Starting about 2003, I would occasionally hear lawyers lecture on “the paperless office.” While I consider myself on the leading edge of technological savvy for family law attorneys (which is definitely not the leading edge for many other professions), I considered such attorneys to be what my IT guy, Dean White, calls “the bleeding edge.” I remained skeptical.
It took having a case in fall 2007 against the family law attorney I consider to be at the pinnacle of our profession, Robert Rosen, to make me consider the paperless office. His ability to email me scanned copies of documents immediately upon receipt–obviating the need for fax cover sheets or postage–was impressive. Even more useful was my subsequent ability to immediately forward these documents to my clients. No longer were clients required to come to my office to review documents that required immediate attention. Documents that might take a few days to arrive or be delivered via snail mail now arrived instantaneously via email. Within a month, upon the recommendation of my IT guy, I purchased a substantial stand-alone scanner, one with a high volume feeder and relatively fast processing (ten pages a minute for black and white). It’s been love ever since.
The scanner came with Adobe Acrobat. While I’d been using the free Adobe Reader for years, this was my first experience with Acrobat. The scanner, combined with Adobe Acrobat, has completely altered my practice for the better. Communication with clients regarding documents is much quicker when I can immediately email them the document for review. By scanning all important documents, I have instant access to these documents on my hard drive and, with my laptop and an internet connection, I can practice at 90% efficiency anywhere in the world (add a smartphone & I can practice at 95% efficiency). Further, I greatly reduce the time that used to be spent drafting enclosure correspondence (further reducing the drawbacks of not having a paralegal) and save approximately $100.00 a month on postage. Having documents scanned to a PDF format (the format Adobe uses) enables my clients to quickly review any document that has come into my office and allows me to provide them a complete copy of their file, or provide opposing counsel voluminous discovery records, on a CD-Rom or USB drive. The time it used to take to go through my physical file to locate and collate exhibits or put together a record on appeal is greatly reduced when these documents can all be located on my hard drive. Finally, I rarely need to go look through my physical files to locate a document since it is likely on my hard drive.
One of my frequent concerns with clients who come to me from previous counsel is that they rarely have a complete understanding of what’s been filed with the court and therefore I spend time (and they spend money) making sure that I have a full understanding of what the court believes is going on. See e.g., Centralized record keeping and the law. A client who can come to me with a CD-Rom or USB drive containing every filed document, hopefully organized in some fashion (see e.g., Suggestions for Organizing Family Court Files) helps me get up to speed quicker and more efficiently than the client who simply arrives with a stack of papers (and, often, a disorganized stack of papers).
Adobe Acrobat was also a revelation. Now I could save as a computer file anything I could locate on the internet. Client records that we locate online can be saved as a PDF file. E-mails that I need to preserve for later use can be printed as a PDF file. Family law attorneys are starting to look to social networking sites for evidence that may be used against an opposing party. See e.g., Time Magazine’s: Facebook and Divorce: Airing the Dirty Laundry and The American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers: Big Surge in Social Networking Evidence Says Survey of Nation’s Top Divorce Lawyers. Saving the screen information to a PDF file is one of the few methods I have found of preserving what one located online and proving when it was located online. Many an opposing party’s social networking website page rests as a file within my hard drive.
Coupled with a high quality scanner, Adobe Acrobat becomes even more valuable. I can take scanned documents created by others, use Adobe Acrobat’s optical character recognition (OCR) software, and turn text portions of a scanned document into text I can copy and paste into a new document. Text that I used to need to retype, such as discovery requests or deeds, can now be run through the OCR program and copied and pasted into the new document with 98+% accuracy. Quoting documents from old text becomes substantially easier with such software. The need for a paralegal is further reduced.
Many clients who started out questioning why I scanned their file quickly become converts once they saw our ability to pass documents back and forth or locate documents almost instantaneously. More than one client has actually purchased Adobe Acrobat after seeing how useful it was to be able to save as a PDF file any document found online. While a high quality scanner and Adobe Acrobat hasn’t made my office paperless yet, they have greatly improved my efficiency and, by assisting me in organizing my work, have improved my advocacy. Further it took mere months for my savings in postage to pay for the hardware and software expenses. Except for a few family court judges and attorneys who still “don’t do e-mail” I have almost no use for my fax machine. With my scanner and an internet fax program I could actually junk the fax machine if I wasn’t in an office sharing situation. Finally I work more efficiently, which ultimately saves my clients money and makes me more competitive.
Any family law attorney who lacks a high quality scanner (or has one but doesn’t use it) and Adobe Acrobat stands at a significant disadvantage when litigating against attorneys who do.