Document Naming in a Paperless Law Practice

I am often asked for best practice recommendations in running a paperless practice. How should I organize my electronic files? How should I name documents that I create or scan?

There is no better source for answering these questions than Donna Neff and Natalie Sanna’s article in Law Practice TODAY, The Document Naming System in Our Paperless Office.

Donna and Natalie suggest the following protocols when naming a document:

Include the date – year, month, day
Add an abbreviation that describes what the document is (ltr for letter; rpt for report)
Add a brief description of the document contents
Specify whether the document was sent (generated by you) or received (and scanned into your system)
Optionally, add the initials of the staff person who created or scanned the document (if a question arises later you can go directly to the author or scanner)

A document named by Sam Lawyer using Donna and Natalie’s protocols would look like this:

2013 03 11 ltr re settlement offer SENT sl.pdf

Notice the file name does not include the client or matter. These could be added, but beware that your file names might become quite long.

Whatever you decide (include client/matter name or not) the only discretionary part of the file name is the description. Everything else, especially the abbreviation scheme describing the document type (ltr for letter, rpt for report, pld for pleading, etc.) should be written in stone. No file naming convention will work if it isn’t used consistently.

This same principle applies to naming client folders and sub folders: creating a set structure and sticking to it saves the day. Donna and Natalie refer to this as creating a folder template. See their article for specific directions and screen shots.

Law Practice TODAY is a free Webzine from the ABA syndicated by the PLF. Check out the latest issues of LPT on the PLF Web site > Practice Mgmt Advisors – Tips.

Loving the NALS Green Guide

I could barely contain my excitement this morning when I saw this announcement on LinkedIn from NALS:

Are you concerned about the massive amounts of paper your law firm uses each day?  Do you creep through the halls at the end of the day turning off lights that were left burning long after attorneys and staff members went home?  Would you like to learn more about how you can reduce your consumption and use resources responsibly?  If you answered yes to any of these questions or if you are interested in learning how to create and promote a sustainable office environment, then NALS is here to help.

The NALS Green Guide was created to be an easy-to-read resource that can be easily shared electronically.  The guide includes more than just recycling tips – inside you will also find information on greening your commute and reducing office expenses.  You will also find that many of the tips can also be used in your home.

Sustainability is a cause near and dear to my heart.  I’m a big believer in the paper-less office and tools like Acrobat,  Worldox,  Copernic and Dropbox.   It was no mistake that my first blog post was “Greening Your Law Practice.”   So I’m thrilled to see the NALS Green Guide.  It’s 10 pages of  practical, common-sense solutions — ideas so easy you’ll scratch your head and wonder, why am I not already doing this?

So go big, go green, and download the NALS Green Guide!  Thank you NALS – this is a terrific resource.

Best Practices for a Paperless Law Office

It’s a wee bit early for New Year’s resolutions, but if you’re toying with the idea of going paperless and have your sights set on 2011 as the year to do it, consider the following:

  • Before diving in,  think through the process.  It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it isn’t as simple as buying a scanner and shredding all your paper.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can get by without software as an overlay for working with your electronic documents.  Subfolders alone won’t cut it.  Desktop search engines help.  (I like Copernic).  But document or case management software designed to index, organize, cross-reference, and secure client documents is even better.
  • Learn to be efficient.  Acrobat has terrific batch processing capabilities that allow you to perform multiple steps automatically across folders of scanned documents. See my presentation below for more tips on leveraging efficiency.
  • Redundancy isn’t always your friend.  There is nothing served by keeping parallel electronic and paper files.  If you can’t bring yourself to dispose of the paper, keep it in a generic bucket file by client or chron date – but don’t ask staff to maintain two identical filing systems.  Commit to paper or electronic files.
  • Remember there are exceptions to every rule.  You may store your client files electronically, but some paper cannot be disposed of:
    • Return all client originals – receipts, bills, diaries, photographs, tax returns, etc.  If the client gave you the document or item, give it back.
    • Be mindful of documents with legal significance – original wills, contracts, fee agreements, promissory notes.
      • You cannot convert a signed paper contract to a legally enforceable electronic contract merely by scanning it.
      • In some cases, court rules may require that you retain original paper.  (Statements of Social Security Numbers are an example. See Oregon Local Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure 9037-1 (a)(1).)
    • If authenticity is a potential concern, keep the paper.

Final Thoughts

The most important office system is the one that works for you.  If you find it easier to work with paper files, go with your strength.  You can always scan your files after they are closed and store them electronically.

Read my complete best practice recommendations for going paperless here.

Copyright 2010 Beverly Michaelis

Oregon E-Cycles

As of January 1, 2010, all computers, laptops, and monitors in Oregon must be e-cycled.  The program is free and collection sites are open year-round.  Keyboards, mice, scanners, printers, and other peripherals are not included in the program. 

Before you e-cycle your laptop or computer, take care to remove confidential client information.   Pull and destroy hard drives or wipe the hard drive clean using wiping software that meets Department of Defense standards. 

For more information about Oregon E-Cycles, call the free e-cycling hotline 1-888-5-ECYCLE or visit the DEQ Web site.

