OFFICE - 1.0
There is enough technology to fully replace pen and paper (both devices and software). However, most lawyers still prefer to work on physical files compared to digital files.
Following are some of the common reasons given by Advocates for preferring physical files:
There is considerable time lag while writing on digital instruments.
I like the tactile feel of pen and paper
Scanning is cumbersome
Working experience on digital files is not the same as physical files
Most of the above reasons are not without practical basis. Therefore, it would be incorrect to assert that the aversion towards digital files is purely psychological.
Any meaningful journey towards long term digitisation should start with eliminating these differences.
At the outset, let me state that the first reason mentioned above is no more true. All modern tablets offer writing experience without any lag. In fact, my aversion towards digital instruments was displaced when I tried the iPad Pro and its pencil in 2016. The iPad’s seamless writing experience, exactly as pen and paper – without any lag – warmed me up to the idea of working on digital instruments.
That said, let us now explore other methods to reduce the difference between physical files and digital files.
DIGITAL FILES - IMPORTANCE OF 'CPBH'
I once instructed my clerk to scan a voluminous case record so that I can work on my iPad instead of carrying the bulky file. However, when I started reading the file on iPad, I realised several practical difficulties in working directly on iPad. Many of you might have gone through similar situations.
This experience made me explore the functional differences between a physical file and a raw scan of the same file. Read the post on differences between a physical file and a digital file.
Unless these differences are eliminated, it is impractical to read a case file on any tablet.
I searched for solutions and understood that performing 3 tasks/methods after scanning will enhance the working experience on a PDF file to that of physical file. The 3 methods are
In course of time, I added one more step before the above 3 methods, which I call ‘Cleaning the PDF’. This step makes the performance of above 3 methods easy and reduces the chance of human error in daily implementation. Read the following posts dealing with ‘Cleaning a raw scanned PDF’; Page Labelling; Bookmarking and Hyperlinking.
Once the above 4 processes are performed, your digital PDF file is as good as a physical file in terms of its functionality. For ease of reference, the 4 post-scanning processes mentioned above are referred to as “CPBH” in this blog.
Please note that depending on the type of file and time constraints, you can also perform CPBH in various combinations. Read the post on various kinds of documents/files and the options available in implementing CPBH.
CPBH should become peremptory after scanning in your office. Take time to stress the importance of CPBH to your staff. There might be teething problems, but if implemented habitually, CPBH will become an integral part of your office routine, like any other clerical process.
I suggest you mandate the person responsible for scanning to immediately perform CPBH and not to consider the scanning process as complete without CPBH. Read the post on training your clerk to perform CPBH and other digital processes.
The above post also deals with why scanning should not be considered as a tedious and avoidable process. In fact, scanning all documents as a part of general office routine improves the overall efficiency of your office. More on this is aspect is dealt with in Office 3.0.
Now coming to replicating the tactile feel of pen and paper. There are few screen guards which are designed to increase friction while writing on tablets' screen. Though these screen guards cannot fully emulate the feel of pen and paper, they do enhances the writing experience substantially.
I use Paperlike. Please note that these screen-guards slightly reduce the display resolution of your tablets. Evaluate the advantages (paper like writing experience) and disadvantages (reduced screen quality) before you purchase such screen-guards.
Once CBPH and other methods suggested above are fully implemented, you will notice a considerable change in your aversion towards working on digital files. Once the aversion is reduced, you will instinctively prefer to work on digital files, as you only require a tablet to work on any file, wherever you are.
Also read the post on 5 Point guide to digitise an Advocate's office.
PDF EDITING SOFTWARE
As a word processor (like Microsoft Word) was required during migration from typewrites to computers, a good PDF editing software is mandatory to digitise your office. Apart from CBPH, a good PDF editing software enables you to perform multitude of functions on all aspects related to PDFs.
There are several PDF editing software, ranging from from basic to advanced. I personally use ‘Adobe Acrobat Pro DC’ (not to be confused with the free 'Adobe Acrobat reader'), which, in my opinion, offers the most comprehensive solution. Following are some of the tasks in an Advocate’s office that can be performed using a PDF editing software.
Collating annexures and adding running page number to the file.
