by Robin L Sullivan*
The legal field is a paper intensive industry, so much so that even courts and government offices that have already transitioned to paperless are requiring professionals who use their services to also use the technology.
Traffic Law Center is comprised of defense attorneys whose practice targets traffic law (tickets, license suspensions, DUI, etc.). With offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, it was hard to get information from one office to another without spending thousands of dollars annually on courier service. Handling as many as 25,000 cases each year made file handling and storage, especially with closed files, a cumbersome and expensive process. We knew going paperless was the best way to achieve the office efficiency we were lacking and it would help us save money long term.
We started searching for a document management solution by browsing the web and seeking referrals from our current vendors. We came out empty handed after interviewing several software development firms and decided to narrow our search by looking for a solution that would integrate with QuickBooks, which we use for our accounting software. Eventually, we came across CNG-SAFE from Cabinet NG (CNG), and after learning more about the company and its offerings, we found out they also had a cloud-based solution called CNG-ONLINE.
CNG-ONLINE includes all of the features and functionality of CNG-SAFE, but you don’t have to purchase a server and run the software on your network because it works via a SaaS subscription model. One of the great things about utilizing a cloud-based solution is that you receive automatic software upgrades and system backups as part of the service. After further review of the solution, we concluded that their system had the flexibility to fit our growing business. They also took the time to truly understand our business processes and were able to explain how CNG’s products could help us achieve our business goals. Compared to other solutions available on the market, CNG-SAFE and CNG-ONLINE were more flexible and versatile, and could be fashioned to accommodate our specific needs.
Since implementing CNG-ONLINE less than a year ago, we have seen some pretty remarkable changes. For instance, the speed at which we can open a file and get the information to an attorney has gone from days to minutes. Through CNG’s workflow feature we can avoid paperwork bottlenecks and monitor staffing needs. We have vastly improved the quality of the documents that are prepared and mailed to courts, clients and colleagues. We also dramatically reduced postage costs by implementing a procedure for email communication with our clients. Additionally, the “trace” and “reports” features of CNG allow us to pinpoint problem issues in workflow and productivity and solve these problems factually rather than anecdotally, meaning, we can run the actual number of cases handled, log in and log off statistics, see who has work still in their workflow at the end of a day, etc., so that manpower can be allocated to various sectors of the practice.
Set Your Goals before Searching for a Solution
Before transitioning to a paperless office, you should have goals in place before adding a document management solution to your technology infrastructure. For us, our primary goals were to address a variety of issues that we felt would help our business increase office efficiency and productivity, meet compliance requirements and give us a competitive advantage. These issues were distilled into six primary goals:
1) Every person in the organization (about 30 people) should be able to review any case file at any time without having to access the “paper file”.
2) Because we operate as a single firm with multiple office locations, we always had logistical problems with getting files from one office to another. Another goal was to be able to transmit documents from one person to another in a matter of seconds, not days, regardless of their physical location.
3) Eliminate expensive IT personnel and equipment costs by using a cloud-based vs. premises-based solution.
4) Coordinate with our accounting department for reporting receipts.
5) Eliminate file storage problems and inefficiencies.
6) Implement the solution without any lost days of productivity due to software changeover.
Overall, the system has helped us tremendously in the areas of file management and improved quality of work via increased efficiency and productivity enhancements. File management allows for quick classification and digital storage of documents for easy ongoing reference and retrieval. From a relatively simple form containing client and traffic ticket information, various legal and financial documents can be generated, including pleadings, correspondence and financial reporting. Attorneys and staff are able to collaborate on cases, share documents more easily and make changes or edits at will which helps to improve the overall quality of work being turned over.
Requirements Your Document Management Solution
When searching for a document management solution, make sure to do your due diligence and identify the general requirements you want your solution to meet before reaching out to vendors. There are certain feature sets you should make sure that the solution has. Below is a list of our feature requirements.