Copyright 2010 Beverly Michaelis

Greening Your Law Practice

treePursuing sustainability through green business practices is not only good for the environment – it can literally mean more green in your pocket.  Getting started is easy.  Review the tips below, take a fresh look around your office, and pick one or two ideas you can implement now.  Bookmark others for the next time you need to replace a monitor or printer. 

How Green is Your Internet?

  • Green your Web site by offering intake forms online.  Clients will appreciate the convenience and so will you and your staff.  Electronically filled intake forms are easy to read and easy to process – design the form to match the information gathered by your practice management software.  Filling out the form in advance means more time to spend with the client when he or she comes into your office, and the money saved in printing and paper costs will add up.  Caveat:  E-mail intake forms directly to prospective clients or use a secure https:// connection.  Proper disclaimers will prevent creation of a lawyer-client relationship where none is intended.  See “Disclaimers for E-mail, ListServes, Usenets, Web Sites, and Newsletters,” www.osbplf.org, then Practice Aids and Forms, then Technology.  Practice tip: Using Acrobat to extend features in Adobe Reader allows clients with Version 7 or later to use your online forms and save a local copy.  In Acrobat, choose Advanced > Extend Features in Adobe Reader…
  • Online collaboration, document sharing, web, and video conferencing are increasingly popular.  You and the client stay put – reducing your mutual carbon footprint – and meeting becomes convenient again.  Read more about this practice at the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, http://www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/fyidocs/ (see Web and Communication Technology).
  • Put the ultimate power of the Internet to work by accessing your office from home.  Work remotely using www.LogMeIn.com, www.GoToMyPC.com, www.PCAnyWhere.com, Windows Desktop, or a Virtual Private Network.  If your daily commute is 20 miles or more, you can easily save 1,000 miles in a year by telecommuting one day a week.

Make the Most of Your Monitor

  • Consider converting your old-style monitor to an energy-efficient flat screen LCD.  Don’t worry if the purchase is not within your budget now.  When your old monitor needs to be replaced, the newer models will be waiting.  Check the Web sites of PC World and PC Magazine for reviews when you are ready to buy, www.pcworld.com and www.pcmag.com.  If you are a Mac aficionado, use Google® to search the latest discussion threads and forums.
  • Install dual or oversize computer monitors to reduce printing costs.  Nothing beats the convenience (or saves unnecessary print jobs) like being able to compare documents side-by-side.  Dual monitors also mean you can keep a working document up on one screen while your calendar – or time and billing program – sits ready-to-use on the other screen. 

Print Smart and Save Money

Greening your printing practices is one of the best moves you can make.  Fewer print jobs means less paper, ink, chemicals, and plastics consumed.  Consider these possibilities:

  • Share resources by networking your laser printers.  Dedicated printers for each employee make it too easy to hit the “print” button.
  • Require employees to enter a security code before printing a job.  Many printers have this feature, and it is widely used in financial and legal departments of companies where confidentiality must be protected.  The “walk-to” feature eliminates waste in two ways – it makes employees think twice about whether they need to print and whether they want to walk to pick it up. 
  • Use recycled paper.  The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper per year, according to the Federal Network for Sustainability.  No statistics exist for the average worker in a law office, but suffice to say the numbers are likely to be much higher.  Start printing on recycled paper, reuse it, and recycle it again.  (Be careful to protect confidentiality at the end-point of this process.)  
  • Mandate double-sided printing, which Hewlett-Packard estimates can cut paper waste by 25 percent.
  • If a document flows slightly over to a second page, use the “shrink to fit” setting in your word processor’s Print Preview mode to shorten the document to one page.  Note:  Shrink to fit works by reducing font size, which may make reading difficult for some clients.  If this is an issue, adjust margin settings instead.
  • Download free utilities like www.printgreener.com  or www.fineprint.com that print to PDF and remove extra pages from print jobs.
  • Take advantage of the return and recycle programs for laser cartridges offered by manufacturers.  See the directions printing on or inside the box of your new replacement cartridge. 
  • Ditch your paper fax machine and use an e-fax service instead.

Or Just Don’t Print at All – Put the Power of Your Scanner to Work

  • For truly big savings, move toward going paperless.  See “Is It Time To Go Paper-Less?” at www.osbplf.org, In Brief, then February 2009.  Read more about this practice at the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, http://www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/fyidocs/ (see Law Office Technology:  Software).
  • If feasible, add desktop scanners to supplement networked or centralized scanners.
  • Once you’ve integrated scanning into the work you do for clients, look for other ways to use this technology.  For example, save a trip to the bank by scanning your checks straight into your business account using a service like www.DepositNow.com.

Other Tips

The Future

Compiled from Eco-Friendly Printing:  However small at first glance, these seven changes really add up, http://biztechmagazine.com/article.asp?item_id=542; Going Green, ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, http://www.abanet.org/tech/ltrc/fyidocs/; Going Green to Stay in the Black, http://www.abanet.org/lpm/magazine/articles/v35/is5/pg09.shtml; Ecopreneurist, http://ecopreneurist.com/; and GreenBiz, http://www.greenbiz.com/.   See also, Oregon Sustainability Resources, http://www.deq.state.or.us/programs/sustainability/ and US Government Sustainability Resources, http://epa.gov/sustainability/.

Copyright Beverly Michaelis 2009