A Series on Technology: Document Production & Management Systems
For some, this recent crisis was manageable because they were already accustomed to working remotely. For others, it’s proven a nightmare. This is our fourth installment on technology. You can bury your head in the sand and wait for all this to pass or you can embrace the new technology available for your practice. It doesn’t require an IT degree or an IT department. Incorporating advances in technology into your practice is easier now than it has ever been. Even if you had stuck your toe in the sea of new technology, now is the time to wade in a little deeper. How can technology help your practice? How hard is it?
Let’s talk about document production and management.
Documents have long defined our profession. Many of us have old legal documents framed on the walls of our offices. Documents have long been associated with paper. That is simply not the case any longer.
We increasingly live in a digitized world. Do you have to make the transition? Maybe not. Many of us love the tactile nature of paper whether its paper books or paper documents. But, if you are going to file documents with a court, easily and quickly share them with clients, or access them from anywhere, you will need your precious paper in digital form.
When I started my solo practice three years ago, I was very intentional about going paperless. We did. We have. And we haven’t looked back.
Frankly, it was easier than I thought it would be. For the most part, practically everyone is capable of handling documents digitally. For the few who aren’t or choose not to, a simple scanner does the trick. Receive the paper, scan it into your system, and shred it. Done. Oh sure, there are some documents that you will want to maintain in a hard copy format. But be strict about making exceptions and you will find that the amount of physical space needed for document storage will quickly quit growing exponentially.
So, that deals with documents which already exist. What about producing them?
There are really only a few word processing platforms used. Don’t venture out of bounds here. But, check out all their features. They do a lot more than they used to. There are a host of how-to’s, shortcuts, tutorials, and demos online. Spend a few minutes with some. You’ll be amazed at easy-to-use features which will help you do your job more efficiently and accurately.
There are also apps and programs that will easily, quickly, and seamlessly generate the form documents that you use repeatedly in your practice.
Your word processing package can do some limited form generation, but it may be enough for your practice. Many apps are practice-type specific. So, check around before you waste your time trying to mangle a round peg so that it fits in a square hole.
Now, what are you going to do with all these documents that you’ve received and generated?
Hopefully, you have already decided that they will be stored in the cloud (if not, read our previous installment on the cloud). A practice management system may provide you all the cloud storage that you need. If not, there are a few others, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive are a few of the more popular cloud-based storage systems. Regardless of where your documents are maintained, having some agreed organizational structure and/or file-naming protocols can make finding the document that you or a team member is looking for easier (even in the programs with robust search capabilities).
As with your other practice tools, being able to access and work with your data remotely via laptop or a mobile device is a must in a crisis but is awfully convenient, efficient, and productive regardless.