Law Office Computing
Building Your Electronic OfficeóDocument Scanning and Management
One of the most common questions I receive is about the way you start to implement digital document scanning into your office routine. Commonly the questioner asks how she can move masses of paper from the physical desktop to the computer desktop and then move them around her office. Here, there is no single, simple answer. Many different vendors provide "soup to nuts" document management systems that scan, OCR and search documents that come into your office. Most of these systems are pretty expensive and require a substantial commitment of time and money. Switching over your whole office system to one of these document management systems is a major undertaking full of traps and pitfalls. It requires very careful analysis and planning in order to implement and is something far beyond what can be covered in this column.
A more sensible solution, I think, is to slowly introduce scanning into your existing office routine. Here the 90/10 principle holds sway. You can harness 90% of the firepower of modern document management technology with 10% [or less!!] of the software and hardware that some vendors will try to sell you. There are several products that will scan, read [OCR] and file your paper documents and provide an effective structure for accommodating both electronic documents (that is documents that were originally created and stored and used in electronic form) with scanned images of documents that began life on paper. The ability to integrate those two basic document types is critical to any effective law office document management program. Most law offices long ago implemented electronic document management schemes based on the old DOS directory systems that in Windows became the folder/subfolder motif. It makes a lot of sense to carry forward on that existing document management base by utilizing the capacity of Windows 98 Explorer to integrate the document types in the existing management scheme with new forms of documents such a photographs and images of scanned documents.
Two inexpensive software programs allow you to begin to implement the integration of scanned documents into your existing document management program. Both of those programs allow almost any conceivable document type to be brought on to your computerís hard drive. The first of these is called PaperMaster 98. It can be purchased over the Internet at http://www.documagix.com for under $100. PaperMaster allows you to integrate a wide variety of file formats into a familiar file cabinet/folder motif. It has a built in OCR engine that will read your documents and store the OCR text for later searching. PaperMaster thus integrates the venerable metal file cabinet management device with todayís electronic documents and it does it in a way we can understand easily. The creative people on your staff will in very short order find ways to keep what is good, useful and known about their existing file system while at the same time adding to it the capacity to handle and management electronic documents. One especially nice feature of PaperMaster 98 is the ability to "publish" your file cabinet to a CD ROM where it is completely portable. PaperMaster 98 will run over a network and has a lot of other very nice features. Unfortunately, the folks at Documagix seem to have stopped continuing development of their product.
The second inexpensive document management program you should consider is called PaperPort from ScanSoft,http://www.scansoft.com. ScanSoft is actively developing new features and solving old problems with their software. PaperPort is bundled with many small scanners. I reviewed the soon to be released version 6.5 which will be available by the time you read this column. PaperPort Deluxe costs around $50 and is well worth upgrading to even if you got a bundled "lite" product with your scanner. PaperPort performs almost every function you can imagine concerning documents. Unlike PaperMaster 98, the PaperPort desktop provides you with thumbnail images of the documents that you have scanned or imported into the software. Instead of a file cabinet motif PaperPort utilizes the familiar Windows Explorer folder model that allows you to drag and drop electronic documents of all kinds into both folders and applications. If you wish to fax a document from your desktop, you simply drag the thumbnail image of the document into your fax software. If you wish to OCR a document, you simply drag it into Word or WordPerfect icons located along the bottom of your desktop screen. PaperPort also has a very useful application for scanning forms that you can then complete on your computer.
Trial lawyers will love PaperPort because it allows you to collect and annotate documents directly from your desktop and store them in folders on a hard drive located anywhere on your network, including your server. The program also has a very powerful indexed based searching system that will take you directly to the word or words you seek in any of the documents you have indexed on your hard drive. This kind of full text searching is incredibly useful and easy to do. The indexer will index any text-based document you ask it to. Thus, word processing files, Web pages, spreadsheets, as well as images that have been reduced to text through an OCR process are all fair game for the indexer. PaperPort does a tremendous job with photographs and objects, producing images suitable for trial. When the original document is in text form like a word processing document or a web page, the search engine is flawless. When the original document is scanned and OCRed the search is less precise. PaperPort, however, allows you set the degree of accuracy so that a search for "smoking gun" will turn up OCR errors like "smo~.. gun" or "smirking gun." All in all this is a pretty impressive product for $50.
During my test, I used a Visioneer OneTouch flat bed scanner and took several images of objects such as a multi-blade pocketknife, a human hand, and several other objects. The quality was extraordinarily high and certainly usable in a trial exhibit. I also used the little Visioneer Strobe Pro, a single sheet fed scanner that is about the size of a small loaf of rye bread. Both of these scanners are very inexpensive and plug directly into a USB port. Both of the scanners can purchased for less than a $100. Scanners that will take multiple sheets of paper at a single session are available for a few hundred dollars more. I use a Fujitsu 15C ScanPartner, which is available over the Internet for around $600 and will scan about 20 pages a minute directly into PaperPort or PaperMaster.
Once you have scanned the documents into PaperPort they can be managed very easily. You can annotate and markup documents and you can put basic information about the document into a document information tag that becomes a part of the stored image. Most importantly, that stored document information tag is fully searchable using the PaperPortís Simple Search Technology. Once you have annotated, highlighted and attached document information PaperPort allows you to save the document in any one of 19 different file formats that include almost every kind of image you may need. And, catch this, the information put into the document tag can be directly dictated to the computer using Dragon Naturally Speaking. Picture yourself with a microphone in your hand, reviewing your documents and dictating information into your computer. You donít get a magic decoder ring in the box, but this is just about as good as it gets. This is a truly powerful product for a very small price.
Visioneer OneTouch scanners are available for well under $100 and come with the basic PaperPort software. That is a great way to start. If you find that you like the process of converting paper into electronic images and merging it with other documents that were originally created in electronic form such as word processing and spreadsheets, this is a great way to start. You will be up to speed in no time and ready to step up to a more broadly based high-speed document information management system. Do not be surprised, however, if PaperPort Deluxe 6.5 turns out to meet almost all of your needs.