Cost Effective – We were looking for something relatively inexpensive, but with low upfront costs (i.e. pay as you go or as needed). This is usually possible with a cloud-based solution where someone else can handle the server side of the operation, helping the firm save on related in-house IT costs.
One caveat: Before installing your new solution, be sure to do a complete inventory of your computer hardware and REPLACE older desktops that have insufficient processing speed and memory. Our computers were old and slow and while they could process paper documents, they were slow when bringing up “digital” documents. Because we did not upgrade our equipment before installing CNG, it took us a while to identify which workstations were troublesome and replace the equipment with something that met our standards and expectations. For us, replacement cost was relatively inexpensive (less than $500.00 per workstation, and about 1/3 of our workstations needed updating. As a side note on the upgrade process, employees always like to get the latest and greatest office equipment. It makes the changeover more palatable for those who might otherwise be resistant to change. Spend the money and upgrade your hardware. You can buy a lot more for your money than ever, and it is well worth it.
Customizable – We needed to be able to configure the software to serve our organizational approach and business needs rather than change our organizational approach to fit the software’s requirements. The solution should have an intuitive interface, with the option for at least some customizations at either the user or supervisory level, or both.
User Friendly – Because we had different levels of technological aptitude among our employee group, the solution had to be user friendly and simple. Look for a solution that mimics your physical environment so users will feel more at ease with a system that is similar to something they already know.
Efficient – Because a typical meeting with our clients involves an exchange of paper and documentation, the scanning and printing process had to be fast, clean, and simple. An effective workflow system should have the following characteristics:
- A central repository to store and index documents
- Security settings that will allow only the appropriate user to view and access cabinets, folders and documents.
- A flexible workflow methodology with rules that mirror manual processes and can adjust the flow of information dynamically based on logical criteria.
- Remote access for anywhere, anytime access to documents.
Ongoing Support and Training – The quality and availability of customer service and technical support during the first weeks and months of implementation is invaluable. From day one, our people were able to sufficiently use CNG-ONLINE within a very short time (less than eight hours). Will your firm require in-house training? What happens when new employees are brought on or if someone needs a review of the system? Make sure you have the support in place for when you need it, because you will. Also, make sure that there are 3 or 4 trusted people within your organization who are trained to handle various aspects of the document management solutions’ functions including: user rights, template creation and/or editing, and peer training and development. These duties, in a busy firm cannot fall on the shoulders of a single person. It is not terribly difficult to learn and use these features and your organization will run much more smoothly if your staff has more than one “go to” person to handle simple, but essential, processes.
ROI – Demonstrating a financial return on the investment should be fairly easy to do since many firms spend tens of thousands of dollars annually on file folders, paper, offsite storage and file clerks. The system should make a meaningful impact on reducing cost and storage space in the office within a year. Labor savings, as a result of improved efficiencies, will be a major contributor to the total ROI.
Overall, the solution must be capable of being molded to the process and work methods of the existing organization, not the other way around. With organizations that have been in business for a number of years, their people have developed “tried and true” methods. Change is hard for some people and it’s too expensive to recreate the wheel and/or replace these people if they leave because they are taken out of their comfort zones, or who don’t believe in the direction the company is taking. If the paperless document management solution can’t be made to look like whatever already exists, and if the employee believes that it will make his or her job harder, not easier, it will be hard to get employees to sign on.
* Robin L. Sullivan, founded the Traffic Law Center, a firm comprised of defense attorneys whose practice is limited to traffic law, in 1990. Today, as managing member, he handles the business side of the firm including marketing, client relationships, vendor and supplier relationships, attorney recruitment and public relations. “Traffic Law Center ®” is a registered trademark and may not be used in any form whatsoever by any individual, firm, or other entity. Only members of the law firm of the Traffic Law Center of Sullivan & Associates LLC are authorized to use this trademark. Parties who are interested in joining the Traffic Law Center as members in the jurisdiction of their bar admission may contact Robin L. Sullivan for membership details by email to: email@example.com