For the majority of business records, the legality of digital document images as legally valid substitutes for the originals has been settled for years.
Research* indicates that “Legal” is most resistant of any department to paper-free work processes.
How many paper documents are in your office that you don’t really need? If you do need all of those documents, how much are you spending for file storage off-site? Are rooms filled with filing cabinets of old cases (and are those rooms and those documents physically secured?).
You can – legally – get rid of that paper. Better yet, paperless (or at least less-paper) processes are faster, more efficient, and have solid ROI. So remove that paper and turn office space previously occupied by paper into something useful – another office for a partner, a break room for employees to take a breather, a client meeting room, lobby or whatever else you need.
Read on for tips on how to get this done.
Use Those Copiers
Your copier can be the start of paperless automation. Document capture tools, combined with document management (from SharePoint, Laserfiche, Worldox, etc.) digitizes and stores your (previously) paper documents for faster retrieval, easier sharing, efiling, and storage in a document repository.
With larger volumes of paper (or with years of paper files to scan), you may need to consider purchasing a dedicated scanner or looking into outsourcing to a scanning service bureau.
A fax is essentially a scanned image that is printed out on the receiving end. A fax can be captured by software and added to a case file, a repository, email, or wherever else the fax needs to be distributed electronically – no need to physically print the fax.
Don’t I Need Paper for Legal Reasons?
You may have original documents that you want to keep. For the majority of business records, the legality of digital document images as legally valid substitutes for the originals has been settled for years. There are two rulings (in the United States) relevant here.
The Uniform Photographic Copies of Business and Public Records as Evidence Act (UPA) (US 1128-0020-00) - Enacted by almost all states, it specifies that reproductions of records have the same legal significance as the original and may be used in place of the original for all purposes including evidence.
The Uniform Rules of Evidence (US 128-0060-00 to 0170-00) - The other major uniform law, "The Uniform Rules of Evidence", has been adopted by the United States federal courts and 34 states (including Texas). The Rules of Evidence allow a duplicate to be admissible in evidence "to the same extent as an original" and defines a duplicate as a counterpart produced by any technique "which accurately reproduces the original.”
Guidance on Document Management and Imaging Systems
Here are a few resources that focus on the legality of digital images:
AIIM, a non-profit association dedicated to information professionals, has a variety of documents and guidance on the legality and use of these technologies:
- ISO 12654 Electronic imaging – Recommendations for the management of electronic recording systems for the recording of documents that may be required as evidence, on WORM optical disk
- ISO 12037, Electronic imaging – Recommendations for the expungement of information recorded on write-once optical media
- ISO 15801
- AIIM ARP1-2009 Recommended Practice: Analysis, Selection, and Implementation of Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS)
Information Requirements Clearinghouse – Run by Donald Skupsky, the IRCH offers consulting around retention management of business records and also has an excellent blog and resources concerning the intersection of the law and digital records management.
It’s legal, productive, and saves space, so consider how you save and store the documents you decide to keep. A digital archive and paperless technology could be the best choice for your law firm.
I know this sounds like a lot of work and that your current paper-based workflows work just fine. I’ll leave you with this statistic: 60% of document imaging implementations have an ROI of 12 months or less – 77% show ROI in under 18 months.*
Be sure to look into DocCare, Datamax Arkansas’ complement of document management services.