All page organising tools, including adding pages, deleting pages, extracting pages, altering page order, changing page orientation, etc. These actions can be performed in multiple permutations.
Sanitizing the annexures for filing.
Adding annotations and comments on files.
In a nutshell, a good PDF editing software will enable you perform every task on scanned PDF documents/files, which you would otherwise perform on physical documents/files.
Moreover, performing clerical tasks digitally on a PDF editing software is more efficient than traditional clerical methods. I have dealt with this topic in my post on training your clerk to perform digital tasks.
There are many online courses on YouTube/Udemy, which elaborately deal with the usage of PDF editing software, including ‘Adobe Acrobat DC’. Therefore, I did not write a separate post on general usage of such software. You can subscribe to an appropriate course to get a holistic understanding on your preferred software.
WORKING ON TABLET COMPUTERS
In a digital setup, you need a tablet computer (only referred to as a ‘tablet’ in this blog) and a stylus to work on digital documents.
There are many tablets in the market. I personally use the Apple iPad. The other commonly used tablet is the Microsoft Surface. There are many android options as well. Each device has its advantages and disadvantages. Please select a tablet which suits your subjective requirement.
Once you start using a tablet, avoid buying separate applications for each function, such as note taking, reading files and annotating on files. All you need is one PDF app, which can perform all the functions. This will maintain uniformity and simplicity in your daily usage.
Please note the following mandatory features before choosing an app:
Cloud storage with selective-sync: When your entire office is digitised, all files cannot be stored on your tablet due to space constraints. In Office 2.0, the importance of cloud storage is discussed. Please note that the app you choose should support cloud storage and ‘selective sync’ from the cloud. With this feature, you can keep folders that you are currently working on offline so that you can work on them irrespective of the internet connection.
‘Go to page’: The App should contain a button to execute ‘go to page command’ on its main tools panel. This function will enable you to seamlessly flip to a page.
Outline Bookmarks and miscellaneous Bookmarks: An outline bookmark is your index contents. A miscellaneous bookmark is equivalent to paper-flags to identify important pages. The app should contain these two bookmarks separately.
Page organisation tools: The app should contain basic page organising tools, including adding pages, deleting pages, extracting pages, altering pager order, changing page orientation, etc.
Multiple annotation and commenting options: The app should contain multiple options to colour, underline, highlight, comment, etc.
If you work on iPad, the best app, and the only app you require in my opinion is ‘PDF Expert’, currently in its version 7 (PDF Expert 7). It has a very clean and easy user interface containing all the above mentioned features. Read the post on what features should you look for in a PDF app.
If you work on Microsoft surface, you don’t need to buy any other application as your PDF editing software can also be used for reading, note taking and annotation.
TECHNOLOGY FOR DIRECT DICTATION
Dictation is an essential part of many advocates' working methodology.
There are 2 variations in the dictation style. Few advocates prefer to directly dictate, with the typist executing the dictation at the same time (“direct dictation”). The other variant is where the Advocate speaks out the content, which is noted in shorthand, for later execution (“stenographic dictation”).
During my initial stages of learning dictation, I used to dictate directly. Therefore, in ‘Office 1.0’, I only dealt with implementing technology in direct dictation. In ‘Office 2.0’, I will deal with stenographic dictation.
Please note that either for ‘direct dictation’ or ‘stenographic dictation’, you only need a typist and not a stenographer, the difference being the skill of shorthand, which is very difficult to master. In Office 2.0, I essentially deal with already existing methods to make your typist work like a stenographer without knowing shorthand.
Note that there are several dictation software in usage, some of which are very advanced and accurate. However, in my opinion, a dictation software cannot replace a stenographer. Read the post on why dictation software, in their current form, cannot replace a Stenographer.
In any direct dictation, the typist sits along with you, attaching a keyboard to your desktop, every time you want to draft. However, I found the whole process very cumbersome. I searched for alternatives to get over this practice. I tried, Google Docs, Office 365 collaboration tools, and finally landed on using screen-share software. Screen-share software is the perfect solution for any direct dictation. Screen-share software also can be used for multiple other purposes. Read the post on utility of screen-share software for Advocates.