, etc.)  Paper not meeting these criteria (or other criteria identified by the firm) can be shredded or forwarded to the client after scanning. 

Here are some recommended procedures:

One person should be responsible for opening all incoming mail, sorting it, and date stamping it.  In a paperless filing system, date stamping can also be accomplished after the mail is scanned by applying a date and time stamp in Adobe Acrobat.  Click on Tools, Comment & Markup, and select Stamps.  Under “Dynamic” choose the “Received” stamp or follow the steps to create a custom date and time stamp.

If the person opening the mail is also in charge of a central calendar or the docket system, this person should review the mail and pick out any dates or time limits.  These dates should be entered immediately into the system(s) and an appropriate notation made on the piece of mail.  This can be accomplished before or after scanning.  To make the notation beforehand, place a checkmark next to the docket date, initial it, and then scan the document.  To make the notation afterward, use Adobe Acrobat to create a custom “Docketed” stamp to apply to the mail after it is scanned in as a PDF.  

If the person opening the mail is not in charge of the calendar or docket system, a docketing request should be completed for each date or time limit and e-mailed to the person in charge of the central calendar or docket.

At this stage, scanned mail can be forwarded electronically to the assigned attorney and his or her secretary.  The secretary should review the mail and note dates and items of importance.  If possible, the secretary should also meet with their attorney(s) to review incoming mail and tickled files each day.  This meeting is an excellent time for questions to be answered, schedules coordinated, and items delegated to the secretary for completion.  Document or case management software can greatly facilitate this process.  These programs store scanned, unread mail directly in the client/matter electronic file, not the attorney’s e-mail inbox.  Once in the program, unread mail can be protected from deletion, backed up with the remainder of the client/matter file, and easily flagged for follow-up, forwarded to another person, or sorted by any number of criteria (date received, client, matter, description, or status:  reviewed, not reviewed, or on hold). 

Keep in mind that the mail handling procedures described above apply to all incoming documents and transmissions, including faxes, hand-deliveries, and items received by messenger.  E-mail should be saved electronically to the client’s file.

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