Paperless Law Firm Software

paperless law firm

Apps and Tools You’ll need to Implement a Paperless Law Firm

So you’ve decided to ditch the boxes and drawers of hard-copy documents and implement a paperless law firm. (Or at least: you’re seriously thinking about it.) Hats off! Just like any job: you’ll need the right tools. In previous articles we’ve talked about the philosophy and the processes you’ll need to achieve paperless bliss.

Related: 7 Steps to a Paperless Law Firm

In this article, we’ll explore the specific tools you need to actually go paperless and achieve the paperless law firm you’ve always dreamed of. While not an exhaustive list, this article will cover the basics and some good examples for each.

Let’s get started.

Scanners

First: Scanners. Your law firm’s scanners will be on the front lines on your firm’s war against paper clutter. Some law firms have one, industrial-strength scanner centrally located within the law office. These (usually multifunction) devices are big and can usually scan a many-page document pretty quickly. In midsize and larger law firms we see and recommend:

HP and Dell also make nice mid-level scanners and multifunctions, which exist somewhere between the giant commercial-grade models and the personal scanners (which we’ll talk about next.) For your big, centralized scanner, we highly recommend setting up scan-to-email or scan-to-folder, so you can scan directly to your inbox or a particular folder on your file server or private cloud. Or better yet: Implement a Document Management System that you can scan directly into, like LexWorkplace, so you can scan documents right to your DMS then file to the appropriate matter.

Many law firms also give certain (or all) employees personal scanners at their desk. This is useful for individuals who do a high volume of scanning and traveling back-and-forth to the big scanner at the center of the office would be a huge time waster. Popular personal scanners we see implemented in law firms include:

Mobile Scanner Apps

Just because you’re on the go doesn’t mean you should be able to quickly scan documents. Mobile scanner apps are just that: apps you can install on your smart phone or tablet, turning it into a scanner that goes everywhere. Mobile scanner apps use your device’s camera to scan documents. But they go beyond just taking a photograph (after all–you could do that with your iPhone’s native camera app). They include standard-fare scanner functionality such as document crop, trim and save as PDF.

For mobile scanner apps, take a look at:

OCR Software

Next you’ll want to find an OCR solution. In case you’re not familiar with this term: OCR (which stands for Optical Character Recognition) is the process (and technology) that converts scanned documents to text-enabled, searchable documents.

Any time a document starts as a paper document, it must be scanned to become electronic. By default: a scanned document is essentially an image. You’ve probably seen this in the past any time you’ve scanned a hardcopy document: the resulting electronic file is an image, almost like a photograph of the documents. (In fact, that’s exactly what it is.)

This means that the text in the document you’ve scanned isn’t actually text at all–rather your scanned document is a photograph of text. This means you cannot select, copy or paste any text from the document. And it means you can’t search within the document: The text within your scanned document will never be found in a search, such as a search within your Document Management Software (more on this in a minute.

OCR is the process of converting the image of a scanned document into actual text–that can be selected, copied, pasted and–most importantly: indexed and searched. OCR software processes these raw, “photographs of documents” files, interprets what it discerns as characters (letters and numbers) and converts them to actual, searchable text.

  • You could use your scanner’s built-in OCR software: But this means if you have three different scanners in your office, you’ll have three different methods and procedures to perform OCR. Not a good way to setup and streamline your firm’s process.
  • You could use third-party OCR software, such as the OCR functionality built into Adobe Acrobat. But this leaves OCR’ing each document to the discretion and memory of everyone in your firm, every time. Also not a good way to standardize and enforce your paperless law firm processes.

For the most consistent, reliable OCR process we recommend implementing Document Management Software that OCR’s every document you save, automatically and without user intervention. This ensures every scanned document is OCR’d, every time.

More on Document Management software shortly.

Electronic Signature Service

Now you have scanners, scanner apps and OCR software in place, which will convert hardcopy documents to electronic files. Excellent. Next: We’ll want to keep those documents in electronic form. Having to sign documents can, without the right tools, force you to print a document (how uncivilized!) To keep your electronic documents electronic, we highly recommend implementing an electronic signature service.

These web-based services are simple: They allow you to upload a document, such as a Word or PDF file, and tag within the document a signer should sign (or initial, or fill out other information within a document or form.) Then, the signer(s) can sign electronically from a computer, tablet or even a smart phone. Fully executed agreements can be sent to all parties automatically, which makes Electronic Signature Services not only great for going paperless, but creates a nice document workflow. (With most, you can even define a signing order to define who should sign first, second, third and so forth.)

For popular Electronic Signature Services, take a look at:

Document Management Software

Going paperless is great: but you’ll need a place to store and manage all of those awesomely electronic documents. Some place secure and ideally accessible from anywhere. Some place where you can do more than just open and edit your documents: a place where you can tag documents, enter comments, assign due dates, search across all documents and more.

Yes, there’s a solution for that, and it’s called a Document Management System, or DMS. A law firm’s document management system isn’t just the hub of its paperless endeavors: in many ways it’s the epicenter of the law firm itself.

A Legal Document Management System is, in effect, a very sophisticated electronic file cabinet. A DMS allows you to store documents, email and notes by matter. Once documents are stored within a matter in your DMS, Document Management software comes with tools to manage documents, including:

  • Index and Search: So you can find what you’re looking for in any matter or folder.
  • Manage Document Versions: So you can view and compare previous document versions.
  • Document Check-out/in: So you can keep others from editing documents that you’re working on.
  • Scan and fax integration: So scanned and faxed documents arrive directly in your DMS.
  • Document Tagging/Profiling: Tag a document’s type, status and more.

Put simply, you can’t go paperless without a Document Management System. For popular legal-centric Document Management Systems, take a look at our Legal Document Management Comparison Chart.

Closing the Loop

I hope this rundown of paperless law firm software was helpful. If you’re thinking about going paperless for your law firm, we’re confident you’ll find the software and tools in this post not only helpful, but essential.

Good luck.

Epilogue: Finding the Right Document Management System

Finding and implementing the right Document Management software is key to achieving a paperless law office. If your firm is looking for the right Document Management System, take a look at our comparison chart, videos and other resources.