When I got my first job out of college (back when God was a child) as a loan officer trainee at a big bank, computers (old Wang workstations) were only for secretaries. I suggested to my superiors that if I had a computer on my desk I could be much more efficient but that was like asking them to send me to school to learn stenography. Several years later, when I got out of law school and went to work at a law firm and at legal aid, still no computer on my desk. But that didn’t last long.
In talking to lawyers about going paperless, I’ve come to realize that in some offices with more than one attorney or more than one staff person, the scanner (if there is one) is treated like the fax machine or the copier. That is, they have one machine, it is in a common area, and the lawyer either has to leave his or her desk to use it or ask the staff person to scan the documents. The scanner is treated like the old Wang workstation.
For the multi-person office to transition to and remain a paperless law office, I think everyone in the firm needs to have their own scanner on their desk, just as everyone has their own computer. Even though it’s theoretically possible that one staff member could act as a gatekeeper and scan all the mail and other documents as they come in, in reality it seems unlikely to work. The staff member has other tasks, the lawyers are impatient for their mail, documents are received directly by lawyers in meetings with others — too much can slip by the gatekeeper.
With a scanner on each desk, each member of the firm participates in the effort to keep the office paperless. At a couple hundred dollars apiece, they are far cheaper than computers and the cost can be recouped by getting rid of the separate phone line for the fax machine. Large scanning projects, like large discovery projects, can be reserved for staff members to do on high-speed scanners or contracted out just like copying projects. Staff will have more time, because they won’t be interrupted by lawyer requests to scan or fax short documents.