In 1944, the precursor to the CIA created a “simple sabotage” manual, teaching people how to debilitate the Axis powers from the inside. Along with tips to wreck highways and railroads, they gave this advice to office workers:
“Multiply paperwork in plausible ways.” “Misfile essential documents.”
The saboteurs knew that paperwork gone wrong could help topple a nation. The comparison might sound dramatic, but your own unruly documents can do the same to your legal practice.
We can help save you from self-sabotage. Here are 6 tips to keep your document management simple, streamlined, secure, and accessible.
1. Fax Without the Fax Machine
Now introducing: Filevine Fax. Send and receive secure faxes from within your case management system.
In some circles the fax machine has become the symbol of obsolete technology. The devices always carry an aura of the 90s. They’re unsightly, clunky, and require you to pay for a separate dedicated phone line. There’s even a fax machine displayed in the Smithsonian Museum alongside the old punch-card computers.
But attorneys are far from fax-free. That’s because many government agencies and medical facilities still require faxes (one estimate puts faxes at 75% of all medical communication). Without faxing capabilities, you’re cut off from them. Also, sometimes other firms, providers, and clients prefer a fax over other forms of communication. And international colleagues may come from regions where faxing remains the dominant form of legal communication.
In any of these situations, the ability to fax can be a game changer for your firm’s document management. Even if it’s only needed in one situation a year, firms can’t afford to go faxless.
But that doesn’t mean you have to invest in a separate machine, phone line, and secure filing system for all that paper.
That’s because cloud technology has figured out how to fax even better than a fax machine. And with Filevine Fax, the process can be linked directly to your case files. This provides one more way Filevine keeps your document management secure and accessible.
You could, of course, create a document, print it out, and then stand over your fax machine, patiently feeding it page after page. When you receive a response, you could wait for the screech-gurgle faxing noise to end, then scan your document and upload it into the correct case file.
As the CIA-linked saboteurs might put it: you could “multiply paperwork in plausible ways.”
Or . . . you could send a fax in a single step — and automatically digitally archive any faxes you receive.
The simplicity of the second option is why we consider Filevine Fax the top paperless timesaver of the year.
2. Automatic Document Generation
Another time-waster is manual document generation. Every practice, no matter how varied, has its share of routine docs. In fact, probably more than half of all the legal documents you assemble follow a standard template.
To make routine documents, some legal professionals cut and paste from past documents — and hopefully save the new document correctly under its new name. Others save templates and type in the new information each time.
But by far the fastest way to create a new document is using automatic document generation through your case management system.
With one click, you create a new document, with all relevant information pulled directly from your case files.
3. Cloud Storage
As law becomes more collaborative, the cloud takes center-stage. It allows legal professionals to collaborate from across a building or across continents. It gives each legal team member the ability to access records from any device, anywhere. And even skeptical attorneys turn to the cloud when they discover their document is too big to just email.
Cloud technology provides the backbone to a whole host of other productivity tools.
State bar associations have consistently agreed that attorneys may ethically use this versatile new form of document storage. However, they also insist that attorneys must exercise reasonable care to keep client information confidential.
That means some pervasive, all-purpose cloud storage apps may not be secure enough for your needs.
Yes, embrace the cloud. But ensure that any platform you use is serious about encryption, verification, secure document uploads and downloads, and other security measures necessary to protect your client.
4. Easy Edits
Sometimes you have to tweak and change and endlessly rework a document. As annoying as that process may be, the real problem comes after each change. Will you properly store your new version? Or will you misfile it, or keep it on your own personal device, and make your staff, colleagues, or future self search fruitlessly for it?
It’s best if the program removes human error from the equation, and does the work for you. One option for this is Filevine’s Edit-in-Place feature. It saves you from the work of downloading and uploading your changed document, and securely archives the new version right where it belongs.
There are other editing skills that can save attorneys time and resources on document management. These include the ability to highlight, bookmark, and annotate PDFs. With a few Adobe Acrobat skills, you might find you’re about to skip the printer and scanner, and take care of all your markups on the screen.
5. Central Document Storage
You need to find a file. Did you leave it saved on your desktop? Or is on your paralegal’s computer? Or Dropbox, or email, or Google Docs, or . . . ?
One of the worst time-wasters for legal professionals is searching for misfiled documents — and recreating them when they’re never found. The remedy is a centralized document storage system.
A single file can hold all relevant communication, texts, notes, motions, photos, and any other document. Ideally, this file is in the cloud, so it can be accessed whenever necessary.
Once you’ve got everything in one place, you also want it to be searchable. Tools that help include a good set of digital folders, hashtags to provide metadata, and filters to search for specific document types.
It’s also important to have shared commitment to your file naming conventions. Even with the best automation and document management tools, sloppy file hygiene can wreck not only your own productivity, but your colleagues’ as well.
Getting signatures is a chore for legal teams. Should you try to get in the same physical space? Should you snail-mail the documents? Should you email them and instruct the recipient to print them out, sign them, scan them in, and email them back? Or maybe you’ll resort to the fax machine again?
The final tool speeds and simplifies the process. A good e-signature program cuts the extra travel, time, and gadgets otherwise required. With Filevine’s Vinesign feature, you can even text a document directly to the recipient and have them add their electronic signature. The signed form they send back is archived in the relevant case file.
Watch out for self-sabotage and bring your document management under control. With a few tools, you can move away from paper-pushing, and toward more rewarding aspects of your work.
For even more tips on efficient document management, check out our Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless.