By Ally Kennedy, Founder of Amiga
Most attorneys are making the turn toward a paperless office. You likely have some sort of paperless practices in place in your firm right now.
For many years I have run a mostly paperless office, but recently I have made some tweaks that are making a "going paperless" work better and more efficiently for me.
1. Keep a Hard File
Every case should have a hard file for things such as original client documents and the original contract. Most documents need to be stored somewhere until they are ready to be used for a legal filing. Sometimes there are documents for which an original signature is needed but the document itself may not be mailed or used right away (i.e. signed release documents).
Oftentimes there are papers that need to be printed and saved in the hard file for the attorney's case preparation. For example, for all court cases I copy every submission that I make to the court and keep a hard file that matches the court’s file.
A hard file for each case can also be a backup measure to ensure that every case is properly entered in the electronic system and has a corresponding e-file and hard file.
TIP: Once a month go through your case list and match hard files to e-files to ensure that every case is properly input into all electronic systems (such as case management system, Quickbooks and accounting programs, etc.). It also gives the opportunity to close out completed cases.
2. Have a Process for Naming E-Files
It is likely that your hard files are meticulously organized but your e-files may be a little less orderly. Oftentimes we scan documents in and give them a name as we scan them. However, if you create a process and key for naming each e-file, it will make it easier to find the documents that you need in the moment that you need them because it will be uniform throughout your e-file for every case that you have.
An example from my caseload:
- I-130 Receipt- LAST NAME, First name
- I-130 Approval- LAST NAME, First name
- I-485 Receipt- LAST NAME, First name
I know that this is nothing novel, but the idea of creating a uniform way for every scanned document to be named was revolutionary to me. It has made everything so much more organized and easy to find.
TIP: If you have many files, this is a time consuming task but it is worth the effort. This is something for which you can enlist the help of a virtual assistant or intern.
3. Invest in a Good Scanner
I had a 3-in-1 office printer/scanner/fax setup, which worked okay but not great. I realized that I was wasting so much time because my scan function was very slow and it often jammed or did not save properly. I did not know that fast scanners were available. (I am embarrassed to say that when my husband was trying to convince me to get a better scanner, I imagined the old school scanners that only scanned one page at a time.)
Then I found the ScanSnap and it changed everything. The ScanSnap scans extremely fast and with great accuracy. We also have an Epson scanner which works nearly as well. Standalone scanners are an easy way to ensure that everything in the office is scanned and saved appropriately.
TIP: Though it may feel like a loss to your wallet, it will be a great gain for your business. It is worth the investment.
4. Create a Concrete Way to Process Mail and Client Documents
By creating set systems and processes of how to handle incoming documents, it will ensure that you support the paperless practices that you have created. Though a handbook feels like an overwhelming task, especially for the solo practitioner, it is helpful to have a word document or something similar that outlines how to process mail and client documents.
Here is an example from the Training Manual in my office. This has helped to ensure that we have a consistent process in scanning in documents and has cut down drastically on documents not being scanned into the server:
- First, scan all of the mail together into one document.
- It will automatically save to the desktop.
- Once it is saved on the desktop, call it: Mail Scan- Date (YY- MMDD) (i.e. Mail Scan- 16-0321)
- Cut it from the desktop and save it to “Mail Scans” file on the server
- Email the scan to attorney
- Then scan each document individually. Rename the PDF to reflect the name of the document and then the case name (i.e. Biometrics- I-918- GARCIA, Luis; see below for naming guide)
- Cut the document from the desktop and save it into the client’s e-file
- Make a note in MyCase stating what the document is
- In the title write “received __________ in the mail.” (i.e. “received client declaration in the mail”)
- In the body write, “This has been scanned and saved into the client’s e-file.”
- If it is a decision, a notice, etc, prepare an FYI letter
- Server → Templates → FYI Letters
- Choose the FYI letter that applies to the case
- Prepare the FYI letter tailored to the client
- Print the letter and bring the letter plus the notice to the lawyer to review and sign
- All documents should be submitted to the lawyer with the hard file. Rubber band the documents to the outside of the file and place in the lawyer’s inbox.
- Scan the signed letter with the notice and save into the client’s e-file
- Send the letter
- Make a note in MyCase about what was mailed
- If it is a receipt notice, log on to USCIS.gov and add it to Case Status Online account
- Once you log in, you can add the case right away with the receipt number. The tracking number is the client’s full name.
- Do this in addition to the FYI letter
About your Ally in Life, Business and Law:
Alexandra "Ally" Kennedy is a national award-winning attorney and the founder of AMIGA Lawyers and Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law.. After becoming a mother, and in a matter of 3 months, Ally transformed her practice from earning in pesos to earning 6-figures and she is passionate about teaching attorneys how they can do the same. Ally empowers lawyers to be the CEOs of their law firms with her weekly blog, webinars, and conferences where she teaches step-by-step how to do the work they love while running a profitable legal business. Ally lives outside of Seattle with her partner and their 5 children.