During a recent conversation about document scanning with a customer, an interesting comment was made: "We have plenty of room in the office right now, and we can just put files in a storage unit if we need to." This may sound like it was said by someone who is decisive and practical, but he was actually unorganized, short-sighted, and/or not concerned with protecting client information. It also sounds like a cheap alternative to expensive records storage service programs. The reality is that this comment was made by a successful attorney with 10 years experience working in both large and small firms.
The difference between the past and this current conversation is that the costs associated with records management are now coming out of his pocket - he is now a partner at a firm with more than 30 attorneys. This particular attorney will be kicking himself for not implementing a document scanning strategy early in the life cycle of his firm.
The tremendous frustration felt by many firms around the country and costing them tens of thousands of dollars follows a fairly consistent path: closet to storage unit to additional storage units to large-scale storage service provider to scanning. As businesses grow, especially law firms, the amount of paper generated through closed legal cases exponentially compounds. Most decision-makers are unaware of the large volumes of paperwork that begin to pile up over time.
As stated previously, most firms begin by placing closed case paperwork into closets and storage rooms located within their office. Things quickly get overwhelming and the decision is to fix the problem with a band-aid: rent a storage unit.
How many attorneys do you know that are going to put 20 boxes of closed case files in their car and take them to a storage unit in Columbia during mid-August? So how do these boxes get to the shiny new storage unit or units? Typically it is the runners and office assistants that are tasked with transporting files to storage units. Runners are part time, often seasonal, employees that have no vested interest in proper file management or oversight over this process. How often is an office manager or partner going to visit a storage unit and inspect the condition of records or how they are organized? 6 months after the last runner leaves, a file is requested from the storage unit, and the new runner is unable to find it (or just doesn't have the physical strength to get to it). Fortunately, this new runner can blame the problem on the last runner and the cycle continues.
Eventually, a catastrophe occurs: flood, fire, damage, theft, or the dreaded visit to the storage unit by the managing partner. Once this happens, the decision is made to begin using a document storage service center. The sales process is fairly straight-forward - "we'll store these boxes for you and it only costs about a quarter per box, per month. If you need something out of one of them, just let us know and we'll bring it to you." The reality of this new program doesn't set in for about a year. Pricing schedules are multiple pages including fees for retrieval, delivery, rush delivery, failure to locate, permanent removal, destruction, re-file, indexing, and many more. What originated as a $X.XX monthly bill has now tripled and continues to grow.
After a thorough review of the current document management process, an attempt is usually made to switch to a new storage service provider. At this time, decision-makers are made aware of what the industry terms as "hostage fees". The costs for removal from the storage facility creates a situation in which it is not financially feasible to permanently remove these boxes from the facility. This includes shredding boxes of records that have met their retention life span. Now the firm is in a situation in which they do not feel that they are getting a great value and are using the following process to retrieve a single document from storage:
An attorney requests a document from a closed case
His/her paralegal makes the request to the office manager or runner
The runner or office manager has to locate the case and box by index list
The runner or office manager has to call an automated phone system requesting the material
Typically, a second call is required to schedule the delivery
The service provider delivers the file to the runner or office manager
The office manager or runner gives the file to the paralegal
The paralegal copies records that are needed and returns the file to the runner or office manager
Another phone call to an automated system is made to schedule the pickup of the file for its return back to the storage facility
There are quite a few people involved in this process, which can often take several days. Many might say, "this is a lot of great information, but what are my alternatives?" The South Carolina Bar states that "there appears to be no prohibition against placing the files on a medium, such as a computer disk, microfilm or microfiche, and thereafter disposing of the original hard copies, as long as there is no prejudice to the client. The attorney should also make reasonable efforts to ensure confidentiality with all suppliers and vendors who would have access to client records. SCACR 417 (d) provides that records may be maintained by electronic or other media provided that they otherwise comply with this rule and provided further that printed copies can be reproduced."
So how do you retrieve a file using the document scanning process? Much simpler than with storage services:
An attorney requests a document from the office manager or head runner
The runner emails the requested file to the attorney or prints them and hands them to the attorney
This is truly as complicated as it gets. Period.
The document scanning process is as follows:
Boxes are provided to the firm at no charge
As cases are closed, paralegals or attorneys place the closed cases into boxes
When a box gets full, a runner takes them to a holding area
Once per month (or as needed), the runner contacts Seras for a pickup
The boxes are labeled, transported to our facility, tracked, prepped, scanned, and electronic copies returned to the runner
Following approval, the hard-copy records are shredded via a certified shredding process
Hard copies are gone, taking up no space and are not susceptible to flood, fire, theft, damage, or other potential loss. Access to records is virtually immediate, with no long-term commitment and easy budget forecasting. Retention is indefinite, with easy backup to off-site servers for continuity and peace-of-mind.
The costs for document scanning services vary from customer to customer depending upon their organizational requirements. More importantly, Seras has documented numerous customer scenarios in which direct cost comparisons between storage and scanning show a much higher value with document scanning services. Click here to learn more about document scanning with Seras.