Data should be an asset, not a burden, says Amanda Recknell.
A law firm with 100 staff will typically consume two million sheets of paper per annum, most of which will need to be shared and distributed as efficiently as possible. Every single day, legal organisations process staggering amounts of electronic and paper-based information. This equates to hundreds of hours’ worth of time that barristers, solicitors and law firms have to spend manually managing documents such as disclosure and contractual agreements, instead of working on higher value tasks that really matter and generate profit. This is an issue that can’t be ignored by the CIO or management of any legal organisation, it’s costing companies both time and money.
Relying solely on paper-based documents can cause unnecessary and costly delays and lead to expensive inaccuracies and understandably, law firms are looking for more efficient ways to manage their document workflows. To address this issue, many organisations are turning to cloud services to increase accuracy and efficiency. The Legal IT Professionals’ Global Cloud Survey Report found that 84 per cent of all firms analysed are now acknowledging that cloud computing will ultimately overtake on-premise computing in the legal industry.
Clouding the issue
When it comes to collaboration and document management services, it’s easy to see why this attitude is starting to dominate the industry. An approach that allows employees to conveniently access, process and share documents through internet-enabled computers, smartphones and tablets, from any location has the potential to enhance the operations of almost every law firm in the country. Canon’s Office Insights Report confirmed this demand for smarter document handling in businesses. It revealed that a staggering 88 per cent of respondents find it valuable to automatically capture and process scanned documents, while 77 per cent said the same about sending scanned documents to the cloud.
A good starting point for law firms looking to the cloud as a means of improving document workflows is to use intelligent document capture software that enables them to digitally extract information from paper documents and feed them into electronic workflows. This is where information can be instantly validated using optical character recognition (OCR). OCR stores, archives and guarantees the accuracy of manually inputted information and ensures that lawyers have instant access to the most up to date case information at any given time. What’s more, if changes need to be made on the day, digital case files can be edited from the courtroom – an incredible collaboration boost for both employees and teams.
Given the wealth of confidential client information and sensitive digital documentation held in the possession of legal firms and their employees, data security is understandably a top priority in the legal services sector. It is the responsibility of the legal profession to protect the privacy of their clients by ensuring the security of the data that they collect, store and process.
Digitising documents into the cloud protects confidential client information, as employees can automatically remove sensitive content during the capture process such as credit card numbers and client information, while all documents are being encrypted compliant to the Solicitor's Regulation Authority’s (SRA) standards. 85 per cent of respondents are calling for greater document security in the office, and particularly law firms need to ensure confidentiality remains high, compliance targets are met and full audit trails can be provided – the cloud can help.
To ensure the benefits permeate through every part of the business, legal firms need to take a few things into consideration when implementing a cloud-based document management solution. Traditionally the legal sector has been hesitant to adopt new technologies such as the cloud, as law firms are not sure what they can and cannot do within existing regulations. So far, the SRA has not published detailed views or guidance to law firms on cloud computing and this will need to change, quickly.
The data intensity of the legal function will never change. Lawyers will need to complete forms, process paperwork and ensure that they are confidentially storing and maintaining potentially millions of documents. What can change is the way in which law firms set about these tasks. Data should be an asset; if it’s accurate and up-to-date, the more data that a lawyer has access to the easier a legal process should become. If data is a burden because it is stored inaccessibly or counter-intuitively, takes days to process or is riddled with omissions and errors then it will quickly become the source of inefficiency, frustration and a drain on costs.
This is why many law firms are turning to document service providers for help in effectively processing all of the documents, both paper and electronic. This is often accomplished through the use of on-site managed services that includes the entire data management process, from printing, copying, faxing, scanning right through to incoming and outgoing mail. Business services are not isolated, and the more they inform one another, the more effective and efficient a law firm will be.