Solos / Small Firms

Document-scanning firms can save lawyers money and space

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Coleman Watson

Coleman Watson. Photograph by Doug Scaletta

Coleman Watson has an almost paperless law office. He achieved the near-zero-paper state when starting a solo (now two-lawyer) practice in Orlando, Florida, by digitizing all practice-related documents he had from his previous work with a bigger firm.

“It made sense to digitize right out of the gate,” says Watson. “The only paper in my office is incoming. The rest is stored in the cloud.”

To do the initial scanning, Watson chose an Orlando service that uses optical character recognition technology. OCR scanning was necessary, Watson says, because many of his documents were handwritten, and this method provides editable and searchable documents.

Cost per scanned page ran from 5 cents to 25 cents, depending on size and paper quality (wrinkled or onion-skin and handwritten pages cost more).

All of his digitized documents are accessible on his iPhone and iPad. Hard copies, if required, can be made easily.

“My staff [now] does the scanning because it’s not as difficult to handle on a daily basis,” Watson says. The documents are managed with a software program called Smokeball, which is integrated with Microsoft Office. Documents are encrypted to a security level similar to that of banks, and storage and maintenance costs are reasonable—about $138 monthly, according to Watson.

An online search for “legal document scanning” or “legal document management services” found numerous firms that provide these services. And New Orleans attorney Ernie Svenson, well-known as blogger Ernie the Attorney, provides plenty of advice on paperless offices on his blog site


Attorneys who may be worried about record scanning disrupting the daily operations of their practice needn’t be concerned, according to Dennis Amorosano, vice president and general manager of the business imaging solutions group for Canon USA. Scanning can be done on- or off-site, and scanning time can be cut by reducing the numbers of opportunities for human intervention—and thus the potential for errors, Amorosano says.

Originals can be shredded, and the digitized documents can be stored in the firm’s content management system, which can be locally hosted, archived in the cloud or a combination of both, according to Amorosano. However, he does not recommend storage on local computers.

Prices for image scanning can run from fractions of a penny per page to over a dollar, Amorosano says. Cost factors include the price of labor, type of equipment used, paper quality, volume of material and output format.

“We do all the digitizing of documents ourselves, in our office,” says Jeff Kaplan, a partner at Schwartz, Levine & Kaplan in New York City.

By digitizing in-house with office staff doing the scanning, the firm may save the significant costs of per-page scanning charges.

Kaplan’s firm started digitizing about four years ago. All digitized documents are triple backed-up on off-site servers. “We use anti-viral software for security and never had a problem,” he says.

“We retain the original signed [hard copy] documents,” he adds. “They’re not shredded, and off-site storage gets pricey.”

Another attorney who digitizes records and documents in-house is Nat Wasserstein of NS Wasserstein & Associates in Upper Nyack and White Plains, New York.

“The key to efficient digitizing is the scanner,” says Wasserstein. “It’s got to handle a decent amount of paper at a time and be able to scan both sides.” Lawyers contemplating doing their digitizing in-house, therefore, are well-advised to invest in a good scanner with the capabilities mentioned above.

“But if a client is not tech-savvy and doesn’t use email, [or other digital devices], then half the value added by digitizing is lost,” Wasserstein says. Still, attorneys Watson, Kaplan and Wasserstein extol the efficiencies, cost savings and conveniences of digitizing documents.

Referring to the ease of retrieval of documents from his iPhone or iPad, Watson says: “It’s a lot easier than pulling them out of a briefcase.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Digitizing Documents: OCR scanning firms can save money and space, but do it early.”

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