Speaker Key: PB: Phil
Brown, DW: David Whelan
PB: Hi, it’s Phil Brown and I’m here with David Whelan. Today we are going
to talk about file management again.
DW: If you listen to our other podcast you’ll
hear about how you can organize your files using file names and folder
structures, using document management systems. Today we’re going to spend some
time talking about actually manipulating the files so that they’re easier for
you to use, store, interact with, and send to other people, whether it is to the
court or your clients.
PB: So, we’re talking about electronic files,
some of which were electronic to begin with, and some of which may be converted
DW: We’re not really going to look at
paperless offices, but if you look at the documentation that’s out there about
paperless you’ll find a lot of things that are relevant to managing electronic
files. One of them is how to process paper that is coming in so that it is
scanned, turned into a digital file, and then ready for you to use in whatever
way you plan to in your office.
PB: And there are a number of different ways to
scan paper files into electronic files, and different formats are used.
DW: Right, the ABA has a technology buyersguide that they put out each year that talks about some nice small scanners
that you can put on your desk for making sure that all of the materials that
come in for you and your staff are getting scanned in and processed. And then,
the output can be turned into a Word document or a PDF, whatever you want. The
one step you want to make sure you do if you scan something though, because normally
it would scan as an image and that is not really very much use to you, is to scan
it in and use what is called "optical character recognition (OCR)" to
turn it into a document that you can then search, re-use if it is a precedent
or something else that you want to re-use, cut and paste, and that sort of
PB: Right, and we don’t want to actually save
files as Word files necessarily, because not only do they contain a bunch of
meta-data, they may also be changed.
PB: For instance, when you call up a Word
document on your computer, it will change it to today’s date.
DW: That’s right, and there is a good rule of
thumb, and a good blog post about it at the Lawyerist website, that PDF is a great option for
your final documents. That way you know that it was, sort of, locked in place
and that can be your final document. So if you use Word documents, even if you
scan into Word, then be prepared to use that as a draft or a work in progress
and then focus on having PDF as your final outcome. A PDF document that has
been OCR’d will still be searchable if you are using desktop or other search
tools and can be organized and manipulated almost as well as a Word document,
but not so much that it is actually going to change the document.
PB: And you can also tag these files as you
are saving them. We talked before about having a very consistent and robust
naming system so that you could find the files by name, but you can also find
them by tags when you are searching.
DW: That’s right. In Microsoft Word
especially, as you are saving the document, although it is actually a hassle
that a lot of people will avoid, but there is something called document
properties that you can turn on so that document properties always prompts you
when you save a document to add these properties. One of them is the title of
the document, and if you do not put a title in your document and then save it
to PDF, the title of your document essentially is "Microsoft Word document"
and then some other rubbish after it. So, it’s a really good opportunity to add
keywords or information to the document that will not appear in the document
itself, the meta-data that Phil was talking about, and you can then have these
keywords appear in search. So if you have a lot of documents that are all
forms, you can add a tag or a keyword called "forms" so that when you
do a search, all of these documents will come up, even if the word "form"
is not in the document itself.
PB: Now, after we have saved these files into
a digital format, do we just throw out the paper files right away or should we
keep them for a bit?
DW: Oh, absolutely, throw them right in the
trash, same day. I’m guessing that that is not your answer, though.
PB: My answer would be to consider having a day
box or something like that, so that after you have done your daily backup,
which is always a good idea, you can then go and check to make sure that the
files that you have recently saved are somewhere within the system.
DW: Yes, that makes a lot of sense. The thing
that you will realize once you start making these documents into electronic and
you have this second copy in paper is that it is the same thing that happens in
records management. A lot of your documents really aren’t records. They are not
things that you need to keep. They are just things that are used for the day-to-day
operations of your law practice or the court or whatever, and so you will start
to differentiate those things that need to be kept long-term and those things
that really can just be in the day box or, at the end of the week, purged or
shredded. You do not put them in a place that they can be re-used or re-found.
There was a law firm in Minneapolis where one of their employees was taking the
discarded documents to her kid’s school and they were using the other side for
drawing and stuff, and they were medical records and things like that, so you
really want to make sure that you are disposing of them properly.
PB: And speaking of file retention and file
destruction, you should also have a policy in place on how to destroy these
electronic files eventually, and a time-frame for doing that.
DW: That’s right. Even if they are documents
you need right now for the case, they may not be things that you want to keep
long-term for whatever reason. Making that distinction between Word documents
and PDF can be really useful because that can actually be an easy way to
quickly sort the files that you have saved on a particular client matter. At
the end of the client matter, if all of your files are those PDFs, then you can
quickly remove them for longer term storage and maybe get rid of some of the
work product you have had in the middle.
PB: And there are a number of different ways
to secure these electronic files with permissions to look at certain files that
you can set within your operating system or within your file management system.
You can also encrypt them. You can have password protection on certain files. There
are a number of different ways to handle how those files are dealt with.
DW: It is also good to think about whether you
are keeping lots of copies of the same thing. So if you have a document that you
are re-using and have multiple copies across your file system or your document
management system, you may want to think about starting with a single document
and linking to it, and you can do that in Windows by just right-clicking on the
document and creating a short-cut from the little menu. It will say "create
short-cut." Or if it is web-based, you can actually create links. But that
allows you to then get access to a document that is in a different folder in a
different part of the system without actually having multiple copies of the
same document appearing everywhere.
PB: And I know people tend to think of
electronic data as being very cheap to store, but, when you are looking for a
particular file, it makes no sense to have 12 copies of that file. You know,
the email that you have saved from your inbox into a file folder and that file
folder then going into a client file folder. When you are looking for that
piece of correspondence again or some documents that were attached, you do not want
to find it in six different places.
DW: That’s right. The cheapness of the storage
is offset by the cost you will have in hunting around and making sure that you
have the actual copy of the actual document you are looking for, so anything
you can do to de-duplicate or find the duplicates and either remove them or
just limit yourself to the actual number you need, will be beneficial to you
and your staff.
PB: And the one place I would talk about
redundancy being important would be your storage locations.
PB: Having a physical location, maybe with a
hard drive or backing up all of your files, as well as possibly, depending on
your practice and your preferences and your clients, deciding whether or not
you also want to backup securely in a Cloud.
DW: Right. One of the benefits of having your
documents in the Cloud is that you can then share them directly to the client
if you want to without having to email. You can essentially send him a link and
password protect it, which provides them with secure access to the files that
you have, but you do have to take into account that those files are then out
and available to anybody who has the username and password that that client is
using to access that file.
PB: Right, and we are not suggesting DropBox
or anything like that necessarily, but either an intranet or some way to share
those files with a client securely.
DW: Right, and having both that physical drive
internally and some sort of off-site Cloud or otherwise, hosted storage system,
can really give you some nice redundancies in case something happens to that
hard drive or your office. You can keep working even when you can only get to
things over the internet.
PB: And we’ve talked before about ransomware
and people have had ransomware on their office computers, but the backups they
have in the Cloud have been safe.
DW: Right, yes, I think that is still an issue
for a lot of lawyers, this issue of ransomware and encrypting and making your
files inaccessible. So if you have backups, the more the better, although, I
guess you can have too many backups too.
PB: Yes, you can have too many backups. That
is our second look at file management. I am going to guess that we are going to
revisit it again at some point, but that is it for today.
DW: Thanks, Phil.
PB: Thanks, David.