3 Things that Stand in the Way of Document Scanning

By John Gilbert, senior vice president, nQueue

Law is an information business, yet law firms tend to store and share much of this information on paper. However, most law firms—or at least their administrative staff—understand the advantage of minimizing paper and relying more on scanned documents to store and share information. In fact, during two years of presentations about document scanning all around the country, all participants agreed that their firms would benefit from more scanning.

There are a number of impediments to the adoption of more document scanning throughout firms. We call these impediments the “three R’s:”:

    1. Risk
    1. Return on Investment
    1. Recalcitrance

Let’s look at each impediment.


In some circles, there is a reluctance to scan and shred documents, despite the fact that only a small minority of documents are actually required to be kept as hard copy. Instead, all hard copies are preserved, which takes up space in the office or requires expensive offsite storage facilities. However, there is really no rational reason to be afraid to scan and shred most documents. Not only does a good disaster recovery program basically guarantee that a document will still exist when it is needed, but because electronic versions are searchable, it is much more likely that the document will actually be found when needed.
Those who consider scanning and shredding to be too risky are likely overestimating the safety of paper itself. Paper files are easy to lose (in the seatback pocket of a plane, for instance) or alter if a firm is not vigilant about physical security. Catastrophic events, such as 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, earthquakes, and fires all pose a threat to paper documents that can be simply overcome in an electronic environment by offsite storage of backup drives.

Paper documents are also harder to locate, and there is an increased risk of not being able to produce a document when necessary, even if it remains inside the walls of the firm. By comparing the often-unseen risks of paper with the easily mitigated risks of maintaining only electronic documents, it becomes pretty clear that preserving scanned documents is the safer and less risky solution.

Return on Investment

The ROI from implementing a document scanning program is delivered in three main areas: reduction in office space, reduction in offsite storage costs and better productivity through access to information.
In order to illustrate, let’s consider the example of a typical 75-attorney firm.

Office Space

Assume that each attorney keeps enough boxes of paper on-site to fill a 50-square-foot area. (This represents 100 or so boxes, depending on how high you want to pile them.) At office rental rates of $35/square foot, the cost to store all those boxes for every attorney totals $131,250 per year.

Offsite Storage

Most firms store files that do not require instant accessibility offsite, at a facility managed by Iron Mountain or one of its competitors. Assuming each attorney stores 250 boxes this way at typical rates of approximately $0.45 per month, the firm is paying $101,250 annually for offsite storage. This does not include separate entering, retrieval, and returning fees, as well as any other fees.


Scanned documents that are properly stored in a document management system can be found and retrieved in seconds. With no electronic search capabilities, however, paper documents can be hard to find.
Consider, for example, the amount of time it takes to look a word up in the dictionary as opposed to Googling its meaning. Finding the word in the book is slower than typing it into the search engine. And a dictionary represents optimal conditions for paper: it is probably right on your bookshelf, and the listings in it are perfectly organized. Finding the right Redweld folder and the right document in the file, and the right information in the document, is much less efficient.
Assume attorney salaries of only $150,000 per year and support staff salaries of, on average, about $40,000 per year. If every attorney and staff member spends five minutes a day looking for paper documents, the resulting lost productivity firm-wide totals $130,260.

Altogether, by simply totaling the numbers above, it becomes clear that the cost of maintaining paper documents for a typical 75-attorney firm can be as much as $362,760—or more.


If the risk/reward scenario outlined above is not enough to convince the powers that be, it is likely because new processes can seem complicated and difficult to master. One way to mitigate these feelings is by making the scanning and storing process as simple as possible.

There should be a single workflow and interface regardless of hardware, even across multiple offices, so that whenever an attorney walks up to any device, it acts the same way. It should be easy to select the output format and the destination—in fact, the scanning technology should anticipate these selections so that most of the time the document can be scanned, formatted, and routed with the pressing of a single button.

There should also be an easy process to route bulk documents that are going to be scanned by the facilities management team so that they can follow the same workflow as “walk-up” documents scanned at devices. And finally, the scanning technology should integrate closely with a document management system, so that scanned documents can, in fact, be easily found when needed.

Law firms worldwide are buried in paper, and it makes them less efficient and less profitable. When you factor in the reduced costs and the mitigated risks, it is obvious that the rational thing would be to scan and shred as many documents as possible. The key is to build the rational cost/benefit argument, develop a strategy (including a retention policy) and set up processes and technology in a way that makes it truly easy to achieve the ROI.

John Gilbert is Senior Vice President at nQueue, a provider of cost recovery and document scanning and routing solutions worldwide. He can be reached at jgilbert@nQueue.com.

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