Category: Consultancy

Taking your law office paperless - step by step

Whether you are a small or large law firm, your business will mostly be based on documents. Legal documents, correspondence, and also a lot of administrative stuff (think invoices and such). Being a lawyer has always meant that you find yourself surrounded by a lot of paper.

Office worker surrounded by paper

Paper is everywhere

Even though modern IT solutions might have allowed you to use less paper for years now, through for example your document management system or high-tech scanning solution, there is a large chance that the amount of paper around you, is still the same. This might be due to several reasons:

  • the amount of documents and e-mail correspondence has grown significantly so that even though a lot less is printed on paper, in the end the piles of paper have not diminished;
  • you or your fellow lawyers have a hard time completely trusting the 'digital' copy of your files and feel more secure (consciously or subconsciously) knowing that there is a paper version of the entire case in your cabinet (or the company archives);
  • there is this belief within your firm that having a physical copy of a document (or e-mail) gives it more legal validity (i.e. it could more easily be used as 'legal proof'). This belief is based on false assumptions but can be hard to get rid of;
  • you like to read everything from paper and have a hard time throwing anything away;
  • you refuse to use the computer and have your secretary print every single e-mail or have the intern print everything they can find through Legal Intelligence (or any other know-how database) on a certain subject for a current matter;
  • you love the smell of paper and having a room full of bulging matter files makes you feel alive. Plus you love having your clients visit you and impress them with the amount of information you gather on their case.

Some very good reasons to get rid of paper

From the perspective of the modern firm manager, paper is a costly thorn in the eye. From my perspective, as a minimalist and environmentally conscious person, paper is quite evil. Paper is simply a big waste of resources:

  • costly to purchase (and costly to print on). The cost of the printers, including all the resources they use (power, IT support, maintenance, etc.), also has to be taken into account;
  • costly to store. Think of all the warehouses full of paper archives that we accumulated over the past decades. First, your paper files will probably live inside your office for a while. I have seen plenty of lawyers who can not find certain matter files on a daily basis with it either being lost in the piles somewhere, misplaced by a secretary, given (and forgotten that it was) to a junior lawyer for further study, etc. After a while, the file may be stored in a cabinet and eventually be send of to an external archive just in case it will be needed again in the future;
  • costly to handle. Searching for that one document in a huge binder or tracking down that certain invoice in a pile of similar looking invoices. Having to arrange different storage for the files as they get older and older or arranging for them to be destroyed. These are just a few example of the 'handling' cost of paper;
  • a huge waste of our earthly resources.

So not only does paper involve a large share of material resources, there is also a lot of time involved with the handling of paper (printing, finding, sorting, archiving). The elimination of paper is probably one of the largest reasons a modern lawyer can do without secretarial support much easier.

Start eliminating paper, now!

Is it hard to eliminate paper? No, not at all. You do not even have to eliminate all paper. If you enjoy reading certain things from paper - like that final due diligence report that you are going over one more time - than you can still print it, of course. The time that we all have access to excellent e-readers that can truly replace paper, is still somewhere in the future.
What I am advocating is that you do not try and keep the paper in your office anymore. So after reading that final version of the document, you can throw it away (recycle bin).

Scanners that turn paper into digital files are usually ubiquitous in offices nowadays. Software for archiving your files are available in many forms. You can choose to have your digital files made "searchable" by making the text readable by your computer systems. This technology is often referred to as OCR (Optical Character Recognition) as a computer needs to recognize the letters of a text as separate characters.
Also keep in mind that it is important to store your files in an accepted "archiving" format. File formats (like Microsoft Word format or Adobe PDF) tend to change every few years and are not supported indefinitely. To avoid any problems, go with PDF/A.

Keep it simple (with going paperless)

My approach to the paperless office is to start of simple. One of the parts of your office that lends itself for going paperless first, is your incoming invoices. Invoices are usually entered into an accounting system and then stored away in binders. Legally you can just as well throw the paper version of the invoice away, and only keep a digital copy. Simply scan all incoming invoices and then throw them away. Store the invoices with the help from your accounting software or archiving software. Alternatively you can create your own system of storing the files (somewhere on your company file system). You could use Dropbox as a secure backup solution (and at the same time having access to these files from anywhere).

iPhone Cardboard Scanner

Two other solutions for easy-and-quick scanning and archiving that are especially useful for smaller firms (but could also be leveraged by larger firms):

  • use an iPhone or other smartphone (e.g. Android phones) to 'scan' the invoices and receipts by taking a picture of it. There are special scanning 'apps' to assist you with this, e.g. Scanner Pro for iPhone.
  • use an archiving/notes utility. There are specialized apps and services for invoices (Shoeboxed, JustTheBill) and there are more general apps for archiving everything (Evernote). I prefer the latter and use Evernote myself. Every invoice or receipt will be scanned (with a scanner or with my iPhone (through Evernote)) and synced with Evernote. That means that I can always access my archived invoices through my computer, iPhone, iPad or the Internet.

Now that more and more companies are sending digital invoices it also helps that these can be easily combined with your scanned archive.

There we have it, our first steps into going paperless. If you have any questions in finding the right solutions to help your firm become 'paperless', please do not hesitate to contact me or my company (Legalsense).

