Virtual Mailbox Services

Virtual mailboxes are useful for those who travel frequently or work from home and lack a business address. For others, online mail access is a question of convenience.

No matter which camp you fall into, or if you’re just now learning about virtual mailboxes, it pays to do your research. For example, some services only scan the exterior of your mail while others will open it, scan the contents, and store it in the cloud. Either way, you receive the results by email. To better understand the process, services, and fees involved, see this post.

As with any cloud-based service, always ensure that client information remains secure and confidential.

If you’re interested in the consumer equivalent of a virtual mailbox, check out USPS Informed Delivery. This free service allows users to digitally preview mail and manage packages from an online dashboard or app. Leave delivery instructions, reschedule deliveries, or set up text notifications.

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

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.

Electronic Receipts: Legally Sufficient in Oregon?

Preparing return receipt certified mailings is a hassle.  It’s time consuming, costly, not exactly sustainable, and often guaranteed to make your staff tear their hair out. Enter the green alternative: the electronic return receipt.

Earlier this year, Washington state paved the way for use of electronic return receipt delivery with HB 1426. The bill provides:

“Whenever a statute allows or requires the use of “certified mail with a return receipt requested,” electronic return receipt delivery confirmation provided by the USPS  may be used.”

Can lawyers in Oregon use electronic receipts in instances where a statute requires notice by certified mail return receipt requested?  The answer is unclear.

Oregon has no precise corollary to Washington’s HB 1426, but neither do we have a statute prohibiting the use of electronic return receipts. ORS 174.160 provides some guidance:

Whenever, for the purpose of giving notice, registered or certified mail, with or without return receipt, is authorized or required by or pursuant to statute, it is sufficient to use in lieu thereof any mailing method that provides for a return receipt.  (Emphasis supplied.)

So doesn’t this give Oregon practitioners the green light? Maybe.  Maybe not. Oregon’s Legislative Counsel office recommends proceeding with caution.

Re-read the statute which applies to your specific situation. Does it require the recipient to sign the return receipt or is confirmation of delivery enough? If the return receipt is electronic, the validity of an electronic signature might come into question. Unfortunately, ORS Chapter 84, governing the use and validity of electronic signatures, doesn’t shed much light on return receipt signatures. If the parties have not previously agreed to conduct business by electronic means, you should assume that an electronic signature will not suffice. See ORS 84.013 and 84.019.  [CAVEAT: Washington practitioners should approach this issue cautiously as well. HB 1426 speaks only to delivery confirmation not electronically signed receipts.] 

What to do now?

Unless the parties have previously agreed to do business electronically, caution dictates using the old-fashioned paper method of certified mailings, at least in cases where a signature is required.  If you are particularly risk-averse, you may want to use the paper-based approach for all certified/return receipt mailings.  With luck, the law will catch up with the technology by the next legislative session.

Copyright 2009 Beverly Michaelis with thanks to our awesome Oregon Legislative Counsel’s office for their willingness to research this issue.