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5 mistakes law firms make when it comes to document and print technology

Tim HubbardAs anyone working in the legal profession will know, competitive edge is gained by commoditising the processes that would otherwise eat into a fee earner's time, especially when it comes to document management. Successfully doing this can, in some cases, make the difference between a firm's success or failure, yet many continue to get it wrong. Tim Hubbard, professional services specialist at digital print and document management company, Altodigital, examines the most costly mistakes law firms can make in this area and crucially, how they can get it right. 

Mistake 1: Not managing paper flow and storage

Effective workflow management is a crucial step towards driving time efficiency in a law firm, and establishing a repeatable workflow process can increase productivity and ultimately reduce the costs associated with managing the litany of materials that every case generates. 

Central to this is the way in which a firm manages its documents, and there are now a range of powerful scan-to-mail and scan-to-file programmes available, allowing employees to quickly and easily store all practice notes on a server, and convert scanned documents into a searchable and editable format for improved archiving, document retrieval, and productivity. The time savings of this approach can be phenomenal, driving significant efficiencies when it comes to the flow and management of documents. Not only that, but document management systems like this bring with them some significant security benefits too when compared with the traditional methods. 

This shift towards more efficient document workflow, and a reduction in the printed page also represents part of a broader trend among law firms when it comes to reducing overall storage requirements, from the legal library to 'office floor' filing. As firms increasingly strive to operate more efficiently and drive up margins, we are seeing a reduction in square footage, and effective electronic document storage is central to this.  

Benefits: Streamline print costs, improved paper flow and storage, more efficient workflow.


Mistake 2: Not tracking and recouping print costs 

Most practices, even if they're of a modest size, will be required to print huge volumes of collateral, particularly when it comes to case notes and research. However, it's surprising the number of firms that don't adequately track these costs when it comes to client re-charges, or alternatively use time-consuming 'manual' methods to do this. 

The key to effectively doing this is implementing print management software. Such solutions allow the volume of print jobs to be unobtrusively tracked across an entire office keeping costs consistent, as well as calculating a cost on the volume of print work per client, allowing for accurate recharging. This works by administrators setting “rules” for printing documents, for example, large documents can be automatically printed in duplex and printed web pages can be printed in mono, rather than in full colour.

To help further streamline costs and improve flexibility, many firms are also looking to total volume plan print solutions, meaning they are charged on a cost-per-print basis rather than on an annual subscription. 

Benefits: Better management of print costs, ensuring print is as cost neutral as it can be in the sector. 

Mistake 3: Not taking security seriously  

A recent study we commissioned identified a surprisingly lax attitude towards security from the professional services sector, with nearly half of law firms (45%) admitting to taking no measures towards protecting the data stored on their print devices. With nearly two thirds of firms regularly scanning security-sensitive documents, the implications of this are serious, especially when you consider the proposed new EU regulations for data protection that could see any company that holds personal information fined 2% of their annual turnover if caught breaking the guidelines.

From our experience, while hacking can be an issue, it's often more domestic matters causing security breaches, for example, someone printing out sensitive documents, forgetting about them and then leaving them on the printer. This is where pull-print technology comes into its own, where each print job has to be authorised at the device before it can be claimed. This also has the added benefit of significant cost savings when it comes to toner and paper. Similarly, many don't realise that multi-functional print devices store anything scanned or printed on them on an internal hard disk, and subsequently fail to delete this when selling or throwing away the device.  A solution to this can be encrypted hard disks on all scanning and print devices.

Benefits: Client assurance on a secure network, Internal Security on all print and copy work. 

Mistake 4: Not ensuring that staff are fully aware of what can be done with MFD's in the workplace

Despite the many and varied benefits of a new document infrastructure, one the biggest challenges can be bringing staff using the technology on board with a new way of working, and essentially changing their 'print behaviour'. 

Central to this is an understanding of the crucial role played by Multi-Functional-Devices (MFDs) as opposed to a traditional desktop printer. MFDs are increasingly taking a central role when it comes to print and document management within law firms, helping streamline costs and improve time efficiencies at all levels. However, persuading a busy Paralegal that they no longer have access to a desktop printer, or convincing them that that they have to re-learn a document management system can be a huge challenge, especially when the move is perceived as disruptive to the company status quo, or worse still, a 'demotion' in responsibility or privilege. 

A starting point should be looking to an organisation's internal comms department to clearly, concisely and effectively communicate the bigger managed document services picture to their employees, whether it's about saving money, improving efficiency and workflow, or operating in a greener capacity. Education from a technical perspective is also important. Many staff will be cynical about new technology, perceiving it simply as something else to learn in an already busy working week. However, with a dedicated training programme that focuses in particular on the positive results and benefits of the solution, this can be mitigated. 

Benefits: improved workflow efficiencies, time savings. 

Mistake 5. Not reviewing the way you use print  

While talk of the paperless office has been around longer than I can remember, let's be honest, in the legal sector, this is never going to happen. However, there are still benefits to be made from an overall reduction in the volumes of print throughout a firm, not only from a cost perspective, but from a security and workflow perspective. 

In fact, with the right solutions in place, it is possible for firms to save up to 30% on paper costs and print/copy charges, with a similar reduction in man-hours possible. The challenge therefore is not to create the “paperless office”, but to create an office where paper and digital documents work together in an efficient, cost-effective way.

There are a range of law-specific software solutions, such as intelligent print retrieval solutions, which help improve document security and minimise print waste. One of the main functions of this type of software is the creation of a pull-print environment, meaning each print job has to be authorised at the device, reducing the potential for sensitive documents to be forgotten about and left on the printer, and the ability to print securely to shared workgroup devices. These systems often have 'anytime anywhere' mobility features, with the ability to securely print to a user's terminal of choice across the Firms corporate network.  

It's also important for people at all levels in a firm to critically appraise the way they use print, for example, asking themselves ' do I need to print or can I scan instead' or alternatively, only printing documents when and where they are required. Solutions such as Airprint technology can help drive this flexibility, enabling staff to print directly to networked devices using tablets or smartphones, wherever they are. 

Benefits: improved flexibility, workflow and security. 

Tim Hubbard is professional services specialist at digital print and document management company, Altodigital.

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