Case Study: Moving from Paper-Based to Digital Document Management

By Martin Sutherland, Canon Canada

Technology has dramatically impacted the way firms handle documents. Current estimates from ARMA (Association of Records Managers and Administrators) indicate that more than 90 per cent of business records created today are electronic.

For law firms, even the most benign contract discussion can amass copious amounts of data and documents. Take the more complex and larger-scale disputes into account, and it’s not difficult to imagine why most law firms pay fees to store roomfuls of paper records and files.

Records management software and multifunction (MFP) devices that print, copy, scan and fax can help streamline communications by automatically tracking and sending documents to colleagues, clients and outside agencies. In addition, digitizing and storing records via MFPs can help decrease the amount of paper used within an organization, and reduce the amount of physical storage required for paper. Files are also easier to search and retrieve, which is crucial for time-sensitive cases.

When records are converted from paper to digital, critical information can easily be found and extracted from an electronic catalogue of clients and cases.

Optical character recognition (OCR) technology further enhances the electronic filing system with the capability of rapidly scanning documents for key words or phrases, and precisely pinpointing where in the file they can be found. An entire catalogue can be examined in minutes for pertinent information, as opposed to days.

By digitizing documents, firms can achieve a quick return on investment through time- and resource-savings. The fraction of the time it takes to sort electronic files versus physical files is time that can now be allocated towards providing more preparatory and strategic opportunities for counsel.

One Firm’s Answer to Records Management

Stikeman Elliott LLP is one of Canada’s largest law firms, with offices in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver servicing more than 13,000 clients. The firm’s Montreal office, which has more than 300 staff and 145 lawyers, retains millions of hard copies related to thousands of files each year.

For the past decade, the firm has only scanned and electronically stored select documents deemed as essential resources. The rest remained in hard copy. With the scanning device used at that time, attempting to scan every record proved to be too time-consuming and labour-intensive.

As case-loads increased, so did the volume of hard documents. Stikeman Elliott soon realized the volume of physical paper was threatening to overwhelm the Montreal office. Searching for specific information in a mountain of paperwork was becoming inefficient and a waste of resources.

Recognizing the need for a centralized records management strategy, which would provide a quick, easy method of accessing files and searching for information, Stikeman Elliott decided to develop a single electronic file per client. After considering various technology options to support this strategy, the firm selected Canon’s digital imageRUNNER multifunction solution that can print, scan, fax and copy, and is powerful enough to sustain the high volume of scanning associated with a large legal office.

The firm also opted for eCopy software, which allows lawyers and legal aides to scan documents and have them sent directly to individual computer desktops. This system can also distribute scanned documents externally through the sender’s personal e-mail via a Microsoft Windows login, prompted on the MFP.

Stikeman Elliott tailored the process to meet its specific business requirements. This included customizing the application so all electronic documents sent outside the office via the MFP e-mail function appears in the “sent” items of the individual’s corporate e-mail account. This tracks the correspondence and files sent to clients for the firm, which helps with disbursement charges and record-keeping for each file.

The new solution enables Stikeman Elliott lawyers to reference a single database for all client files, rather than having to sort through boxes of records. Sourcing information for a case from thousands of papers once took a large team of people working around the clock days to complete. With the digital solution, this same task takes one person a few hours.

Previously, Stikeman Elliot’s documenting process required numerous stages. This process has been made more efficient by networking all the MFPs on each of the Montreal office’s eight floors to increase accessibility and workflow organization.

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