Paperless: by choice or force?


Australia has had a tough Christmas with flooding in several states.  What can we learn from such natural disasters?  What can we do differently as a firm in light of these climatic events?

Time to change our law firm practices – the paperless revolution – the must do!

1. Digital Signatures

We are going to digitally sign and give each document a unique Document ID as it is generated.

The Digital Signature is established technology as superbly summarised in the video: http://www.pdfforlawyers.com/digital_signatures/

Electronic signatures for email & caselaw considerations are provided in the excellent podcast at http://bit.ly/fVrHuy and software is available at http://www.gnupg.org/

2. Unique Document ID

The unique Document ID is needed since correspondence within & outside the firm must be positively and directly identified as well as tracked.  A unique Doc ID is essential as it enables:

  1. the tracking of documents, emails etc  – particularly when they are made into PDFs;
  2. compliance with e-document requirements for litigation; and
  3. a paper free office.

To implement the unique ID so it is placed (stamped/watermarked/whatever) onto the footer of PDF documents we propose using the following steps:

(a)    Upon the PDF document being generated, a unique ID is placed onto the footer of the document (for example, the unique ID is a pathname/name_subject_Unique_Doc_ID);

(b)   This unique ID is transparent to anyone who views the document – no matter if it is in softcopy or hardcopy – such as emailed/printed out etc.; and

(c)    The unique Doc ID is permanent and not open to manipulation.

This ensures that each Document is uniquely identified to any party. This avoids retrieving the wrong document when retrieving a document for display – especially when in the courtroom/deal room…

This unique document ID is called Bates Stamping in the USA. The Doc ID is then inserted into the metadata of our document management system (see http://bit.ly/gKEy8L ) – which in our case is the excellent open source / commercial system Knowledgetree (see http://www.knowledgetree.com ).

3. Document Management System both internal and in the cloud

Utilising our internal document management system (DMS) linked with an external Cloud SaaS (Software as a Service) to sync/mirror with our internal DMS it acts as:

(a)    a backup system; and

(b)   offsite access to our documents.

This overcomes the problem with most backup systems is that they are not live and therefore are often not used or tested until they have to be – often this testing is to late if the backup is corrupted.

The advantage of having secure access to documents via the cloud when not in the office is that we overcome the potentially a single point of failure.

The issue of backup & remote access is essential for law firms, as is moving to a paperless office.

The steps above are to be implemented and so may change; however, the wish list is now articulated so as to guide our developments.

For an overview of these issues see videos as to the Why & How to move the firm to a paperless environment: http://bit.ly/hWdgQZ – these videos highlight backup problems experienced with Hurricane Katrina – which forced change!

However, this will not overcome the current problem in Egypt where the Internet has effectively been turned off via an internet “Kill Switch” http://bit.ly/htwOVY.

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