From time to time I'm asked how I took my office paperless. And sometimes I'm also asked why! Admittedly the latter question usually comes from those members of the bar I lovingly refer to as the "dictaphone crowd", but the answer is usually the same – convenience. I could wax poetic about the need for security against fire or theft, all valid points, but my main motivation was the ability to work wherever I wanted, whenever. So how did I do it? In true Soul Practitioner fashion, I did it as cheap and as fast as possible!
I started with Dropbox. Free storage for all my docs up to 2gb? Yes please. Cross-platforms on Android, Apple, and any computer with an internet connection? Jackpot. Since setting that up took about two minutes I now had the dilemma of how to get my paper files into Dropbox.
I'm sick to death of Fujitsu ScanSnap this and that. It's a great scanner to be sure, but if you don't want to waste a day searching for an online retailer that has one in stock then go on down to your local Office Max or Office Depot and snag an Epson GS 50 like me for a little cheaper and get back to work. It does all the same stuff as the Fujitsu minus the bundled adobe software. I prefer Nitro PDF anyway as it's easier to navigate and has none of the compatibility or security problems.
Now that I have a scanner and Dropbox I had to decide how to set up my files. I decided to keep it simple. Legal practice areas get a folder such as "Divorce" or "Criminal", with pertinent, generic docs common to that particular practice area.
For clients I did things a little differently. First I set up a folder known as "Closed Files" so I could just drag a client's file to that folder when their case was finished. I recommend placing a "0" in front of your closed file title so that it will always be the first file in you virtual file cabinet. Dropbox behaves just like any file on your computer. Numbers go first, then folders get put in alphabetical order.
For my current clients I created a folder by Last Name, First Name. Then within each file I denoted documents by date then file name. For example, a client letter would be 2011-03-09 letter from client. This date format keeps all documents in date order. This is particularly helpful in big files where you might like a time line. It also helps me keep up with how the case is progressing, such as in criminal cases. A file missing the Waiver of Arraignment form tells me that they likely haven't been arraigned yet. Have a client who likes to shake hands repeatedly with the criminal justice machine? Simply create a subfolder within their client folder and name it something helpful. Instead of "File 2" or the like I'll make it more helpful by saying "Robbery 1st" with a case number or something like that.
To completely digitize my young law firm took about three days worth of scanning off and on. It was a painless task with my new scanner. Dropbox is incredibly easy to navigate no matter which platform you need. I run it on my desktop, iPhone, and iPad 2, and I never have to worry about the files not being up to date – it's done automatically. Want even more security for your files? Use a service like Carbonite or Mozy to backup your dropbox files to yet another location. Now if I manage to lose my iPhone and iPad 2, and my office burns down I have the option of logging into Dropbox from some other computer or restoring my Mozy backup to a new computer to completely restore my office documents.
Congratulations! Now your entire filing cabinet can come with you to court, and without all the hernias!