The legal industry has been protected from market forces since the Greeks were orating in the town square, give or take a century or two. Today the business of law is losing its protected status as market forces are impinging. The attorneys’--and, thus the law firms’ --entrenched attachment to paper exemplifies yet again the legal industry’s resistance to the mandate of market forces to migrate toward electronic and digital records.
The thinking that ‘it is cheaper to store paper records than it is to scan them’ is misguided, simplistic, and just plain wrong.
Here’s how we know: DocSolid worked with Records and Technology executives (the Working Group) from nine large law firms to quantify the full cost of records storage, to bring the storage cost and contents model down to the box level, and to compare a production scanning operation that would substantially eliminate the flow of paper to offsite records storage. All of the data provided by the Working Group were averaged. No individual firm’s numbers are depicted in any published materials.
The result was an unbiased report that created a usable decision framework to guide any firm through its own analysis of the topic and apply to its own unique data and situation. The full white paper is available can be downloaded here—but here are some of the salient, conclusions the report reached:
The study built the Scan v Store comparison using these four, clearly defined steps to provide an unbiased framework that can be utilized by any law firm.
Establishing the comprehensive cost for records storage involves identifying and quantifying all the related costs. To make the data digestible, we wanted to bake the result into a cost of records storage per box, over a selected number of storage years.
Table 1 shows the average cost per box of records, to store for 10 years, and then destroy the box:
What’s in the box? Paper records vary widely from practice to practice. But in order to have a modeled job for scanning work as a comparison to storage, a baseline box of paper records needed to be defined.
Most interestingly, the Working Group estimated that 51% of the paper headed offsite was already electronically available from the DMS, or duplicated in the same box. Obviously this represents a major inefficiency in storage practices. But the Working Group was skeptical about firm-wide adoption of better practices for culling the paper in its active lifecycle, or for purging duplicated paper once the matter was closed.
Table 2 shows the average file, folder and page count per box of records:
When scanning retired matters as bulk records, methodical productivity and process integrity is needed. Formal quality control (QC) of the entire process is also needed, because it supports a strategy of destroying the paper by policy after it has been successfully scanned and stored. An overall best practice must be employed for repeatable, measurable, paper-to-digital results.
DocSolid designed a best practice for getting this work done, optimized for law firm records, integrated with a law firm DMS for image storage, and with integrated QC process and controls. Built around our KwikTag Legal scanning solution, the best practice operation is called a Scan Factory for Records.
Table 3 shows scan operations cost, on a per-box basis, for newly-retired records:
The simple comparison shows a storage cost of $57.52 per box, and a scanning cost of $54.60 per box. As mentioned before, the comprehensive storage costs are likely higher for individual firms. And the scanning costs presume a best practice scanning operation has been put in place. The important takeaways are that a) the comparison is close enough to challenge the conventional ‘store it’ mentality, and b) the framework in the tables offers a way to consider this choice at your firm.
The advocacy for storing records is a status quo (‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’) approach that requires no change to the current business process, and no new retention policy, and no new work or workflows.
On the other hand, the advocacy for scanning should include consideration of a broad set of digital advantages that aren’t reflected in the cost number comparisons:
The entire report can be downloaded here.
DocSolid is grateful for the contribution of our Working Group participants. These professionals are seasoned experts in the field of legal records, and they were challenged to quantify and package data about their operations in new and compelling ways. Though opinions, experiences and practices differed between their firms, they share a common thread of proficiency and dedication. Data published in this whitepaper is an average of the submissions from the Working Group, and no data reflects any individual firm. Opinions expressed in this whitepaper are DocSolid’s, and not those of any individual firm.
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