Managing incoming post is still a key activity in law firms. Fee earners identify the documents that need to be scanned and then the original is filed in an office cabinet or sent away for storage in a warehouse.
A couple of questions come to mind – why is there still a need to retain the paper document that has already been scanned? and are there quality control checks in place to ensure that the resultant PDF documents are a good quality representation of the original?
I suspect the answer is ‘no’ to both questions, which is perhaps why firms don’t have the confidence to destroy the original paper documents. Additionally, in many firms and to the annoyance of their clients, still the content isn’t as easily findable as it should be.
Why? Well, many of the PDFs created from scanning processes are in effect just images of the document and so cannot be indexed. Therefore, while they may be stored in the firm’s matter or document management system, they aren’t searchable. Consequently, the information resides in the firm, but is inaccessible, which completely defeats the objective of an electronic/digital business environment.
You may be surprised to know that many PDF documents you receive from 3rd parties are not searchable.
Given the evidence-based nature of law, quick and easy access to important information is imperative for lawyers as lack of it can seriously hamper the quality of client service they deliver. There is ample anecdotal evidence of how fee earners have to often re-create/re-type existing documents as they simply can’t be located in the firm’s content repositories.
There is ample anecdotal evidence of how fee earners have to often re-create/re-type existing documents as they simply can’t be located in the firm’s content repositories.
However, by applying an optical character recognition (OCR) process to the scanned image file, an electronic text rendition of the document is created. The resultant PDF+Text file version can be indexed and users can search for documents based on key words appearing in the content. The productivity gains to users are substantial.
You may be surprised to know that many PDF documents you receive from 3rd parties are not searchable – regardless of whether they are scanned or Microsoft Word documents. This is because the senders chose to make them unsearchable. So if you rely on searching the content of documents, there’s likely a high percentage of ‘hidden documents’ that won’t appear in your search results.
Embedding an OCR engine within the firm’s document management system provides a transparent and fool-proof method of addressing these issues. It automatically trawls the document repository looking for non-text layered documents and, without any user intervention, automatically converts them to text-searchable PDF+Text documents. It even checks and processes documents that are still stored as attachments to emails. The document management system can then index these records, allowing lawyers to easily search the content of every document in the firm and locate it in the electronic matter file – by context.
Searchable and findable document and email content is fundamental to the success of these initiatives.
There are many benefits of this approach. Foremost, the process of conversion and indexing is automatic and routine. Any document management system with reasonable functionality offers a tool allowing users to perform a ‘Google’ like search across the firm’s document repository. If the search term is ‘XYZ’, not only will all documents (subject to the user’s security rights) containing that phrase be returned, but the user would be able to browse the results to see all instances of where that exact text appears. This makes it much easier and faster for fee-earners to review records, produce matter-related dossiers or such, based on the objective of the search. For regulatory compliance, firms can pretty much produce documents on-demand fairly speedily.
Today many law firms are making knowledge management a key function within their organisation, several have digital transformation high-up on their business agenda and some are even trail blazing exploration of new technologies likes artificial intelligence. Searchable and findable document and email content is fundamental to the success of these initiatives.