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Bram Braakman • 29 August 2010
Archived under: Consultancy, Document Management, Information Management • (1) CommentsPermalink

Windows 7 Compatibility and Versions

Now that Windows 7 is widely available on newly purchased systems, migrating your law firm professionals to this new Microsoft OS, becomes an interesting option. Windows XP is still the most used operating system in most firms - as most firms decided to skip the troubled Vista. Partial migration - only upgrading some of your users, for example those whose PC's you replace - is nowadays a more accepted option. It used to be that firms preferred to have all users on the exact same installation as this usually had some cost/efficiency benefits in terms of maintenance and support. These days, a temporary migration period where in the course of for example one year you migrate your users to a new OS, should - when your support and maintenance strategies are flexible enough - not cause too many pains.

Before you decide to migrate - make sure you have thoroughly tested all your existing software for compatibility with Windows 7. It surprises me how slow most companies are with providing information on Windows 7 compatibility. Most product specifications and software requirement overviews on websites do not mention the existence of the new Windows version at all. To add to the complexity: Windows 7 comes in both a 64-bit and a 32-bit version. Which version should you install?

The short answer is that you should go with Windows 7 64-bit unless you’re running a system well into its antiquity where driver support is going to become an issue.

Check out the Windows 7 Compatibility Center to search for compatible software and hardware. Unfortunately, mostly consumer software is listed on this site. If software is written for 32-bit Windows then it will most likely install as a x86 (32-bit) program under your 64-bit Windows.

The most worrisome will be the more obscure hardware that does not have driver updates available or the occasional lawyer that is wondering why his/her old Palm PDA software does not work anymore. Within the next six months, most major hardware and software manufacturers should have made their current products all Windows 7 compatible. For older hardware (or software) there will probably be ways to circumvent the problems. I was worried for example that some the Smart Card readers that are commonly used in the Netherlands would not be supported yet. That worry seems to have been unneccessary.

In the next few weeks I will be doing more hardware and software tests with Windows 7 as I am trying to introduce the OS at a Dutch law firm (remaining on Windows XP for most users). If anything important comes up, I will post that here. Preliminary findings so far show the VPN program (OpenVPN) and the Anti-Virus software (McAfee) both need updating (both free of charge).

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Bram Braakman • 16 January 2010
Archived under: Consultancy, Information Management, Techniques • (0) CommentsPermalink

Business case voor Virtualisatie: 2x besparen - kosten en stroom

Vandaag ben ik een deel van de dag bezig geweest met het doorspreken van een virtualisatieproject waarbij een groot aantal fysieke servers worden gevirtualiseerd op 2 tot 3 nieuwe servers. Er wordt hierbij gebruikt gemaakt van virtualisatie software van VMWare - een van de grootste spelers in de markt voor virtualisatie software.

Virtualisatie is natuurlijk allang niet nieuw meer - afgelopen decennium was virtualisatie al een veel besproken topic. De business case was voor mij echter niet altijd even sterk (wel voor grote serverparken - niet voor kleine tot middelgrote serverparken met ongeveer 3 tot 15 servers). Er zijn een aantal duidelijke voordelen:

  • De restore tijd bij calamiteiten kan in een virtuele serveromgeving sterk worden teruggebracht maar dan moet er wel een tweede server (waarop de virtuele machines kunnen draaien) klaar staan.
  • Het toevoegen van een server (omdat dat bijvoorbeeld door de aanschaf van nieuwe applicatiesoftware vereist is), kan eenvoudiger en hoeft geen extra hardware investeringen met zich mee te brengen.
  • Het beheer en onderhoud wordt flexibeler.
  • Er kunnen eenvoudig test omgevingen worden ingericht (door simpelweg servers toe te voegen).

Maar er zijn ook nadelen te bedenken:

  • Het toevoegen van een virtualisatie laag voegt een extra "point of failure" toe.
  • Wanneer de fysieke server het begeeft, liggen meteen alle daarop draaiende virtuele servers plat. Als er dan niet een tweede server voorhanden is, waar de virtuele machines op gestart kunnen worden, kan de restore tijd juist langer worden dan bij traditionele (fysieke) servers.
  • Professionele virtualisatiesoftware (van bijvoorbeeld VMWare) is relatief prijzig.
  • Het beheer van virtuele servers vergt meer expertise van IT personeel.

Al met al ben ik van mening dat de voor- en nadelen elkaar redelijk opheffen ware het niet voor nog een belangrijk voordeel dat ik hierboven weggelaten had: stroombesparing. Een serveromgeving van 10 servers die terug wordt gebracht naar 2 zware servers bespaart niet alleen veel stroom, maar creëert ook nog eens veel minder warmte. Hierdoor is weer minder koeling nodig (voor de serverruimte) en wordt er dus nog meer stroom bespaard. En dat tikt aan. In eerste plaats voor de kosten en in tweede plaats voor het milieu.

VMWare heeft hier zelfs een aantal online calculatoren voor ontwikkeld: één voor de kostenbesparing (TCO calculator) en één voor de milieubesparing (Green calculator). De nieuwste generatie processoren en servertechnologie doet er vervolgens nog een schep bovenop door ook de nodige stroombesparingstechnieken in zich te hebben. VMWare werkt hiermee samen met Intel. Zie de VMware website voor meer informatie over dit partnership. Intel claimt overigens dat haar nieuwste generatie serverprocessoren sowieso al een serververvanging waard zijn aangezien deze machines ten opzichte van servers van 3-5 jaar geleden zoveel zuiniger in stroomverbruik zijn dat de investering na een paar jaar al wordt terugverdiend (ook hier is een calculator voor beschikbaar).

Wat voor mij de Virtualisatie businesscase dus echt compleet heeft gemaakt, is de dubbele besparing (een lagere TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)) die een vermindering van het stroomverbruik met zich mee brengt.

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Bram Braakman • 7 January 2010
Archived under: Consultancy, Dutch, Techniques • (0) CommentsPermalink
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